Intro: It's one of the most quoted verses in the Bible: "The truth will set you free." People often quote this verse when someone has been living a lie and is weighted down by the deception or when they want a person to come clean and share honestly about a hard topic. It is quoted all the time by people of all sorts of backgrounds to justify saying all kinds of things.
But, to whom did Jesus make this promise? And what did he promise freedom from? Is it a universal axiom like "you reap what you sow" or does it need to be understood in its context?
Read: John 8:31-36
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
33 They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say we shall be set free?"
34 Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
There are several things I want us to notice in these verses. First, Jesus is speaking to Jews who had believed in him. He is speaking to people who, at some level, have professed faith. Beginning in verse 12 of John 8, Jesus had been speaking and in verse 30 we ready that "many believed in him." But the important thing to see is that Jesus is speaking to believers.
Second, Jesus tells these believers, "if you hold my teaching..." or in other translations, "if you abide in my word" then you are truly his disciple. Notice that Jesus tells these believers that their faith and its authenticity will be evidenced by their abiding or holding to Jesus' teaching. He doesn't explain what this means in detail here, but in John 15 we learn more about the deep connection - like a vine and branches - that this abiding, this holding entails. We'll come back to this in a moment.
Third, Jesus says to know the truth we must hold to his teaching. We must abide, or hold to Jesus' teachings if we are to truly know the truth. Often in Scripture the idea of "know" goes deeper than an intellectual assent or understanding. It is an experiential knowledge that is lived out. Jesus is suggesting that to truly know and experience truth at a deep, heart level, we must hold to his teaching. We must abide in him.
Fourth, when we know the truth that comes from deep connection to Jesus, we will be set free. Later, when the Jews are confused because they've never been slaves (in their way of thinking) Jesus explains that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. But when we come to know and experience truth through an abiding relationship with Jesus, we will experience truth in such a way that it will transform us. Jesus will set us free from slavery to sin and we will be free indeed.
The promise Jesus offers of the truth setting us free is not a blanket promise to everyone. He promises that those who will trust in him and who hold to his teaching will know and experience the truth - about who they are, about why they were created, about how deeply they are loved, about the effects of sin, about forgiveness, about all kinds of things - and the truth, embodied by Jesus himself, will set them free. Knowing who you are and why you were created; knowing how sin marred that original design; knowing the incredible love of a Father to redeem and forgive; knowing the hope and the life that comes from relationship with the Son...we can be set free from sin and released to pursue righteousness and lives that love in profound ways...lives that matter and make a difference.
- Read John 8:31-38 again. Then read John 15:1-17. What does it mean to "abide" in Christ and in his teaching? Some translations say "remain" or "hold fast".
Think about the image of the vine and the branches. What is the job description of a branch? How are we to be like branches?
- How are you doing at holding/abiding/remaining to Jesus' words? Take a moment and invite him to show you what you can do to improve.
- Do you feel free? Sometimes as believers we become frustrated with where we are and think, "There has to be more than this!" Do you ever feel that way? Take time to consider how free you are in Christ. What does he desire for you?