31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
32 "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
It is a distinctly post-modern problem: What is truth? Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber recognized this dilemma in their rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Pilate: "Then you are a king?"
Jesus: "It's you that say I am.
I look for truth, and find that I get damned."
Pilate: "But what is truth?
I truth a changing law?
We both have truths.
Are mine the same as yours?"
The problem these days is that, ever since the 17th Century, we have taken scientific truth--facts, figures, information, discoveries, theories--as "truth," with little thought for how that truth affects our lives. One modern atheist is so confident of science's ability to discern absolute moral truth--i.e. what is best for humankind--that he proposes doing away with religion altogether. He claims that the truth of science is far better than the truth of absolute moral authority, and that scientists can better discern what is best for humanity's well-being. H.G. Wells proposed a similar idea in his novel "The Shape of Things to Come," wherein a league of scientists took power after a massive world war, supposedly then dragging humankind into a golden age of peace and discovery. If the scientists could ever agree on what their moral truth is, then perhaps they might make some progress on that front. The problem is that all their "truths" have been conflated into one giant amorphous mess, and since those truths are changing so often, no one can point at one solid truth in there and say it is absolutely true.
But for us, today, the problem is very real in that people accept many truths, and each thinks he or she is absolutely right. As Pilate said in the lyrics above, "Are mine the same as yours?" Far too often, people adhere to their own truths and misquote John 8:32 as "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." They say, "I have found a new truth, and it has made me free of the bondage of those old truths and ideas." For example, let's say scientists believe they have found some scientific proof of the biological cause of some immoral behavior, then people latch onto that and say, "Aha! I KNEW it wasn't my fault. I have found the truth from science, and now I am free of moral responsibility for my actions." Moral truth slides and shifts according to whatever a current society claims as truth--even if that "truth" is distorted by political or intellectual maneuvering. You'd think that after a few centuries of dystopian novels warning us of the danger of manipulating truth, we would have caught on that singular moral truth is best for us, and yet we have not. We have taken science and its social offshoots and accepted them as the benchmark of truth, and we have left behind the truth of our faith.
Misquoting a Bible verse doesn't get us off the hook. We are not made free by distorted "truths" that are always changing. If the moral truth of our times is constantly shifting, then we are slaves to the changes, held in bondage to the whims of society, subservient to what a minority has promulgated as the truth. No sooner have we started operating in what we believe as freedom than we find ourselves held hostage by other ideas issuing from the same source. The freedom to worship as we please becomes a freedom to stop others from acting on their faith. The freedom to say what we want becomes the freedom to keep from hearing what others have to say. The freedom to defend ourselves becomes the freedom to allow weapons and violence to run rampant in the service of not trampling on someone's "rights." The freedom to do with our bodies whatever we like becomes the freedom to murder an unborn child. So much for being set free by "truth."
When Jesus spoke of truth in today's verses, He wasn't talking about the changing truths of scientific progress or sociological insight. Jesus was speaking of absolute moral truth, and it is important to note one particular word that will help us understand what he meant: "AND." Let's look at those verses again:
John 8:31-32 (King James Version, my emphasis)
31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
32 "AND ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
The actual verse that people so often misquote (John 8:32) begins with the word "And," which indicates it is just the second part of a larger idea. The whole things starts with this: "If you abide in My word..."
•"If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed."
•"If you abide in My word, ... you shall know the truth."
•"If you abide in My word, ... the truth shall make you free."
Jesus said this to the Jews who believed in Him, knowing that they had this tendency to follow the teachings of men rather than the commandments of God. Kind of like us, aren't they?
We are Jesus' disciples if we abide in His Word--if we live in it, continue in it, stay in it. And this is not just any "word," and certainly not the words of men, but the very Word of God. That is where we are to remain, to abide, to dwell--in the commandments, statutes, judgments, testimony, and law of the Lord our God.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
We keep God's Word by hedging it within our hearts, by not allowing it to become distorted by men and circumstances. We also keep God's Word by following God in Christ, by adhering to His teachings. And we not only keep God's Word but we are kept BY it, because it does its part to keep us on the narrow path to God.
When we abide in God's Word, we come to know the truth, the one and only Truth.
John 14:6 (my emphasis)
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, THE TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
Jesus wasn't speaking of knowing a great many truths, nor was He speaking of a truth that is revealed through esoteric knowledge. Jesus spoke of knowing the Truth that is Himself: "THE" Truth rather than "A" truth. Knowing Jesus as our Lord and Savior, knowing Him as the true Son of God, knowing Him as the Redeemer of our souls, knowing Him as the Judge who shall return in glory, knowing Him as the firstfruits of God's love and mercy--THAT is the Truth we are meant to know if we abide in His Word.
When we abide in God's Word and find the truth that is Jesus Christ, then we ARE set free. Some today like to say that when we know current social "truth," then we are set free from the teachings of the Bible. But Jesus is telling us in these verses that we are set free from the bondage of MEN'S teachings, not the teachings of the Bible. We are free to live in the Spirit and not according to the flesh.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
This freedom we find in following Christ is not the freedom to do as we please, as some might suggest, but the freedom to live apart from sin and immorality. The truth that makes us free is the moral truth of obedience to God, not the sliding truth of doing whatever pleases our flesh. That popular 1960's adage "If it feels good, do it" is WRONG, because therein lies sin and death. "If it feels good" has led us into bondage to drugs, sexual immorality, violence, murder, and all manner of things that harm and degrade us as a society and as individuals. The measure was never meant to be what makes us feel good. The truth that makes us free is the unique truth found in the gospel of Jesus Christ:
16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
17 "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."
From what is the world saved? The world is saved from the bondage to sin, saved from the slavery to the flesh and the devil, saved from death itself. And we are saved not by the constantly shifting moral teachings of men, not by the facts and figures of science, not by the intellectual maneuverings of human philosophies, but ONLY by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, "If you abide in My word,... the truth shall make you free." Let us therefore seek His Word, abide in the truth of His teaching, the truth of His commandment. Do you remember that greatest commandment? Sure you do!
37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
38 "This is the first and great commandment."
The truth to which we are to adhere is the truth of that commandment, and if we love the Lord our God with all our being, we will choose to abide in His Word. And if we abide in His Word, then we are His disciples indeed. If we abide in His Word, then we shall know the truth of Jesus Christ. If we abide in His Word, then HIS truth shall make us free.
Lord God and Savior, I will seek Your truth and delight in Your law, because I love You and I want to know Your will. Teach me to serve You and to worship You in spirit and in truth. Free me, O Lord, from bondage to this world's truths so that I may better know Your truth, and thus make me free from the sin that seeks to drag me down to death. You are the way, the truth, and the life. That is all the truth I need to know. Amen.