What would you do if you could do anything?

The great basketball coach John Wooden said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” It’s those moments when no one is watching when our true self emerges. When you can do what you choose, what do you do?

And if you could choose anything, what would it be?

Among the most common myths is that you can achieve freedom by having more resources and less responsibility. If you had more money and less work, then you’d be free. If you had more time and fewer people making demands, then you’d be free.

It’s a lie. Freedom is not found in time or money. And slavery is not in work or the demands of others.


Isn’t it amazing that the freest man of all, Jesus, chooses to not eat – to fast for forty days (Gospel, Matthew 4:1-11)? We are surrounded by food and drink—great storehouses full of it—but we are not free. We need it to stay alive, but we also often need it for reasons we can hardly understand: to satisfy our cravings, drown our sorrows, or drink to escape the pressure or the pain.

Freedom is not in eating or drinking whatever you want, but in not being a slave to the food or drink.

And then there are the other things your body craves. You keep going back, although you know that this way lies destruction.

There are the things that captivate your eyeballs, so that hour after mind-numbing hour, you stare, entranced. What do you do with your free time? You have made yourself a slave to the rectangle on your wall, or the rectangle in your pocket. Desperately refreshing, waiting for the affirmation of a like or a retweet.

And your mind fixates on the person causing you problems. You grumble about the grumbler, gossip about the gossiper, and the person you have made your enemy lives rent-free inside your head.

Who is that really, captivating your heart? It’s not God. These are the devil’s lies, saying to you what he said to Eve, what he said to Jesus: “God is holding out on you; His Law is slavery, and I offer you freedom.”

It is a lie. All sin is based on lies, all addiction is based on lies, your sadness and your shallow euphoria likewise all flow from falsehoods planted by the father of lies.

You will never be free by indulgence. You will never be free by pouting or rage. You will never be free by accumulation, strategy, or cunning.

Like every human being, you are enslaved by a nature whose desires are disordered and whose destiny is death.


But the Man Jesus revealed His freedom from what binds each of us. Hungry, He refuses food. Taunted, He refuses to boast or put His Father to the test. Powerless, He refuses to seize power. The rightful King, He accepts thorns for His crown and a cross for His throne.

And in that hunger, He was free. On the cross, He was free. No desire enslaved Him. No pride engulfed Him. No threats controlled Him. He was free.

What would you do if no one was watching? There is your bondage, there is your slavery, there is the lie that deceives you.

What does Jesus do? Nothing for Himself. He is free.

And He uses His freedom for you and me. He retraces Adam’s steps, and is tested by food. He retraces Eve’s steps, and confronts the devil. He walks in the desert, recapitulating the journey of Moses and Joshua through the wild places where Israel fell. David’s Son hears the praises entering David’s city, but does not indulge himself with a mistress as David did.

And yet He prays David’s prayers, feels David’s sin, and yours, and mine. Perfectly free, He becomes a slave for us. Perfectly innocent, He is declared guilty for us.

And coming to the perfect end of His deadly journey, He receives what the Father prepares: food, life, family, friends, resurrection.


So now who are you? What are you? What will you do, when no one is watching? Of course, that’s never really true. Someone’s always watching, namely, your Father. You are a man, a human being, torn between God and the devil, or at least God and your flesh. You feel the tearing, the testing, the tempting. Who are you? Whose are you?

It would feel good—at least for a time—to give in. Indulge; scream; pout; throw away your promise, your commitment; as Esau, sell your birthright for a bowl of stew.

It’s a lie. Stop believing the lie. Your Jesus has won the victory, but this is no excuse to keep on sinning. He says to you, you, “I forgive you; go and sin no more.”

So when the disordered desire rises up, when the tempter comes, when the lie is spoken, “God is not there for you,” you have the same weapon by which Jesus won the victory: the Word of God. It is written, it is written, it is written, speaks the Lord Jesus, and the tempter is driven away.

All the world has gone mad, calling evil good and good evil. It feels alone in your wilderness, in your anger, in your despair. But you are never alone. Remember how last Sunday we heard Jesus say, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem”? You are with Him, and He is with you, through all your dark hours, in every moment in the wilderness, and finally when the last hour comes. He is with you, and He is your champion when the enemy seems too strong.

Jesus wins. You are free.