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How Does the Truth Set Us Free?
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed 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.” - John 8:31-32, ESV
On the campus of the University of Virginia, at the opposite end of the Quad from the Rotunda, sits Cabell Hall. In front of Cabell Hall is a sculpture of Homer, the blind Greek poet. Above the columns of Cabell Hall are inscribed the words of Jesus in Greek: "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
This saying of Jesus from John 8:32 has become very famous indeed, but what did Jesus mean by it? Most people remove it from its context and use it as a type of proverb or aphorism. If you know any truth, it sets you free from ignorance, which can hold you in bondage. Now truth certainly has a liberating effect, to a certain extent. But some people have taken these words as an endorsement of "open-minded" exploration of all things in full "academic freedom," which are often just buzz-words for "Let's throw out all established principles and traditions and be rebellious." Is this what Jesus meant?
In a word, no. As in all Bible study, backing up a bit and setting the verse in its context is the key to real understanding. So, as we back up and see the broader context, we can ask some further clarifying questions:
1. Why do we need to be set free? Is ignorance our problem? Not really. Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin." Thus, our bondage is to sin.
2. So, how does the truth set us free? Well, Jesus says, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So, we must abide or dwell in the word of Christ and be His true disciples. This is the only way we will know the truth, in Jesus and His word.
3. How is it, then, that the truth sets us free? Truth is not a person and does not act on our behalf, does it? Well, Jesus says, "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." The Son must set us free, and then we will be free indeed. So, "the truth" in verse 32 and "the Son" in verse 36 are referring to the same person, Jesus Christ Himself.
As we consider the context to clarify Jesus' teaching, we can see that when Jesus said "the truth will set you free," He meant that He will set us free. He is the truth. He is the Son who remains forever. Whatever the University of Virginia meant when it put these words on Jesus on Cabell Hall, Jesus Himself was not making a blanket endorsement of education or "free academic inquiry." He was, as always, pointing people to Himself. In all that we do, may we always seek our freedom in Jesus and seek to point others to freedom found only in Him!
Prayer Based on Psalm 26:
Vindicate me, O Lord,
for I have walked by faith in my integrity, Jesus Christ,
and I have trusted in my righteousness, the Lord, without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and my mind.
For Your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in Your faithfulness.
I do not sit with men of falsehood,
nor do I consort with hypocrites.
I hate the assembly of evildoers,
and I will not sit with the wicked.
O Lord, I love the habitation of Your house
and the place where Your glory dwells.
Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
in whose hands are evil devices,
and whose right hands are full of bribes.
But as for me, I shall, by Your grace, walk in Christ, my integrity;
redeem me, and be gracious to me.
My foot stands on level ground;
in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.
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