31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ 33They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’
34 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. 38I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.’
Yesterday’s passage ended, “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” Now Jesus speaks to those who have believed. He tells them that if they continue in his word, they will truly be disciples. They will know the truth: that is the truth of who Jesus is, and of who God is, of grace and love – Jesus is not talking here about “truth” as opposed to “falsehood”, but about “truth” as opposed to what they have believed in the past. And this new truth will set them free, as it sets us free.
But once again, those to whom he speaks take his words at surface value, protesting that as descendants of Abraham they have never been slaves to anyone. (Never mind that the entire nation was currently under bondage to Rome!) What does he mean they will be set free? Sometimes, it seems, the author of John uses the lack of understanding of those Jesus speaks to as opportunity to clarify something that might not be understood by his community (his first readers) – as here when Jesus responds, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
There is a key piece of the Gospel! We are enslaved by our sins, our selfishness, addictions, pride, hate, fear, and anger all weigh us down as surely as chains. And it is the truth of Christ – of his gift of love and grace – that can free us from our slavery.
Jesus goes on – as slaves they do not have a permanent place in God’s household – but the Son has a place there for eternity. If the Son sets them free, they are free indeed. But they fall back on their inheritance, as Abraham’s descendants; Jesus warns that they should live as the Father has commanded.
The conflict over who really are Abraham’s children will continue.