There are several Biblical phrases that have become idiomatic in the English language. Here are a few examples – fight the good fight, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, go the extra mile. All of these find their source in the Bible. Another one is the focus of today’s exploration of John’s Gospel. Perhaps you’ve heard or said, the truth will set you free. That phrase is a part of a larger dialog found in John 8:31-59.
That dialog is a fascinating back and forth between Jesus and some Jewish folks. The first few verses read, “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31–36, NASB95) The dialog descends from there to the point where the folks Jesus is talking to make disparaging remarks about His birth and pick up stones to kill Him.
Perhaps you noticed the phrase, “the truth will set you free.” Understanding that phrase is the key to this long passage. It shines a light on what Jesus was trying to get them to see and what the crowd was too blind to understand.
Think about it for a moment. Does truth really and always set us free? Resoundingly no. Truth could send us to jail if we committed a crime. It can separate a family when truth is revealed. In all practicality, truth is harsh and uncaring, sometimes leading to freedom and sometimes to prison.
It is important to understand that Jesus wasn’t talking about any old truth or truth in general. He was pointing to a specific truth. Notice how Jesus frames this phrase. He begins by setting the boundary of continuing in His word. Perhaps we can think of it as remaining inside a sheepfold. In other words, holding to Jesus’ teaching and example. Those that do are called disciples; Christ’s students.
Think about college for a moment. Either before or after a year or so, a student must declare a major. What is the discipline and purpose of their studies? Continuing in Christ’s Word is like declaring, studying, and practicing all that Jesus and the Bible teach. Jesus promises those students, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
At this point, Jesus does not define “the truth” although we can infer it from the rest of John’s Gospel. The truth of Jesus’ identity and His ultimate mission to redeem humankind through His death and resurrection. That truth extends further to salvation and has Paul put “being dead in Christ.” That deadness brings us to freedom. The specific freedom in the context of John 8 is freedom from sin. “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34–36, NASB95)
Let’s work backward. The freedom in view here is freedom from slavery to sin and its effects. How can we be free from the grip of sin? By knowing THE truth. Which truth? For starters, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95) This truth reveals our sin but also declares our freedom in Christ. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NASB95) Knowing that truth, continuing in that truth, living in that truth is freeing. More freeing than I can express in words.
This freedom supersedes everything else which enslaves us. For example, consider Paul and Silas in Acts 16:22-30. They were beaten, thrown in the inner prison, and bound with chains. The very definition of not being free. Yet, even there, they were free in Christ. “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them;” (Acts 16:25, NASB95)
The crowd that day in John’s gospel never understood the chains of sin they were bound in and the freedom Jesus was offering. The truth, Christ’s truth, can and will set you free.