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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Free At Last

The whole world, it feels like, knows the phrase from the lips of Jesus, "The truth shall set you free." Hey, I even heard it quoted in a Jim Carrey movie, Liar, Liar. We all know the phrase. But ... do we? You see, the phrase is just that -- a phrase. It is a part of a sentence which is part of a thought. What was that thought?
"If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
Context is important. Jesus didn't say this to His disciples. He was in a dialog with the Pharisees who were testing Him (John 8:13). The text says that in this exchange with His challengers, "many believed in Him." (John 8:30) To these new believers, then, He said this remarkable thing.

Having established the context, it is equally important to note the content. Jesus did not say "The truth shall set you free" all by itself. He didn't even say, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" in a vacuum. Notice that Jesus put restrictions on this claim of knowing truth and being set free. There are two. 1) "If you abide in My word." 2) "You are truly My disciples." Sure, these are parallel -- synonymous. But they are two things. In other words, we do not have a generalized promise that everyone will know the truth and everyone will be set free. That is not the case. There are narrow limits on this knowing-and-being-free promise. It is, in fact, a similar restriction we see elsewhere.
"When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come." (John 16:13)
We'd like to think that this is a statement from Christ that the Holy Spirit will lead all people into all truth, "So who are you to question my truth?" It just isn't in there. This is a promise specifically to His disciples and not to the world in general.

So we need to look again at the limitations. Jesus says, "If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples." Notice that He defines "My disciples" for us here. It isn't those who "believe" because, as we see in the context, Jesus was explaining a further truth to those who believed. He was telling them, "Believing is fine, but there is something more." What more? "If you abide in My word." A disciple is defined biblically as one who abides in the Word.

"Oh, no it isn't," someone is sure to say. "It's defined as one who abides in Jesus's word." Fine. Do that nice little dodge. Be a "red-letter Christian". Except the Bible is clear that all Scripture is breathed by God, and that Jesus is the Word. Thus, all Scripture is Jesus's word. And we're back to my statement. A disciple is defined biblically as one who abides in the Word.

This gains significance when you consider the Great Commission. It starts with "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19). Not converts. Not even "church-goers". Disciples. Jesus defined disciple for us -- those who abide in His Word. The word used here is μαθητεύω -- mathēteuō. It refers to becoming a pupil. Not merely a believer. Not even a follower. A pupil, a student, a learner.

You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Oh, of course, "you" in that sentence refers to "you who abide in the Word, whose lives revolve around His Word, who are learners of Christ and His Word." These people do have the promise of enlightenment from the Holy Spirit (which, by the way, would have to be completely consistent with all such disciples over all time). We are not called to attend church, sing worship songs, listen to a decent sermon, and go home. We are called to live in His Word as learners. And we are commanded to enjoin others to do the same. To be disciples, as defined by the Master. Then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Don't count on some shortcut through the world's thinking processes and values. Expect a lifelong process. Jesus said it.


Bob said...

i love this one.
i used to be confused by the "out of context" statement, that "the truth will set you free".
this is because i have experienced life in a way that the truth did not always set me free.
many times the truth in fact created fear or sorrow. the truth in itself does nothing for the creature, but increase his/her awareness. exp. if i know the truth of the law, then i become aware of my sinfulness, "bad news". it also still begs the question "free from what?"
but now that Stan has placed the statement back into the proper context, i can see the point.
if i know the truth,(Jesus) and Remain in His word, i will be free from the wages of sin.

David said...

Whenever I increase my awareness of my sinfulness, yes it discourages me, but it also puts me in awe. Each further departure from truth puts me in awe that He would deign to save me. Worthless, rebellious, ignorant me. I defy Him daily, and yet He saved me. How amazing is that? Yes, the truth convicts, but it also expounds His grace.