Though there is a lot of controversy over contemporary notions of equality, the discussions always miss the great equalizer: sin. My discussion begins in John, chapter eight. At first, equality seems to be a non-issue, but as we move through my thoughts, I’ll make it clear that equality plays more than a peripheral role in the discussion Jesus has about sin.
Jesus makes a sweeping statement, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin,” (John 8:34). Most people feel uncomfortable thinking about their own sin and often prefer to change the subject. Others reject the idea of personal sin, and many more simply pass it off by saying that they aren’t any worse that others, ironically, an unwilling admission that they are sinners.
Slavery or Sin
The Jewish leaders did not react to the sin issue. Instead, they were insulted to think that anyone could consider them slaves. To their way of thinking, no one had ever enslaved them—the 400 years in Egypt never seemed to cross their minds. Underneath their reaction they believed that they were the chosen people of God, and by asserting their ancestry with Abraham they assumed to be above the slave issue.
Perhaps they felt justified in claiming they weren’t slaves; they were the people of God, answerable only to Him and not indebted to any other nation. However, they sought to establish legitimacy based solely on their ancestry: they couldn’t be slaves because they were chosen, special, and set apart from the rest of humanity. The only recourse they had to Jesus’ statement is to insist on this, yet Jesus assigned the slavery label to all sinners, a category that included them.
As always, Jesus was more concerned with man’s spiritual condition than with anyone’s ancestry. John says that Jesus didn’t trust man because he knew what was in man (2:24-25); Jesus also accused us of loving darkness and refusing to enter the light because our deeds are evil (3:20); even more, in Matthew 7:11, Jesus proclaimed with blunt simplicity that we are evil.
Had the Jews or anyone else humbled themselves and admitted their sin, they would have recognized the truth in Jesus’ statement. Despite their sense of privilege, they couldn’t deny their sin even though the slavery issue seemed easier to resist. In this one statement about sin and slavery, Jesus strips away all the notions of being a privileged people and reduces everyone to the equality that brands us all slaves of sin.
Ancestry, Economics, Education
Sin places every race, every nation, and every human on an equal footing. Ancestry, social status, economic status, educational achievements, and any other means of separating us into various social strata mean nothing to Jesus. In Romans 3:23 the Apostle Paul states it unequivocally, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Such a condition cannot be justified away by claiming special status. We are all equally guilty in the eyes of God. Fortunately, the Apostle John has not finished his Gospel of redemption. He has only told us that we have no room to boast about ourselves or elevate ourselves above others. Sin has made us equally guilty before God.
See 5-Minute Conversation post on John 8 here.