By Nature, We Are in Spiritual Bondage

from Oct 26, 2012 Category: Articles

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b-32)

Jesus taught that we are all by nature in spiritual bondage. He had to be cruel to be kind.

The Jews to whom Jesus spoke—much like us—believed that they were certainly not in bondage to anything. But their response to Jesus’ words revealed the deep spiritual bondage in which they were held. His words riled and angered them.

Who do you think you are, saying that we need to be set free? How dare you! We are Abraham’s children, his freeborn descendants.” They claimed spiritual freedom as their birthright, but they were in spiritual bondage.

Most assuredly, I say to you,” Jesus said, “whoever commits sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).

Does this really need to be underlined? Jesus thought it did, and perhaps someone reading this may need a little help to understand what Jesus was saying here:

  • We do not become sinners by committing specific acts.
  • We commit specific acts of sin because we are sinners.

In short, my problem is not the isolated actions that I see as aberrations from what I really am. I am deceiving myself if I think that way. These actions are not aberrations but revelations of what is in my heart. They show that I commit sin because I am in bondage to it.

Paul develops this theme in Ephesians 2. Both the apostle and his readers (v. 3) were by nature bound in sin: “dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1). When they heard the name of God and of His grace in Jesus Christ, their hearts remained cold. Like dead men and women, they were always flowing with the stream, following “the course of this world” (v. 2).

By nature, we usually deny that we are in spiritual bondage. We go out of our way to show our freedom by being different. But we tend, in one way or another, to become clones. That is a manifestation of our bondage. According to Ray Davies’ satirical lyrics in The Kinks’ hit song,

This pleasure-seeking individual always looks his best
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.

As Jesus hinted, this sinfulness affects every dimension of our lives:

  • Our minds. We do not think clearly. We may be well educated and have high IQs. But that is no guarantee that we think clearly about spiritual things.
  • Our desires. When we are on our own and at our most honest, we recognize that we are not masters of our desires. We try to master them. We have a moral consciousness that says, “You must get these things under control.” But inwardly we are out of control. There is a world within us over which we have no mastery.
  • Our wills. They are in bondage to sin. “Oh yes,” we say, “this message about being right with God—I will come to it another day. That is my decision and I can make it whenever I want.”

The truth, however, is that we cannot think clearly about or desire Christ by our own unaided decision. Why not? We cannot respond to the good news of the gospel until we want Christ, and we cannot want Christ simply by a decision we can take at any moment we choose. We cannot say to our will, “Will, will to belong to the Lord!” It is beyond our powers to do that. No one can will the will to will what it will not will! Only God’s grace can set us free to come to trust in Him.

What made it happen so?
His own will, this much I know,
Set me, as now I show,
At liberty.

Here, then, is our greatest need. We are in bondage to sinful hearts.


This excerpt is adapted from Sinclair Ferguson’s By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me.

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