During Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, He made many statements that were cryptic, even to His closest disciples—statements that resulted in confusion, frustration, and even violence among the religious leaders.
In John 8, Jesus provoked a conflict with the Jews that ended with an attempt to stone Him. He said to them, “…‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32).
What Exactly Is 'The Truth'?
Pilate asks Jesus a poignant question in John 18:38. "What is truth?" Philosophers have wrestled with this concept for millennia. How do we properly define truth?
According to the Matthew Henry commentary, truth comes from God, first and foremost. "The truth both heals and nourishes the hearts of those who receive it. The truth taught by philosophers has not this power and effect, but only the truth of God." Secondly, truth heals and nourishes. When we know the truth about something, we can begin the process of healing and growth. It also has a nourishing effect. Have you ever noticed when you turn the pages of Scripture that you feel your heart has revived, especially when you stumble across a new truth? Because God's words, the voice of truth, restore and replenish the hearts of men.
Matthew Henry continues to weigh in on truth, "First, The truth which Christ teaches tends to make men free, Isa. 61:1. Justification makes us free from the guilt of sin, by which we were bound over to the judgment of God, and bound under amazing fears; sanctification makes us free from the bondage of corruption, by which we were restrained from that service which is perfect freedom, and constrained to that which is perfect slavery. Gospel truth frees us from the yoke of the ceremonial law, and the more grievous burdens of the traditions of the elders. It makes us free from our spiritual enemies, free in the service of God, free to the privileges of sons, and free of the Jerusalem which is from above, which is free. Secondly, The knowing, entertaining, and believing, of this truth does actually make us free, free from prejudices, mistakes, and false notions, than which nothing more enslaves and entangles the soul, free from the dominion of lust and passion; and restores the soul to the government of itself, by reducing it into obedience to its Creator."
In essence not only does truth come for Truth (God himself) and nourishes us, but it frees us in a number of ways. It frees us in a justification sense. When we know the truth of the Gospel, and we commit ourselves to a saving relationship with the Lord, it frees us from the bondage of sin. But it also frees us from anything that entangles such as prejudices and untruths.
What Is Knowing the Truth?
We are given two important pieces of information about this freeing truth:
- Claiming belief is not the same thing as knowing the truth.
- Knowing the truth is dependent upon “really” being a disciple of Christ and walking in obedience.
These Jews had been listening to Jesus speak, and John records that they “had believed Him” (John 8:31). But Jesus took it a step further, applying the test of true discipleship: obedience. Because how can we truly believe what Christ says and who He is and not obey? The first step to being set free is to not simply knowing the truth but to believe and obey it.
Several chapters later, John records another profound statement from Jesus: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
“The truth” is more than knowledge about Christ; it is Christ Himself.
Then you will know Me, and I will set you free. To know Jesus is to know the truth of the Gospel.
Set Free From What?
The second part of Jesus's statement is that "the truth will set you free". To the Jews, freedom meant liberation from their Roman oppressors. In fact, many thought that the Messiah would come as a conquering king for that express purpose.
The mistake is understandable. A conquered people waiting for a Messiah would expect freedom in that sense to be part of the plan. Especially when a prophecy regarding the Messiah reads:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).
Today, many people believe freedom is the right to do whatever they want, subject to no governing authority outside of their own whims.
Both ideas miss the concept of true freedom altogether, and the Jews missed it again here in this conversation with Jesus.
“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been enslaved to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be set free’?” (John 8:33)
Jesus didn’t leave them to wonder long but explained Himself in the very next verse: “…everyone who practices sin habitually is a slave of sin” (John 8:34 AMP).
John Piper elaborates on this slavery: “First, sin enslaves us by producing compelling desires…And the second way sin enslaves is that it eventually damns us…Jesus alone can free us from these two kinds of slavery: the domination and damnation of sin.”
And that is the freedom Jesus is talking about here. Not political freedom, not even physical freedom, but spiritual freedom.
Our sin nature means we have sinful desires that claim our attention and govern our decisions—desires that will ultimately lead to physical and spiritual death. There is no freedom on that path; any liberty we think we have is an illusion meant to discourage us from seeking the real freedom that only Christ can give.
- Freedom from the impossible task of satisfying the law.
- Freedom to genuinely do what we want to do because our desires are aligned with God’s.
- Freedom to serve God and please Him.
A Biblical Example of Truth and Freedom
At the beginning of this same chapter in John, Jesus encountered a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery and brought before Him for judgment (John 8:1-11). The scribes and Pharisees were hoping to trick Jesus into saying something they could officially accuse Him of, but He (as always) maintained control of the situation and turned it into this beautiful picture of spiritual freedom.
When they reminded Jesus that the Law required she be stoned, His response was simply, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).
This simple declaration reminded these religiously learned men that they were all living under the same bondage to sin as the woman.
When her accusers had all slunk away, Jesus spoke two things to her:
- “Then neither do I condemn you.” (Freedom from sin’s damnation)
- “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (Freedom from sin’s domination)
He freed her from the derision of her accusers, the condemnation of the Law, and the domination of sin. We’re not told what happened to her after this, but I don’t believe for a moment that her life was ever the same.
Jesus Christ, the truth, frees us from the damnation of sin and the power it has over our lives, just as He did for this woman and countless others. And “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
A Prayer to Know The Truth That Sets You Free
Dear Lord, I praise You for Your holiness. All Your ways are good, right and true. In our unfaithful world, only You offer us the truth. Open my eyes to understand Your truth and apply it to my life. I pray for a renewed love for Your Holy Word, where the truth that sets us free is found. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.'
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.