This might be a bit painful. But I promise, you need to hear it.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
- John 8:36
We need to have a talk here, people.
We need to have the “sin talk”. I know, I know, it’s awkward and uncomfortable. But, if we’re going to understand the freedom we have in Jesus, we have to understand what he’s freeing us from. In the context of our verse, Jesus tells us we are slaves to sin. So, we’ve got to wrap our minds around what that means.
There are really two ways that we sin.
The first, and most obvious way we sin is by breaking God’s rules. Probably you know most of these, because our western legal system mirrors many of these restrictions. Don’t murder, steal, tell lies about people… those things. And you might be like, “Okay. I don’t really struggle with those. I feel like I’m doing pretty good.” But, let me catch you on the flip side of the coin. We also sin by thinking we're good enough to earn our standing before God. "What's that?" you might say. "We sin by being good?" No, it's not the being good that's the problem, it's the self-righteous, pride we have about it. This is actually a far more pernicious sin than the first type of sin, because it doesn't feel like sin at all. But the fact is, it's the main problem Jesus had with the Pharisees. They couldn't see their own sin for all of their self-righteousness.
Thinking we don’t have a sin problem is the actually the most dangerous sin problem we can have.
Jesus tells the perfect story to illustrate this idea in Luke 15. It goes like this. A man has two sons. The younger son basically tells his dad to shove off, give him the money he has coming to him, and skips town to live in wild debauchery. Big time sinner, right??? Well, he eventually runs out of luck, money, and friends. He’s destitute with nowhere to go. But, he knows his dad is kind and generous, so he goes home with his tail tucked to ask for forgiveness. But, before he even gets down the cul-de-sac, his dad is sprinting to embrace him. The dad is beside himself with joy, welcoming his lost son back into the family, forgiving his waywardness wholeheartedly, and throwing a party in his honor. Into this happy reunion bursts the older son. He’s just boiling over with anger. This whole time his younger brother was out philandering, he’s done nothing wrong. In fact, he’s done everything right! He’s followed all of the rules, done all of the hard work, toed the line. How could this good-for-nothing degenerate possibly have the right to his father’s favor? Surely, all of his dutiful obedience has earned him that spot! Do you see the sin here in the older son? I know, it’s harder to spot. But, his sin is self-righteousness and pride. He has no more love for his father than his younger brother did when he skipped town. He doesn’t want a relationship with his dad, he wants what he's earned. Moreover, he doesn’t see a problem with it. His relationship with his dad is merely contractual. You give me what I want because I do as I’m told. Period. Jesus leaves the story hanging there, which leaves us to wonder which son we most approximate.
So, why do I tell you that story?
Each of us is prone to be like both of these sons at different times in our lives. In both instances, these sons weren’t interested in being close with their dad. They just wanted his stuff. While their expressions of sin look vastly different on the outside, their hearts were far away in both cases. And, if we are truly being honest, we're just like them. We find ourselves far away from the Father, wanting him to give us what we want and leave us alone. Whether we're running towards other things to satisfy us or we are trying to earn the stuff we want from God, we are far, far off track.
But, here's the good news.
Jesus set us free from our sin. For those of us who are running from God right now, stop and turn around. Jesus is calling you home. He longs to forgive your sins, and give you a right relationship with himself. For those of us who are trying to earn our way, give up your struggle for perfection. Jesus wants to free you from your striving. He wants your heart not your duty. Oh, be free! Whatever it is for you right now, turn and be embraced by the Father who loves you more deeply than you could ever know, longs to forgive you, and celebrates when you find your freedom in him.
Which son do you identify more with in this season of your life?
Do you find yourself running to things other than God to satisfy you?
Are you holding God as your personal debtor, expecting him to reward you for your good behavior?
Natalie co-founded Dwell with her sister, Vera. Together, they're committed to helping others connect with God each and every day. Natalie also hosts our weekly podcast, Dwell Differently. She and her husband, Jason, live in Chicago with their 5 kids, where Jason pastors First Free Church.