In our study of the Reformational view of divine grace, we have emphasized the power of God’s grace to save and the way in which His grace has been revealed in His covenants with His people. There is more to be said, however, particularly regarding grace and its relation to the nature of human beings and their wills. So that we might get a better grasp of the human condition and divine grace, we will now spend a few days considering the issues of grace, human freedom, and sin with the help of Willing to Believe, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.
Scripture, we have seen, describes us as dead in sin apart from the grace of God (Eph. 2:1–3), meaning that we are unable to do any spiritual good unless the Lord intervenes. This is not a popular teaching in our day, but those who would resist our deadness in sin have an argument with Jesus Himself. As is evident in today’s passage, Paul’s view of our deadness in sin was not original to him. Jesus taught the same thing during His earthly ministry.
John 8:31–38 describes the umbrage that many first-century Jews took when Jesus told them they were enslaved. Hearing that they were slaves, many of our Lord’s contemporaries responded in astonishment, for they were children of Abraham who had never personally experienced slavery. They lived long after the days of Israel’s slavery in Egypt and dwelled in their homeland without being bought and sold by slave masters. But the slavery that Christ spoke of was not physical bondage; rather, He was talking about slavery to sin: “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (v. 34). Many first-century Jews saw themselves as inherently better than Gentiles. They took pride in their status as God’s chosen people and believed that they were not sinners as the Gentile heathen were (see Gal. 2:15–21, where Paul adopts this view for the sake of arguing against it). That understanding, however, had no basis in Scripture or the history of Israel. So, Jesus and the Apostles preached the radical message that all people are sinners and enslaved to wickedness until God acts to free them (John 8:36; Rev. 1:5).
It may not be popular to believe that all people are enslaved, but God’s Word tells us that everyone is a slave/servant either to sin or to Christ (see Rom. 1:1, for example). Sinners believe that they can be free without being a slave of Christ, but ironically, seeking freedom outside of Christ leads only to greater bondage to sin and death (Gal. 4:21–31).