How Does the Truth Really Set You Free?
- Britt Mooney Contributing Writer
- 2021 22 Feb
Jesus states in John 8, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
It sounds nice with words like truth and freedom, but there’s an implication within what Jesus says that confronts us at our very core. At the present, we are slaves. We are bound. We aren’t free.
What follows in John 8 is disturbing to our ideas about ourselves and our identity (as Jesus disturbed the Jews that originally heard it), which are the most difficult truths to address, yet Jesus is explaining what it takes to be set free. To be made free and live in freedom.
What Is the Context of John 8:32?
Beginning in John 8:12, Jesus teaches in the Temple treasury, beginning with the declaration that He is the light, and the people walk in darkness. As happens throughout the Gospels, the Jews question Him.
It’s like they’re having two different conversations. We’ve all been in that situation, haven’t we? One side can’t seem to make out what the other is saying, their perspective, even though they are using the same language, and there’s no communication.
This is what happens here. The teaching continues, and Jesus makes the two different perspectives clear—“I’m from above and you’re from below.” (v.23) Jesus is from Heaven and they are from the Earth, this world of corruption and death.
Because of the vastly different perspectives (can’t get any further apart), the Jews are more confused and ask an important question—Who are you?
Identity is the most central and revolutionary truth we must wrestle with if we are to go from bondage to freedom. Yet it is the most difficult to address because we cling to our identities more than anything in this world; our racial, national, political, gender, sexual, religious designations are the place from which we understand everything else. When our identity gets challenged, it offends us to the extreme, and we are lost and hopeless. It is like death—it scares us. We avoid it at all costs.
Jesus had already answered that question of identity—He is the Son of God. Jesus then tells them that they will understand who He is when He is lifted up on the cross. When He is killed.
Or another way to look at it—they will understand who He is when they kill Him. Because that’s when they will understand who they are, too. That’s when they will know the truth.
Many walked away at that point. Others, however, began to believe in Him.
To those who believed, He took it a step further. “If you follow my teachings, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Why Does the Bible Care so Much about Truth?
In Western civilization, we often define truth as a set of ideas or beliefs, a philosophy. We are then educated in that philosophy and hold others to those perspectives. We are subject to truth.
Ultimately, the scripture describes truth as a person, God. Truth or morality aren’t things that God must follow or can be subject to. Nothing is above Him. God, as a person, is the foundation of reality and truth, what is right and holy. Therefore, we can’t know the truth in an intellectual sense. We must experience it, which is why the word used in “knowing” God is one of an intimate relationship (much like Adam “knew” Eve and she had a kid).
Since Truth is a Person, this explains why relationship is paramount, the source, and the goal of salvation. Because relationship is everything, what we believe about God (doctrine, theology) becomes important, much like if I say I have relationship with my wife and describe her as a short, blue-skinned man, others who know her would question whether I have a relationship with her at all. And they would be right.
The Bible is the story of the Father reconciling all of creation back to Himself through the Son. The focus of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation is the person of God. God is defined as life, the way, the light, and more. Truth places us in line with those things. We can only have relationship with God, and worship Him, in spiritual truth (John 4:24). Lies will do the opposite —place us in darkness and death.
What we experience determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we think and feel. What we think and feel determine our behavior. The root of what needs to change, therefore, is an experience with God and what we believe about Him and, by extension, about ourselves. Everything flows from that.
What Does the Bible Say about Truth?
The Apostle John writes in chapter 1 of his Gospel that Jesus is the “Logos,” often translated as the Word, a philosophical term of his time related to truth and how people should live, confronting the Hellenistic culture, the roots of our modern Western civilization. Not to leave Jews out, John says that Moses brought the law, but grace and truth came through Jesus. They need a different source, too.
Just before His death, Jesus declares He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The Holy Spirit is the “spirit of Truth” (John 16:13), James talks about how we are from the “Word of Truth” (James 1:18). We can walk “in Truth” (Psalm 86:11). The Son of God reveals the Father (John 17:25-26) so we can know God and live in the God who is truth.
Just as God is known as the personal embodiment of Truth, the Devil is the “father of lies.” His first interaction with humanity led them into action based on a lie, to death, and corrupted the whole of creation with that event. There are two fathers, and we belong to either one or the other. That is where we get our identity. We have all been born in a world corrupted by the father of lies, and in participating and believing those lies, we are bound to what lies produce—fear, pride, sin, hate, and death. No matter how we dress it up with luxury, entertainment, or religion, it doesn’t matter. We are slaves to the lie with no hope of any way out, no escape, our end determined.
Add to this that everything we see is bound to the same corrupted world, temporary, doomed to destruction, like the Jews in John 8, we can’t comprehend the Heavenly realm, the joys, the riches, the completeness, the love, the grace. We’ve had no experience with it. And we are unable to get from here to there.
It took a supernatural, sacrificial, and extravagantly loving act to give us another option at all. God came here.
How Can the Truth Set Us Free?
Back in John 8, Jesus tells the Jews that “believe in Him” that they will know the truth, and the truth will set them free.
These Jews that “believe in Him” start to argue. “Hey, what do you mean? We’ve never been slaves of anyone.”
Lie number one. The current situation with the Romans (second-class citizens, many of the Jews literal slaves) and past history with Babylon (the Jews taken captive as slaves) are notable. Jesus doesn’t deal with the obvious, though. Like always, Jesus is trying to make them free, so He goes to the root. “You are a slave to sin. You’re trying to kill me. I’m telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. You are of a different father.”
Their response: “Abraham is our father.”
Lie number two. Jesus explains that if Abraham was their father, then they would obey like Abraham did, believe in Jesus as he did. They don’t, so they have a different father. “Your real father.”
They continue arguing. “God is our father!”
Lie number three. Jesus reveals, “The Devil is a murderer, and you are doing what he did, trying to kill me. The Devil is your father.”
At the end of the chapter, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” I am—Yahweh. He declared himself as God. As confirmation on the difficulty in challenging someone’s identity, the Jews (the “chosen people of God”) picked up stones to kill Jesus. Which is what He said they would do.
The words “set free” have an added meaning. It also means the truth will make us free. Make. Create.
“You must be born again,” Jesus says to Nicodemus in the middle of the night (John 3:3). You have to be born of the Spirit instead of this world (3:6).
Once we repent and are born again, we are in Christ, and our identity has radically shifted from the lie to the Truth. Our fatherhood has changed. We have died to the Devil as father, and now we have been born from God.
We now have a new Father.
The problem of bondage is not solved with a new philosophy or a worldly government or religious tradition. It goes way deeper than that. The problem is our very nature, our very identity. Jesus says that while the religious tradition tells you not to kill or commit adultery, His commandment is to stop hating or lusting (Matthew 5:21-28). But who can do that? We intrinsically know that’s impossible as we are.
Jesus also says, dealing with Jewish food requirements, that it’s not what goes into the body that defiles us but what comes out of the heart (Matthew 15:11). We’re already unclean inside.
Even if we knew the right thing to do, we couldn’t do it (Romans 7:15). We aren’t basically good people that need a slight attitude adjustment. The Bible is clear. Our source is one of rebellion and selfishness and all that extends from that. God gave His standard in the Law and the people were unable to keep it, not because the Law was wrong but because it depended upon the strength of humanity to perform it (Galatians 3:19). We can’t.
God knows that and didn’t leave us there. He changes who we are.
We need a different nature, which comes from a different source. Not an impersonal source but a relational, intimate, loving Person as a Father. A good Father. We can’t just be shown what free people do (that’s religion), we must be empowered to do them (that’s the New Covenant, Ezekiel 36:26).
To break from the bondage of sin, hate, fear, pride, death, and destruction, we must be made free. We must be given a new perspective to see the God who is Spirit as well as the grace and power to follow Him. We must die to our old life, lose our life for the sake of Christ to truly find it.
We must be born again.
Paul in Romans teaches it like this: we are born from the first Adam, a whole race of people bound to that corruption. Jesus comes as a Second Adam, a new race of people born of God (Romans 5:12-21). That’s quite a change.
We were born of this world and could only make worldly choices. No matter how we mix it with wealth or entertainment or religion, it’s still corruption. Our righteousness was “filthy rags” and worthless (Isaiah 64:6). Once we are reborn from Heaven, we can make Heavenly choices. We can choose courage over fear, humility over pride, love over hate, integrity over division, peace over chaos, forgiveness over vengeance, generosity over greed, life over death. It was impossible before. Now, with God and His Spirit within us, it is who we are, our new identity, the New Creation (Galatians 6:15).
We have been made free from within (where it matters) to live as Christians (literally, little anointed ones, little Jesuses) on the Earth, to walk with a loving Father Who is Truth, no longer bound to the things that will destroy us, and declare His love and invite others into that freedom full of joy and peace.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Nghia-Le
Britt Mooney (with his amazing wife, Becca) has lived as a missionary in Korea, traveled for missions to several countries, and now lives in Suwanee GA as a church planter that works bi-vocationally with Phoenix Roasters, a missional coffee company. He has a podcast about the Kingdom of God called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author with Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.
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