Friday, April 20, 2007

The truth doesn't set you free

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.


John said...

Yes, very well written. Salvation is not (simply) an event, but a process.

Neil said...

Good points, Oloryn. Even well-intentioned people (myself included) make mistakes when taking verses out of context. Greg Koukl has a good piece at called, "Never read a Bible verse." His point is never to read just a verse - we should read what comes before and after.

Thanks for visiting my blog and for your comments!

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree. I think you are putting too many divisions in this sentence. Christ does not say that the truth will set us free if we are His disciples, but that if we are his disciples we will know the truth. Elsewhere Scripture shows us that we cannot know the truth without God -- if that is true then there is no conflict of somehow knowing the truth but not being free because of lack of following Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:18
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:14
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

Without following Christ, the truth and wisdom of God are incomprehensible. Without Christ we are like the Pharisees who heard Christ's words, but did not understand.

Matthew 13:13
This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand."

So, yes, there is a rest of the story. The truth sets us free, but without Christ we do not have the truth.

Anonymous said...

I worry that we are parsing the language too tightly here.

I can't even certainly figure out the grammar on this sentence. Usually, you don't use the word "and" after a semicolon like this.

After the "if" clause, you get three main clauses. If we take out the punctuation and the ands, it reads.

"If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth. The truth will make you free." (NRSV)

I think all three things are things that grow out of being in the word. I'm not so sure there is a order or sequence.

That said, I like Orlryn's emphasis on the need for discipleship.

Anonymous said...

I think all three things are things that grow out of being in the word. I'm not so sure there is a order or sequence.

That may be a better view than seeing them as a sequence (though it seems to me that there is an inherent sequence to 'you shall know the truth' followed by 'the truth shall set you free - can the truth make you free if you don't know it?). My feeble Greek shows the last 3 phrases are separated merely by kai (and). But it still seems to support my main point that we sometimes tend to take 'you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free' out of the context of continuing (or abiding - this is the same verb used in John 14:6 'Abide in me', and seems to have the basic meaning of staying in a place) in His Word.

John J. Kaiser said...

Excellent post. Too many verses are taken out of context to convey only what they user wishes them to convey- not their actual meaning.