Undoubtedly, the phrase from John 8:32 is one of the most quoted promises in societal Christianity today. I’m sure you’ve seen several signs, memes, posts, and maybe even a bumper sticker or two that lays claim to “the truth” setting us free, complete with colorful depictions of broken chains, light breaking in the hues of dawn, and people facing heaven with arms outstretched.
But how exactly does truth set us free? In fact, to quote Pilate’s famous question in John 18:38, “what is truth?”
The truth about, well, truth…
In reality, John 8:32 is like many other scriptures where people, through poor exegesis, sloppy translation, misunderstanding, or downright abuse of scripture, hi-jack for themselves promises within those verses of holy writ. Many lay claim to things such as financial prosperity, blessings from God, and even salvation without fulfilling the scriptural obedience required from God for such pledges. In other words, God qualifies a promise or blessing by saying if you do this then I will do that. People then want the that (the promise) without fulfilling the this (the qualifier or requirement). As an example, let’s look at one of the most popular verses in all of scripture:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)
Here, we see that God loves us and gave His Son to die so we can be saved. However, there is a requirement: “whoever believes in him.” This makes it a conditional promise, and God is under no obligation to provide salvation to those who do not believe.
With this in mind, let’s look more closely at the context of the scripture in question:
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NIV)
Notice, within context, Jesus makes this promise to those who hold to His teaching and are one of His disciples. This adds a completely different aspect to the truth making us free doesn’t it?
Freedom in Jesus
In similar fashion, the apostle Paul masterfully delineates the freedom we have in Christ in the book of Galatians. I’ll cherry pick a few scriptures from chapters 3 & 4 to make the case:
If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29, NIV)
But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:26, NIV)
I encourage you to read Galatians 3 through 5 in total, but the Cliff Notes version of what I’m drawing from this portion of scripture is simple. Paul speaks of the freedom we have in Christ, as we are no longer under the law but under the covenant of promise. However, he is quick to point out that woven within these promises, once again, is the fabric of a conditional promise. We only have this “inheritance” if we “belong to Christ.” This is exactly the same kind of concept we see in John 8:32…
Jesus is Truth
Finally, it’s important to point out the words of Jesus in John 14:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NIV)
Ironically, as Pilate asked Jesus, “what is truth?” he was actually staring Truth right in the face.
And so, we come full circle. Will the truth set us free? We could also ask will He set us free? The answer is that the truth will only make us free if we are true disciples of Jesus Christ, following after His commandments and teachings. Our relationship with the Truth, Jesus Himself, will determine the level of freedom we truly have…