June 22 | John 8:31-36
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Has the Truth Set You Free?
by Karen Burkhart
Today’s Bible reading is home to a phrase often quoted by Christians and non-Christians alike: “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” It sounds great, albeit a little lofty, but chances are, you've had experiences when knowing the truth seemed to do everything BUT set you free. Maybe you found out your best friend had been talking bad about you and it launched you into a season of loneliness. Maybe you discovered that you didn’t have what it takes to accomplish a cherished goal and it spiraled you into depression. Maybe you sat in the doctor’s office and received the dreaded, “C” diagnosis and, suddenly, your world shrunk. In moments like those truth doesn’t feel liberating, but deep down we know it’s necessary if we don’t wish to live in a house of cards. Truly, there’s a certain freedom that comes from being rooted in reality and not having to rebuild every time the wind blows. But is that the kind of freedom Jesus is really talking about in this passage? Let’s zoom out to find out.
If you pull back the lens slightly, you’ll notice an important word that is almost always left out when the phrase is quoted: then. Zoom out further still and you’ll find a two-letter word that sets up a condition, that if unmet, voids the freedom guarantee:
IF you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.
THEN you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I can imagine a collective sigh coming from the people gathered on the Mount of Olives as they heard Jesus say, in essence, that believing in Him wasn’t enough to be considered disciples. After all, believing doesn’t require much and hard to prove, so the news that they were actually expected to put into practice Jesus' many teachings probably came as a blow. Maybe you’re feeling it too. Unfortunately, mental assent to the existence of God, or even to Jesus being God’s Son, has never been enough to save. Perhaps that point is made strongest here in James 2:19: “'You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
The real bubble burst, however, came when Jesus implied that his hearers weren’t already free. Being represented as a slave wasn’t just disappointing to these descendants of Abraham, it was insulting. Of course, the people were thinking on the physical plane, and Jesus was on another level entirely, talking about freedom from the enslavement of sin. Always driven by love, Jesus didn’t just hit them with the truth and run—he gave them a prescription for real freedom-- “So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)” It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s almost like Jesus is equating “Son” with “truth.” It’s almost like you could say, “you will know the Son and the Son will set you free.” According to John 14:6, it would not be a stretch to do so: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’”
Putting this all together, we see that only those who hold to the teachings of Jesus are really His disciples. And only His disciples can know truth, which isn’t merely a concept, but a person. And only those who know the Son, Jesus, can experience true, lasting freedom, from the power of sin and death.