The Truth Shall Set You Free
I really enjoyed looking last week at the powerful statement Jesus made in John 8:12, declaring that He is the Light of the world. In the setting where He was, He was basically declaring to the nation of Israel that He was God’s presence returned, the presence of guiding light that had once disappeared because of the nation’s sin. His light is greater than the light that once guided Moses and their ancestors to their homeland. His light is greater than the 75-foot-tall candelabras that were used during the festival to remind the people of God’s presence and light. And His divine light is available not just for viewing, but for possessing- a light that can be personally acquired by those who follow Him.
And in the verses that follow, we see that Jesus’s bold, “Light-declaration” statement caused Him to be put on a sort of trial before the religious leaders. They immediately said to Him in verse 13, “You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.” Now Jesus, during His last visit to Jerusalem, had already defeated this argument of the religious leaders. He had previously pointed out to them that He had the testimony support of John the Baptist (John 5:33-35), the testimony of His miraculous works (John 5:36), the testimony of the voice of God booming from Heaven saying “this is My beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased” (John 5:37, Matt. 3:17), and the testimony of scripture- all the words of the Old Testament that were pointing to Him and fulfilled in Him. (John 5:39-47)
So this time, the second time around, Jesus takes a different approach and in verse 14 bluntly tells them… (John 8:14) It’s like He says: “Guys, I know things you don’t know. I have come from a different place than here, and I am going back to that place and I’m trying to explain to you before I go that what I am saying is true.” Then in verse 18, Jesus again mentions His Father, God Himself, as one who serves as a witness to the accuracy of Jesus’s claims. To this they responded “Where is your Father?” in verse 19, knowing Jesus to have many times used the term “Father” for God. Their question was basic mockery, if by Father He meant God, then they were asking for God to appear and take the witness stand in defense of Jesus, or if by Father He meant Joseph, then they were calling upon Joseph to take the witness stand, who probably at this point in Jesus’s life had already passed away. So Jesus responded “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.” In modern day language, Jesus’s answer might have sounded something like “you wouldn’t even recognize God if He was standing in front of you, because actually… He is standing in front of you- and you’re not recognizing Him!”
And the argument went back and forth with additional mocking questions from the religious leaders, followed by logical responses from Jesus; and we see in verse 30 the result of this trial is that “Many came to believe in Him.” Now it’s to these “believers,” as we see in verse 31, that Jesus says these words: “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.” This is a verse that is well known in today’s society, at least part of it is known, even though not recognized as words of Jesus from the Bible. You hear it quoted often “and the truth shall set you free.” But this phrase is actually part of a larger conditional statement, it’s an “if then clause”- the “truth setting you free” part, that everyone loves, is the result of fulfilling the condition of “continuing in Jesus’s word.” What Jesus says here is that If you continue in His word, then: 1. You are truly disciples 2. You will know the truth 3. The truth will make you free. It’s the three for one special here, you pay the $19.95 monthly installment and you get the magic mop, plus the car squeegee and the absorbent towel as a bonus, all for the same price. If you don’t pay the $19.95, then you don’t get the mop, you don’t get the squeegee, and you don’t get the towel. If you don’t continue in Jesus’s word, then you aren’t a true disciple, and you will not know the truth, and the truth won’t set you free.
If we want to be true disciples -and we’ll talk later about being a not-true disciple- if we want to be true disciples, if we want to know the truth, if we want to be set free, then we had better understand what it means to “continue in His word.” First, the word continue- I googled the word continue and there were 2 main definitions. The first defined the word as “to persist in an activity or process.” The idea is that continuing is ongoing, it is doing something and you don’t stop doing that thing. So, in looking at this verse- if you want to be a true disciple, and to know the truth, and you want to be set free- then you have to continue, not stopping, keeping it perpetual, persisting in being “in” His word. The second definition of continue I found was to “resume after interruption.” So, if you stopped doing something, continuing it would be to then start doing it again. Applying this definition to our verse would seem to indicate that if you had for some reason ceased to be “in His word,” and you wanted to be a true disciple, to know the truth, and to be set free- then you would continue, you would start back up being in His word. Both of these definitions seem to fit this verse, as well as the overall message of the Gospel. The Bible charges us to be faithful, but also lets us know that there is forgiveness when we mess up in our attempts to be faithful.
Some Bibles translate the verse as “If you abide” in His word. This word “abide” also gives us a good idea of the truth Jesus is presenting. Abide can mean to endure, withstand, to await, to accept, to remain, to conform to- as in abide by the rules, but my favorite way to describe the definition of abide is to think of it in terms of dwelling. Abide is the verb with the noun being “abode,” as in “welcome to my humble abode”- abode being your home, the place where you abide- your dwelling place, your home base place where you live, stay, and function. That’s a great way to think of how we are to continue in Jesus’s word- we are to live there.
Now that we understand the action taking place, what does Jesus mean exactly in saying “in My word”? He doesn’t say continue or abide in His words (plural), but in His word (singular). If He said continue in My words- the question would arise, well, which words? But He says in My word, seeming to indicate all of His words, His word is His overall message, His word is the sum of all His words. Today we use “word” in the same way, we say things like, “I’m waiting to receive word from the Doctor,” and the idea is that you are waiting on not just mere words, but an overall message that the words are used to convey. John, the author of this book, takes the concept of “word” even a step further in his very first statement in John 1:1. He says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then later in verse 14, ”And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” John is saying that the “Word” is not just the sum of Jesus’s words- the overall message- but the “Word” is actually the person of Jesus who is separate from God, yet at the same time still God. So now the word is not just the sum of Jesus’s words AND Jesus Himself, but since Jesus is God, the word is also the sum of God’s words, AND God Himself.
We as followers of Jesus refer to the Bible as the Word, since it is the sum of God and Jesus’s words, but I believe John is saying that the word He is referring to is more than just the Biblical word, it is also the person of Jesus- who is God. You could attempt to “continue in His word,” by studying and dissecting the Bible, the written Word, discovering its truth- but still manage to live apart from a relationship with the Living Word- the person who said these words. Or you could claim to have a relationship with God the Living Word, and yet not know anything about the words that the Living Word has spoken. I believe in John’s mind, the two aren’t to be separated from each other. The written word and the living word make up the “Word” that Jesus is telling us we must continue in and abide in.
Ok, so if we as believers in Jesus continue in- abiding and living in- not only God and Jesus’s words and message, but also continue in a right personal relationship with them, then and only then- can we be considered as true disciples, and know the truth, and be set free. Now that we’ve spent some time looking closely at the “if” part of Jesus’s statement, let’s look at little closer at the “then” part. The first “then” part says “then you are truly disciples of Mine.” Now why would Jesus say this? His words seem to indicate that there must be “not true” disciples. This makes sense when we look at the entire conversation spanning from verse 31 up to verse 47. (John 8:31-47) Verse 31 says “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him,” yet to those same “believers” Jesus in verses 43 and 44 says “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.” That doesn’t sound like something Jesus would say to true believers. That’s because I think He wasn’t talking to true believers, He was talking to non-true believers- fake believers- and that was the very reason He chose to clearly draw the line between them and true believers.
We as Christians often see the world as divided into 2 groups: believers and non-believers, or disciples of Jesus and non-disciples. But within the non-believer or non-disciple group, there are those who appear to be believers or disciples, but really aren’t. They’re fake believers. They might say they believe certain things, but their life doesn’t show that they really believe those things. They might attend church, and have all the right answers concerning who Jesus is, but their life remains unchanged and they have never fully surrendered to a relationship with Jesus. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say that there will be some who miss Heaven by only 12 inches, referring to those who have a head knowledge of who Jesus is, but have never transferred that knowledge to their heart.
So often it’s easy to tell the difference between most nonbelievers and true believers, but sometimes it’s a little harder to see the difference between fake believers and true believers. Here Jesus gives us the way to tell the difference: true believers, true disciples- continue in His word. That is where they live, that is where they spend their time- in His teaching, in His presence, abiding in who He is. If continuing in His word is the requirement of being a true disciple, then we each had better ask ourselves “Am I living as a true disciple, or a phony disciple?” “Am I continuing in Jesus’s word, or do I attempt to be there occasionally?” If Sunday morning is the only time each week that you are attempting to abide with Jesus, then I would dare say that you aren’t a true believer according to Jesus’s definition. You’re a phony disciple. If that’s you, today’s the day to make that relationship right, to repent and commit to a life of continuing in His word. There will be opportunity at the end of the service to make that decision and make things right with Jesus.
If we continue in His word, not only will we know we are true disciples, but we will know the truth. We will know the truth about who God is, who Jesus is, and who we are. And like the word, the truth is not only a message, but it is a person as well. Jesus says in John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Truth is not just knowledge, but truth is wrapped up in the very person of Jesus. Paul, referring to Jesus, says this of Him in Colossians 1:16 and 17 “For by Him all things were created… all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” It’s all about Him, it’s all about this Jesus guy. Truth, life’s answers, the meaning of life- are all wrapped up in knowing Him, and you get to know Him by continuing in His word.
Lastly, if we continue in His word, the truth will make us free. Now often the world portrays Christians as the ones who are in bondage, as the ones who have to follow certain rules, and that it is the rest of the world who is truly free, since they can do whatever they please. This week I found some teaching from John Piper that I believe really describes well this concept of true freedom that Jesus is presenting. I’m going to share a lot of what he taught with you now. He contends that there are at least four kinds of freedom and that all four kinds are needed in order to be truly free indeed. He says, and I quote “You are fully free- completely free, free indeed- when you have the desire, the ability, and the opportunity to do what will leave you no regrets forever.” To be fully free, you must have the desire to do a thing, sure you can force yourself to do something, but full freedom would allow for true desire to be fulfilled without having to go against that desire. And then if you have the desire to do something, but not the ability to do it, then you are not free to do it. And if you have the desire and the ability to do something, but lack the opportunity to do it, you are still not free to do it. And lastly, if you have the desire, the ability, and the opportunity to do something, but in the end it causes you regret or ends up destroying you, then you are not fully free. Piper says to be fully free, you need the desire, ability, and opportunity to do that which will make you happy forever. Listen to his analogy of skydiving. If you are crazy enough to go skydiving, you would be seeking the fullest possible rush of freedom that skydiving offers. But what if on the way to the airport, your car hits a pothole, you have a blowout, and run into a telephone pole. You could have all the desire and ability in the world, but you would no longer be free to jump, because your opportunity passes as you wait for the tow truck. You end up lacking the freedom of opportunity.
Or suppose you arrive safely to the airport, but skipped all the classes and have no idea how to skydive and operate the parachute. Your opportunity is there, but you don’t have the freedom of ability, and therefore won’t have the freedom to jump.
But what if you make it to the airport safely, and have attended all the classes giving you the ability needed, but when you take off in the plane, and the door is opened, and you look down- what if in that moment all your desire vanishes and gives way to paralyzing fear. You now have the freedom of opportunity, and ability, but you lack the freedom of desire.
Ok, but what if you arrive to the airport safely, giving you the freedom of opportunity, you are studied up and have the freedom of ability, you look out the door and are so excited to jump, having the freedom of desire. So, you jump- enjoying every second of free fall- but unknown to you, the parachute is defective and is not going to open up no matter what you do. In this case, you are still not free. It may feel free for a few moments, you have the opportunity, the ability, and the desire to do exactly what you wanted to do, but the reality is that you are headed very quickly to a regretful death. What felt like freedom at the time, will later be realized as bondage that ended in destruction.
This is the case of those who aren’t following Jesus, who claim to have a freedom to do whatever they choose. In essence, Piper says they are jumping out of a “skyscraper window of sin and exult for a season in the exhilaration of free-fall greed, or free-fall drugs or free-fall fame, or free-fall sex, or free-fall power, or free-fall luxury oblivious of Jesus. All this freedom is like a vapor, but those who trust in Jesus, and treasure him above all, will mount up with wings like eagles, and be glad — a thousand years from now. They will be free indeed.”
Do you want to belong to Jesus as His true disciple and receive all the blessings promised to His followers? Then continue in His word. Do you want to know the truth, not being swayed to the left or right by lies or false ideas that will confuse and mislead you? Continue in His word. Do you want to be truly free, and live life eternally without regret? Then continue in His word. Let’s bow our heads.