From Slave to Sons; from captives to children
Freedom? What is it? How do I get it? How do I keep it? What does it mean?
Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it for ever. (John 8:35)
Jesus has in mind a Roman home with a Father who was also a master, children (and the gender specific ‘sons’ reminds us Jesus has in sight the wealth of inheritance that culturally at that time was only a son’s) and slaves.
The difference between a son and a slave was the freedom of living under the Father’s love not the Master’s rule. The difference was enormous:
A son was
A slave was
Under grace of the Father
Under the protection of the Father
Inheritance to come
Part of the family
Under the rule of the Master
Under the wrath of the Master
Part of the staff
A son belongs forever. A slave has no permanent place.
No slave wanted to be ‘free’ in the sense of detached from a family (i.e. masterless). That meant fear and threat and homelessness and the real risk ultimately of death. A Roman slave’s dream was to become a member of the family! They desired and longed not to leave the family but become a true part of the family; to move from being a slave with a Master to a son with a Father. True freedom was not to move from slavery to independence, but from slavery to sonship. To no longer be captives of a master but children with a father.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)
Culturally hidden to us is the main shock of this sentence. The grace (to grant permission) and the sacrifice (to share the blessings with another inheritor) of a son to allow the adoption of a slave. A slave could become a son by the true son’s request, and certainly only with the true son’s permission. The true son of the father had to be ready and willing to bear the sacrifice and share his position and inheritance. It was rare and marvellous and life-changing. And it is Jesus’ analogy of how we find true freedom. The freedom of moving from slaves to sons, with all the inherent privileges.
Jesus is the true son. We are ‘slaves to sin’ (John 8:34). Jesus willingly sacrifices as the true son so we may become children of God the Father. It is marvellous and life-bringer and not rare, but available and accessible to all. This is ‘the truth [that] will set you free’ (John 8:32).
What kind of brother is Jesus?
A brother who sacrifices so we may become children of God. A brother who shares with us so that ‘now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ’ (Romans 8:17).
What kind of father is God?
Not a absent father; cruel father; weak father; or foolish father. But:
A Sovereign Father (able to do want he wants – he is not weak)
…nothing is too hard for you (Jer 32:17). With God nothing is impossible (Lk 1:37). With God all things are possible (Mt 19:26). God does whatever he pleases (Ps 115:3).
A Good Father (what he wants to do is good – he is not cruel)
abounding in love (Numbers 14:18). eternal love (1Kings 10:9). He is good and his love endures forever (2Ch. 7:3 & x26 in Ps. 136). Great love (Ne 13:22). Unfailing love (Ps. 13:5). Your love is ever before me (Ps. 26:3). Because your love is better than life (Ps 63:3). The earth is filled with your love (Ps 119:64). rich in love (Ps. 145:8).
A Wise Father (what he wants to do is right – he hasn’t made a mistake)
His wisdom is profound, his power vast (Job 9:4). To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his (Job 12:13). …the Lord Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom (Isaiah 28:29). …to the only wise God be glory forever (Romans 16:27).
What kind of freedom does Jesus offer?
Not a forced, constrained enslavement. Not an independent, detached, fatherless autonomy. But a joyful, releasing, trusting freedom of being loved by a perfect Father. ‘If the son sets you free you will be free indeed.’