Jesus identifies mankind’s slavery in John 8:34 when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Now we know from the rest of the Bible that everyoneis in view here. It is not as if there are only some people who practice sin and thus are slaves to sin. Romans 3:23 says, “Allhave sinned.” Some have been liberated, others remain in sin’s chains. But it does us all good to consider our slavery be it a past reality or a present one. What does Jesus mean when He says we are enslaved to sin?
He reveals that we are enslaved to the power of sin. Christ tells the Jews that the one who practices sin cannot stop. Sin has power over him. Sin has mastered him and continues to master him. Many struggle to think of themselves as mastered by sin. We consider ourselves survivors and achievers. But we’re not. Ephesians 2:1 says we are dead in sin, following the prince of the power of the air. Sin has a deadening power on us. We can work, fight, pray, read, but we lack the strength to escape the shackles of sin.
Jesus also signals that we are entirely enslaved to sin. Sin’s slavery is an all-encompassing slavery. It permeates every aspect of our lives. The earthly slave is a slave no matter what he is doing. He is a slave when he wakes in the morning. He is a slave when he eats. He is a slave when he works. He is a slave when he walks along the road. He is a slave when he reads. He is a slave when he lays down to sleep at night. In the same way, the slave to sin is always a slave. One reason for so many self-help books at the bookstore is we have underestimated how bad our situation is. We like to think of our shortcomings which implies that there are parts of us that have not fallen short. Or we speak of areas of improvement as if some other areas need none. We consider our sin like a bruise on an otherwise perfectly good apple. But, the truth is apart from Christ we are rotten to the core. Romans 3 says we have not only sinned, but become worthless.
As slaves to sin we are enslaved to do sin’s bidding. Jesus says in verse 37 that the Jews are trying to kill him. This is a sign of their slavery to sin. They do what sin does. The wages of sin is death. The earthly slave must do what the master desires and so it is with slavery to sin. Paul says this is what goes on with those who oppose the gospel. He says they have been captured by the devil to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26). The slave to sin is an agent of the wicked one. He is not neutral. He is not simply “a none” or non-religious. This slavery stuff is tough. You can understand why the Jews responded with offense! But their offense shows us another dimension of sin’s slavery.
That is we are deceptively enslaved to sin. The Jews were thoroughly convinced they were not slaves! In verse 33 they object to Jesus, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone!” Ah, but they in fact were enslaved. Sin wound its chains around them in the dark. Jesus had told them previously in verse 12 that they were walking in darkness. Romans 1 says by our unrighteousness we suppress the truth. Sin’s mastery of us is a truth that we are quite good at suppressing. We might exchange one sin for another to reassure ourselves and others that we’re in control. We change out disreputable sins for respectable sins fooling ourselves into thinking we’re not in chains. The devil is perfectly happy to have us play this game. He smiles when we think our biggest slavery problem is people stopping us from doing what we want. Because, then, we are distracted from our true slavery to sin.
While we are deceptively enslaved to sin, it is also true that we are willingly enslaved. Jesus indicates this in verse 38 when He says, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your Father.” He goes on to tell them plainly that they are sons of the devil. The one enslaved to sin desires sin. He is not being kept against his will. Our slavery is a heart slavery. We are lured and enticed to sin by our own desire (James 1:14). So the old excuse the devil made me do it falls flat. Because our slavery to sin means we are on his team, he is our father, and we are happy with the arrangement.
If we’re thinking right we shouldn’t be because our slavery to sin includes slavery to sin’s punishment. Anyone who stays in Satan’s chains will suffer Satan’s fate. Satan and those who follow him will one day be thrown into the lake of fire “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). Psalm 7 says “If a man does not repent, God will whet His sword; He has bent and readied His bow.”
Seeing this wretched slavery, Christian remember what we once were. We were slaves. None of us are free today because we found a key. None of us are here today because we strong armed sin. Wedid not fight for our liberty. But there is One who did. Hallelujah.