In John 8:32, Jesus talks about freedom in a way that turns popular ideas about freedom inside-out. He says, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Most of us Americans think we’re already free. We think that since we live in a society in which more and more of the traditional moral restrictions are being done away with, we’re free.  

But Jesus, with nine penetrating words, turns all of our thinking on its head and tells us that we’re not free: “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”

One of my neighbors a few houses down has a dog they sometimes have chained up in their front yard. And this dog doesn’t seem to be a very smart dog.

Every time we walk past their house or even drive past their house, the dog runs pretty quickly from wherever he is in the yard right up to the edge of the road before the length of his chain runs out and immediately jerks him by the collar right back into the yard. It looks painful.

This dog basically chokes himself thinking he’s going to be able to run out into the road before he’s reminded, quite suddenly, that he can’t do that. But it seems like no matter how often he chokes himself like that, he never seems to learn.

So this dog apparently thinks he’s free, but he’s not. His chain is very real and—as I’ve seen firsthand—very strong.

In a similar way, a lot of people today think they’re free, but they’re not. They’re actually enslaved by the sinful desires that are ruling their lives.

True freedom is living our lives according to the teachings of Jesus. It’s not a freedom from restrictions. It’s a freedom to embrace the right restrictions.

In the words of Tim Keller, “Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.”

And that’s kind of counterintuitive, so Keller then gives us an illustration to help us understand. He observes,

“A fish, because it absorbs oxygen from water rather than air, is only free if it is restricted and limited to water. If we put it out on the grass, its freedom to move and even live is not enhanced, but destroyed. The fish dies if we do not honor the reality of its nature. In many areas of life, freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions.”

 So a fish isn’t free on land. It’s dead, or soon to be dead. The only way that fish will be free—that is, freedom to live and move and be happy—is if it limits itself to the water.

In the same way, if we want to be free, we have to embrace the right limitations.

And those limitations are already given to us on a silver platter in the pages of the Bible. Jesus tells us how to live, and in so doing, he guides us to the path of true freedom. That’s how the truth sets us free.

So it’s a paradox. In order to be free, we have to make Jesus our Master.

You and I are wired in such a way that we’ll always be mastered by something. We can’t help it. But Jesus is the only Master who will never be a tyrant.

Sin will tyrannize you and oppress you to no end. But Jesus will only love you and show you how to be free in the truest sense of that term. His freedom is true freedom.