You’ve probably heard the claim, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” You may not have heard that claim in its context. In John 8:31-32 Jesus is speaking to some people who “had believed him” and said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The people in Jesus’ audience that day, the people who “had believed him” weren’t too keen on the truth. Well, they might have liked the idea of truth, but they had major issues with what Jesus said about it. Their main issue was with the “set you free” line. Those people who “had believed Jesus” didn’t take themselves to have any need to be set free. They were good Jews, part of the Chosen People of Israel. Gentile sinners might need to be set free, but not people like them.
How would we do if Jesus said those words to us today? Do we feel a need for the freedom he offers? I’m not asking if we have a theory about it but if we feel the need. When we feel a need we’re inclined to act on that need. In this case Jesus was very clear. Notice his language: “IF you hold to my teaching, THEN you are really my disciples.” In generalized form, IF X, THEN Y.
Do we really want to be Jesus’ disciples? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what he means by “disciple.” A disciple is a “student,” an “apprentice.” When we are someone’s apprentice, we attach ourselves to them to learn how to do what they’ve mastered. We listen to them, we learn from them, we put what they teach us into practice. “Put into the practice” is what Jesus meant by “hold to my teaching.” “Put into practice” goes beyond just “believing Jesus.” When we put his teaching into practice, we learn to see ourselves, people, and the world around us from his point of view. We act in ways that are in alignment with his kingdom purposes.
Let’s make this personal. Do you want to be this kind of person? Are you willing to live in a “disciple” relationship with Jesus – to take his word as truth? Having taken his word as truth, are you learning to see your deep need for him and for the freedom he offers?
I understand that there are reasons to just take Jesus as a religious figure who offers eternal fire insurance, a way out of the inevitability of death. I get my ticket, I’m good to go, I can get on with my life. When we listen to Jesus, however, we hear things like, “If anyone wants to follow me, let him take up his cross.” Or we could listen to Paul who listened to Jesus and found the freedom of which he spoke: “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Our culture has trained us to think of Jesus and the salvation he offers as the ultimate consumer product. As long as we think that way, we’ll miss him every time. When we’re “really his disciples” we’ll be living as if he’s bought us with his blood and we belong to him. We’ll freely give him “absolute sway” over our lives. When I pray for my people, I pray that that’s how their lives will go – but only after praying it for myself.