This is one of the most often quoted verses. In John 8:32, Jesus’ words linking truth to freedom offer encouragement and inspire us to seek truth in the pursuit of personal freedom.
But there is a problem. Many who come into the church, and even discover a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, do not experience freedom. They remain trapped in bondage to sin and warped thinking. They remain stuck in their lives and do not know how to move forward. Sadly, many of these same people leave the church, or worse leave faith altogether. They leave disillusioned and come, through their own experience, to believe the words of Jesus must not be true – or not true for them for reasons they cannot explain. This, of course, would be immediately validated by the relativistic world around us that says what is true for one may not be true for another.
So what is the answer? Is Jesus right? Why is the freedom promised by Jesus not a reality in the lives of so many? To find out, we have to go back to the source. Let’s look at the scripture in its proper context.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 NIV)
Taken in its full context, you can see what geeky software developers like myself call a conditional, if/then statement.
If you hold to my teaching…
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
What becomes immediately apparent is that truth is not the beginning of Jesus’ thought. Rather the truth, which results in freedom, has its root in holding to his teaching. We must listen to and apply the teaching of Jesus to our lives, regularly and consistently over time, in order to know the truth of his teaching and experience the freedom promised.
How do I arrive at this conclusion that it is “consistently and regularly over time” you may ask? Well, since I posed the question, I will answer it.
The Greek word used for “hold to” is meno. In the King James Version, this word is translated as “continue” in John 8:31. Interestingly, meno is the same Greek word from which we translate “abide” in John 15:4-10. This is another famous passage where Jesus instructs us that if we “if we abide in him”, the vine, “then we will bear much fruit.” There it is again, a conditional, if/then statement! The point is clear – there are conditions on our part to really experience freedom.
To be very clear, this is not a study of salvation. It is a study on how we can experience freedom from the grip of bondage to sin. Salvation and freedom both work in our lives by grace, through faith (Eph. 2:8-10; Gal. 3:1-3; Php. 2:13). Faith then works through love (Gal. 5:6). However, I will go so far as to say that if one does not possess a desire to hold to the teachings of Jesus and apply them to his or her life, they could question whether they have accepted the Gospel, or given mere mental ascent to Jesus as a “good teacher” or otherwise. Paul would advise us all to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). True faith should at some point be evidenced by a desire to apply the teachings of Jesus and grow in them. Every believer should pray earnestly over these issues.
Truth as expressed by Jesus is not merely knowledge of fact vs. fiction, but an experiential knowledge. This truth can only be rooted in experience. We must take it upon ourselves to learn Jesus teachings. We then must vigorously apply those teachings to our lives. Through application, we come to a personal/experiential knowledge of their truth and veracity, resulting in freedom!