Slave of Sin (John 8:34)

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”

John 8:34

I read verses like this and often find myself wondering what God is on about. He says that everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin, but goes on to say that whom the Son sets free is free indeed. Since all have sinned and there is none righteous, I am left to wonder which is the case.

The answer, as is so often true, is in the tense of the verb. English has a present tense, but we generally understand actions performed in the present to have a finite period of performance. We often think that “She practices piano.” (simple present) and “She is practicing piano.” (present progressive) are the same. They are not. The first (“practices”) indicates an on-going process; potentially a repeated action. The second (“is practicing”) is the tense in which the action has a definite end — it is what is happening right this moment. So it is that when Jesus says everyone who commits sin, He is saying that this state of being — slave of sin — applies to those who make a habit of sin.

More, the verb used carries possible meanings that give nuance to my understanding of what Jesus means by commits sin. These other meanings include ideas like making, preparing, and acquire. This is not the unthinking actions that we would often consider mistakes, but the deliberate planning and carrying out of wrong action. If I surf the web with the intent to research some aspect of a bit of prose I am writing and end up someplace inappropriate, this is not, I think, what Jesus is talking about. If I log on to the web with the intent of seeking out that inappropriate place, that is, I think, what Jesus is talking about. It becomes a matter of intent and planning. This would be why The Bible tells me to make no provision for sin. Making provision for sin; setting things up so I can do something wrong is making myself a slave of sin. Sin does not need my help to trip me up. It will find opportunity without me smoothing out the road in front of it.

This applies to me this morning in several ways. First, I need to get my perspective in place. If I mess up when I did not intend to, that is not, I think, what Jesus had in mind here. It is still wrong and still needs me to repent, but it is not making me a slave of sin. Second, I need to make no provision for sin. If I know that certain behaviors tend to lead to certain sins, then I need to avoid those behaviors. If listening to hard rock while driving has a tendency to make me more prone to outbursts of anger, then I should listen to something that has a more beneficial effect. The hard rock can wait until I am at home.

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