Those who know me may be a bit surprised at the title of this post. "Hold on, Oloryn, it says right there in scripture:"
and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32 NASB)
"How can you say, in the face of Jesus own words, that the truth doesn't set you free?"
There's a problem with that very popular quote. Note the first word: "and". The quote is the last part of the statement, and so only conveys part of the story.
So, what's the "rest of the story"?
Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;" (John 8:31 NASB)
This is the primary condition for what follows: you have to be abiding in His word, which makes you a true disciple. If you're not fulfilling that condition, the rest of the passage doesn't apply to you. Actually, unless you're fulfilling that condition, knowing the truth may be iffy. Note the sequence: You abide in His word, which makes you a true disciple. This results in knowing the truth, which results in being made free.
Note also that believing in Jesus by itself doesn't qualify. Let's widen the context a bit, and pay attention to that 'therefore'. As a result of Jesus words in a discussion with the Pharisees (see verses 12-29), many Jews came to believe in Him. At this point, Jesus turns to those believers and makes the statement we've studied above. Jesus wasn't satisfied with their coming to belief. He wanted them to go on into freedom (and they don't even realize they need to be made free - see the following verses). If believing was sufficient, He wouldn't have made the statement.
Note that I'm not saying that this is a prerequisite for salvation. Salvation is by grace though faith in Christ alone (Eph 2:8 et al), but Jesus isn't satisfied for us to come into salvation and just sit there - He wants to take us on into freedom, and that takes an abiding-in-His-word discipleship relationship with Him.
And I wonder if not fully understanding this is part of what produces problems among my fellow theological conservatives. We tend to focus on truth, and we're right to do so, as we live in a culture that largely denies that truth even exists. But in focusing on defending truth, we tend to forget that truth by itself doesn't set free. Truth only sets free in a context of a true discipleship relationship with Christ, and the pursuit and defense of truth doesn't by itself produce that relationship. The pursuit of a discipleship relationship with Jesus has to take priority over the pursuit of truth. This doesn't mean the two are contradictory, this means that without that priority our own pride at being truth-pursuers and truth-holders will hinder the discipleship relationship and damage our witness.