I am working my way through Jonathan Edwards sermons one by one over the next several years. In previous posts, I gave a brief summary of his sermon entitled, “Christian Happiness” and “The Value of Salvation.” It sometimes helps me process what he’s saying better if I try to paraphrase it and so I thought I might offer a short summary paraphrase of a third message here, “Wicked Men’s Slavery to Sin.”
What price can you put on freedom? I would imagine for most of us there is no condition we can imagine more pitiful than that of a slave. Is there any one of us who would voluntarily choose slavery? The question answers itself.
And yet, the Bible tells us that everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
This statement comes from John 8:34. Jesus has just made a great promise to those who believe in him. He explains “If you abide in my word, you truly are my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
But some of those listening didn’t like the sound of that. Having to be set free means you were previously enslaved. And they were too proud to believe that. They were religious after all! And as they looked back on their religious heritage, it made them angry to hear someone say that they needed to be freed.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus’ statement strikes some of you the same way.
When you hear people talking about coming to Jesus for freedom, it makes little sense to you. You feel fairly happy already. Sure, you do some things that are wrong every once in a while, but to say you are a slave sounds too strong.
What if things weren’t quite as they seem? Are you willing to consider that? It is one thing to enslave someone by force, but the trickiest of slave masters gets someone else to do what they want, without them even knowing they are enslaved.
Sin is like that.
There are a number of different proofs that you might not be quite as free as you seem to think.
If you are sinning, sin is making your life difficult. I guarantee it. Have you ever met a drunk? They often look happy, but what kind of happiness is that? They are not the only kinds of sinners who are like that. I know that sinners like to think their sin is making their lives more enjoyable, but the fact that they can think like that, only proves how deceptive sin really is.
Think about how hard wicked men have to work to satisfy their sinful desires. No matter how much they do, those sinful desires will refuse to be satisfied. Sinful desires keep asking for more no matter how much you feed them. As one example of that, just think about how hard wicked men work to get riches and how unsatisfied they are when they finally get them. Sometimes they even know that what they desire won’t satisfy them, and yet still feel like they absolutely have to have it. Not only does sin not satisfy, it actually makes life more difficult. We could make a long list of ways it does that. It steals happiness. It accuses the conscience. It complicates one’s relationships. And yet, even though it hurts people time and time again, they still choose it. That’s slavery.
Sinners are absolutely devoted to the commands of sin. Whenever sin calls, they answer. Even if their own happiness has to be sacrificed to do what sin is asking, they will do it, and quickly. In fact, sin has such control over the sinner that the sinner would rather burn in hell than stop doing what sin asks. The sinner looks for opportunities to serve sin. If sin asks them to hurt their friends, lie to their relatives, abuse those close to them, they will do it. If sin tells them they must do something that will ruin their lives, even then they will obey. Like a good servant, they are constantly ready to run any errand that sin sends them on. It is as if they wait at sin’s gates to hear what sin has for them to do.
Even though the sinner doesn’t benefit from his sin, he continues in it. There has never been a tyrant who has done more evil to those under his rule than sin. Sin treats its servants more cruelly than any master on earth has ever treated his and yet the wicked man keeps going back for more. There is no one who has truly gained a lasting advantage as a result of sin. No one has ever really been happier because he is proud or more content because he is malicious. Sin always does damage to people, often in this life, always in the life to come. And yet, the sinner won’t give it up. He prizes it. He defends it. The only thing a sinner really stores up for himself as a result of his sin, is wrath and judgment. Every time he sins he makes a hell a little bit hotter, and yet, even still, they give themselves to sin’s rule.
They serve sin with all that they are. They don’t serve sin partially but instead with their body and soul. Their minds serve sin. Even when the truth is obvious, they will close their eyes in order to serve sin. There may be something incredibly beautiful being shown to them, like the glory of Christ, but sin won’t allow them to see it or enjoy it. Their desires serve sin. Sin tells them what to love and they love it. Sin tells them what to hate and they hate it. Sin laughs at them as it causes them to embrace and defend things which in and of themselves are both ugly and worthless. There is no one in the whole world who has ever had the kind of command over someone else that sin has over the thoughts and desires of the sinner.
Wicked men truly are slaves to sin, and they should be pitied for it. If we saw someone who was a slave to a kind master, we would feel badly for him. But imagine a slave to a cruel one! If we saw a slave being ridiculed and mocked by his master, physically abused, we would have compassion on him. How much more should we pity wicked men! Their master is far worse and the work they do for him is much more difficult. The one who serves sin is worse than someone who is forced to labor in a mine or who is working himself to death in chains.
Our hearts would have to be very hard not to pity poor sinners who are enslaved like this. How can we not feel deeply for them as we watch sin put blindfolds over their eyes so that they cannot see a way of escape? How can we not cry out for them as we watch sin make them do his work on the edge of a cliff where the ground is slippery and they are always in danger of falling into a “bottomless pit of liquid fire?”
Even a king or a prince that serves sin is worthy of pity. The man who puts his confidence in riches, even if he were to own the entire world, he too is an object of compassion. The one who everyone looks up to and envies, but is under the control of pride, he also is someone who you should feel badly for. Their condition is so sad in fact that we ought to be constantly weeping on their behalf.
Before we spend much time weeping for others however, perhaps we ought to ask whether or not we should be weeping for ourselves. Are you living in slavery to sin? I am certain if I asked you whether or not you wanted to be someone’s slave, you would say no. But are you not choosing to live your live as a slave to sin? There is a way for you to be free. We have seen Jesus makes this promise in the gospel. But you must first seek it.
If you need motivation, consider this. You have the worst master in the world. I suppose if at least you served a good master you would have an excuse for continuing to live as his slave. But you don’t. You absolutely could not find a more evil or dishonorable master than sin.
I am sure you have met someone who you felt ashamed for. Perhaps you met a beggar who was in such a state that you had to look away. Now imagine being that person’s slave. How humbling! And yet it is worse to be a servant of sin than it would be to be a servant of that beggar. We would be embarrassed to be the slave of a homeless man. But being sin’s servant is far worse.
Or consider this. Would you let a monster live in your house? Imagine someone you consider pure evil. Would you invite him to stay with you as a friend? Never! And yet that person at least is a person. Sin is far below human nature. When you serve sin, you serve a master that is much below yourself.
And think about what kind of service he asks from you. If someone asked for you to give them your reason, would you do it? Would you choose to live like a foolish man? And yet, that’s exactly what sin asks of you. Demands, in fact! To serve sin is to make yourself a fool. How people must have laughed when Nebuchadnezzar lived those years like a cow. Yet, we too live like beasts, when we choose to live as slaves to sin.
Sin is killing you and you don’t even realize it. When sin enslaves a man, it begins by poking out his eyes, so he can’t see his miserable condition. It actually asks you to sharpen the knife that you are going to use to cut your own throat, to put poison on the arrows that are going to be thrust into your heart, to get the sword ready which is going to be used to take your life, to throw fuel onto the fire in which you are going to burn. Sin makes great promises of payment and reward, but the wages of sin in the end is death. No one would ever willingly work for someone who refused to pay them anything. How much less should we be willing to work for someone who pays us only in pain? And how much more foolish it is to work for someone who only pays you in death!
I know all of this sounds harsh. Maybe you are a bit upset. You are not the first. This is the way those religious leaders felt about what Jesus said. But what if the way the Scripture describes your condition really were true? Can you imagine telling a slave that he’s a slave and showing him how he can be free and having him get upset with you as a result? It is one thing to be a slave, it is something else to defend your slave master. Don’t do it! You through your slavery to sin are choosing to be God’s enemy, but you don’t have to be. God has made a way for you to set free, and that way is found in Jesus. If your freedom means anything to you, go to the Scriptures, and search them out, crying out to God, that He will help you find Jesus, and in finding Jesus, find true and lasting freedom.