“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”
Verse 32 is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. The phrase “The truth will set you free” has been used in historical speeches and even in pop culture entertainment. Everyone from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Jim Carrey has been known to quote it. I understand its appeal, especially in America. We love freedom. We like the idea of being free, of not being enslaved to anyone or anything. So when we hear, “The truth will set you free,” we nod our heads in approval and shout, “Amen!”
Do we know what that means, though? Do we know from what we would be set free? Do we even know or desire to know the truth Jesus had in His mind when He made that statement?
How I wish more religiously-minded folks were as aware of verse 31 as they were aware of verse 32! If more people who professed to be Christians took verse 31 to heart and obeyed it willingly and completely, not only would they find the truth and thus find freedom and salvation. They would also find unity.
Many believe the division and sectarianism prevalent throughout modern Christendom is a good thing. We treat going to church like we’re trying to pick which restaurant to go to for supper tonight. “Not interested in what Church A has to offer? Try Church B. If what they teach and do doesn’t suit you, Church C is right down the street. Or you could try Church D, Church E, Church F…”
Jesus is not pleased with this. He prayed that all His followers would be completely united (John 17:20-23). The Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to command the early Christians to be completely united, condemning all division within the church (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Philippians 2:1-2). Paul warned against professed followers of Jesus having “itching ears,” seeking to find teachers that would tell them what they wanted to hear instead of the truth of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
That’s what truth is, you know. Jesus prayed for His followers that God would “sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). Truth is God’s Word, the Scriptures, the Bible. How does one come to know the truth? How does the truth set one free? Jesus tells us when you read verses 31 and 32 together: “…If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Think about this, friends. The Bible says that we all sin (Romans 3:23), and that before we become a disciple of Jesus we are slaves of sin (Romans 6:16-23). Only by becoming a follower of Jesus, a Christian, is one set free from the slavery of sin.
Yet, how do you know that you are really a disciple of Christ? After all, anyone can say they follow Jesus…but do they really? Would Jesus agree? The answer is to abide in the words of Jesus, to obey them completely. Do that and you really will be a Christian in the eyes of God (Matthew 7:21-27; Hebrew 5:9; John 14:15, 23-24; 15:10, 14; 1 John 2:3-6; 5:3). How does one abide in His word? You have to first know His word through daily study (Psalm 1:1-3; 1 Timothy 4:13, 15-16). That’s how you will come to know the truth which will set you free from the slavery of sin.
Many disagree with this, thinking that all that is required of them for salvation is to believe in Jesus. Bible study and obedience to the Word is optional, to be done only if convenient or if one agrees. However, notice that Jesus spoke these words to “the Jews who had believed in him” (v. 31a). They already believed in Him, but they weren’t yet set free. Thus, faith by itself is not enough; it must be accompanied by works of obedience to the Word of God (James 2:14-26).
Do you know the truth so it can set you free?