The truth shall make you free

John 8:31-32
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.”
33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.
35 “And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.
36 “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

There are few things I dislike more that when someone “cherry-picks” Bible verses. “Cherry-picking” is when a Bible verse is picked out of its context and used to try to justify a particular point of view. Quite often, a verse is chosen because it uses particular words – e.g. “slave” or “love” or “baptise” – and then no other verses pertaining to the same subject are mentioned. The examples are too numerous to mention (and they just make me angry), but suffice to say that when someone cherry-picks a verse from the Bible, they are invariably ignoring that verse’s original lesson, the teaching we are meant to take from it. Worse yet, more often than not, the cherry-picked verse is used to argue for the opposite of its original sense! It really is infuriating to someone who takes the time to read and study the Bible.

Of course, those who cherry-pick verses are counting on one thing: they assume that no one will bother to check out the reference. It’s similar to advertising for movies or books. A film runs an advertisement that says “Critics declare this film ‘A triumph’!” And yet when the full review is read, the critic has declared “To the uninitiated fool who has no sense of artistry or morals, this film may be a triumph, but the rest of the world will undoubtedly hate this film.” It’s referred to as “spin” – turning something so that only its good side is shown. You see the same thing in news and politics, where deeper issues and complete context are often ignored in the service of getting a story that appeals to the masses. The sad thing is that some pastors do the same thing by “spinning” the Bible and cherry-picking verses to create messages that appeal to our flesh but do nothing to serve our spirit.

The verses above from the Gospel of John, chapter 8 verses 31-36, are often cherry-picked and taken out of context. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations sets the tone by mentioning just a part of verse 32 and leaving out any reference to the surrounding verses:

AUTHOR:New Testament
QUOTATION:The truth shall make you free.
ATTRIBUTION:John viii. 32.

So let’s look at the whole reference. Let’s put the cherry back on the tree and look at the whole thing. In order to understand how “the truth shall make you free,” we must know the context, because, as my friends Ajai and Greg love to say, “Context is everything.”

If “the truth shall make you free,” then it helps to know from what we are being freed. As we can see from verses 34-36, the freedom we gain from knowing “the truth” is freedom from sin. Jesus makes that quite clear. But what is “the truth”? This is where the biblical interpretation of verse 32 conflicts with the common, cherry-picked usage of that verse.

Usually, “The truth shall make you free” is used as a call to reason and social action. Those who use that phrase assume that “the truth” refers to some deeper understanding of social injustice and the need for change. There is also an implication that one will be set free from the bondage of traditional, prejudiced beliefs. To put it another way, “Once you know the truth about social injustice and you learn to follow reason instead of your traditional beliefs, then you will be free to change things.” Often, the phrase is used simply to say, “You who hold to traditional thoughts and morals do not know the truth, but the truth we are about to teach you will set you free from your old ideas.” Both of those are nice sentiments, but they’re a horrible misuse of Scripture.

No, as Jesus makes clear in verse 31, “the truth” is “My word” – i.e. the words and teachings of Jesus, the gospel itself. Jesus says that if we “abide” in His word, we will truly be His disciples. “Abiding” in the Word of God does not mean just reading it, it means we have to LIVE it, embody it. “Abiding” in the Word means we allow the Spirit of God to indwell us so that His Word dwells in us even as we dwell in it. So, to be true disciples of Christ, we must abide in His Word, and then the truth of the Scriptures shall be opened to us.

Luke 24:28
28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther.
29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.
30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”

The two men on the road to Emmaus asked Jesus to abide with them, and their eyes were opened to the Scriptures and they saw Jesus for who He really is: the Christ, the Son of the living God.

John 14:6
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

The “truth” that makes us free is the gospel of Christ and even Christ Himself. And through that truth we gain freedom from the bondage of sin and death, the freedom to partake of our inheritance as sons and daughters of God.

Here is what we can see from this: The truth of the gospel of Christ – that He is the Savior, the very Lamb of God – shall set us free from our slavery to sin and the ways of the world. Jesus Christ sets us free to come into the kingdom of God, but we must first have our eyes opened to the truth of Scripture, and we must then view everything we see through eyes of faith. Reason and logic will not lead us to that truth, only faith can do that – faith in Christ Jesus, who lived and died and was raised again to free us from bondage to Satan and the world.

As we go through this day, let us reflect on the many so-called “truths” we hear and see how they measure up to the truth of the gospel. Will political correctness or calls for “equality” truly lead us to freedom? Or do they instead lead us to even greater bondage, oppression, and persecution? Does the “spin” we get from some pastors truly line up with the Word of God, or are they leading people astray by ignoring greater and simpler truth in Scripture? Be discerning, dear friends, and do not be misled by the “truth” of the world. If we really want to be freed from our bondage to sin and darkness, if we really seek freedom for the whole world, then we must return to the Source, the Word of God. There we will find the Way, the Truth and the Life, and He will indeed set us free.

Heavenly Father, free us from the lies of the world to see only Your truth. Liberate us from the “spin doctors” and false prophets who misuse Your Word, and teach us to be discerning about sin and righteousness, about truth and love, about justice and oppression. Let us abide in Your Word, to be Your true disciples, so that we may know the truth and be free at last. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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