By Colin Smith, Crosswalk.com
As a culture, we want to feel that we are in control of our lives, and especially that we are in control of the things that matter most. That includes our salvation. You hear this all the time on the talk shows: “You can be anything you want to be.” That’s the spirit of our culture. But there are some things you cannot be, that only Jesus can free you to be. So, Jesus is telling us that this simply is not true.
We are not as free as we think we are. In John 8:31-34, Jesus addresses the Jews about what makes a person truly free:
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free? Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
“Anyone who sins.” That’s all of us. By nature, “All of us are slaves to sin.” Our Lord is not saying that sinning makes you a slave. He is saying that your slavery makes you sin. Our sinning is the evidence of our slavery and it is universal. By nature, we are not as free as we think we are.
This raises the question of the will. In what sense is the human will free?
What Kind of Freedom Do We Have?
We make real choices and we make them freely.
We are people, not puppets. We make choices, and the choices we make shape the contours and direction of our lives. We can make good choices. We can make better choices. We have the ability to make changes and improvements in our lives.
We are responsible for the choices that we make.
We cannot blame other people for our choices. You can’t blame God or the devil. You can’t blame your wife, your husband, or your friend for your choices. Adam tried that: “The woman gave me the fruit.” That won’t work, Adam. You ate it. That was your choice and you are responsible for it.
God has created the world in such a way that we have real choices and real responsibility. The big question lies deeper: Why do we choose what we choose? Why do we do what we do?
We choose according to the prevailing desires of our heart.
“Free will” is a slippery term. The Bible never uses it, and people mean different things by it. If you want to talk about “free will,” always remember that the freedom we have is the freedom to follow the deepest desires of our own hearts.
I was talking to someone recently who said to me, “I reinvent myself every five years.” How far can you go with that? You can change jobs, you can change where you live, or you can change your appearance—the color of your hair, your eyes, lose weight and get a new wardrobe—but you cannot change yourself.
Your mind is still your mind, your heart is still your heart, and your will is still your will. Can the leopard change its spots? No, only God can make you a new creation. Only God can save you.
Christ Tells Us That He Can Make Us Free
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)
Christ does not drag you, kicking and screaming, against your will to follow him. What does he do? God shines his light into your mind and pours his love into your heart.
When God works in us, the will is changed under the sweet influence of the Spirit of God…It desires and acts, not of compulsion, but of its own desire and spontaneous inclination.
I follow Christ because I want to. The will chooses according to the prevailing desires of the heart, so when, by God’s grace, the prevailing desires of the heart change, the will chooses a new direction! Paul says, “We make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9). Do you see how wonderful that is? It is the evidence of this miracle in your life.
Does this mean that we always choose what is good after we have been regenerated and become Christians? No. The freedom Christ promises in this life is not freedom from the struggle with sin, but freedom from slavery to sin.
You will be tempted in many ways, and often you will fail. The prevailing disposition of your soul is not the only disposition of your soul. There may be times when you fall into pride or lust or lies, but at the core of your being, you know that is not what you want. You want to honor Christ because you are a new creation in him.
Our freedom in Christ makes sense of our struggles with sin, brings us enduring hope in Jesus Christ, gives glory to God for his saving work in us, and gives us confidence that God is faithful and will keep us in his grip until Christ comes, and into eternity.
So be who you are! True freedom is when what God calls you to do and what you most want to do turn out to be the same thing. That is the freedom Christ gives. If you have this freedom you are free indeed!
This article originally appeared on unlockingtheBible.org. Used with permission.
Colin Smith (@PastorColinS) is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.