When studying the Bible, the longer you look at and study a text, the more things begin to stand out to you. It's not possible to fully explore every detail of the text in detail in 40 minutes on Sunday morning so I wanted to expound on something that stood out to me in my own personal study of the text in preparation for last Sunday's sermon. Specifically, verse 32 “and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” stood out to me as something worth going deeper into than I had time to do on Sunday morning. So let's study this somewhat deeper.
What Kind of Freedom?
The very first question I asked was: “What kind of freedom is this text talking about?” It's absolutely vital to know “what is this text addressing” before we draw conclusions, lest we interpret what we want the text to be saying into the text and thereby violate the actual meaning of the Word of God. Is this talking about “freedom from guilt” meaning forgiveness? Does this mean political freedom? Freedom from the curse of sin? These are all senses in which the word freedom is used in other Biblical passages.
The answer to the question is found in the context. Reading the context is the fundamental principle of all biblical interpretation. The Bible doesn't exist as a random collection of “life verses” but as individual literary units. The Bible wasn't even divided into chapters till the 13th century and verse divisions were added another 200 years after that! The answer that the context provides is: “Freedom from the practice of sin.” I got this answer from verse 34 where Jesus talks about “practicing sin” leading to slavery. The contrast is naturally drawn between “the truth will set you free” and “practicing sin.”
So this is actually more directed at those who wish to be free from doing/practising certain sins than it is directed at those who want to be forgiven of their sins. Both have their place in Biblical revelation but in my study, I became convinced this text is talking about the former.
How Does the Truth Set Us Free?
So the next question I asked myself was how exactly does the truth set us free? And this text doesn't directly speak to the how. It just assures us that this is indeed what will happen. The rest of the Bible gives us clues, however. The book of Hosea is adamant that “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” That those without true knowledge of God will come to ruin (Hosea 4:14). Romans 12:2 commands us to “be transformed by the renewal of our mind.” So in some sense, sanctification (see rest of Romans 12) comes from renewing one's mind in the truth. The next question to ask would be: “How does this practically take form?” or “How do I actually begin to “renew my mind” in truth.” Here are 3 areas of truth that I have taken on myself to meditate on more frequently!
Truth about Sin
The first sin began when mankind was convinced that sin wasn't so bad. That its consequences were not really as devastating as God had said. “The serpent said to the woman “you will not surely die.”” Often I believe the same lie. Though rationally I may speak of the wickedness of sin against a holy God, that truth does not penetrate as deeply as it is supposed to. I don't feel the disgust or indignation about my own sinfulness that I should if my mind had fully been renewed in the truth of the wickedness of sin. We should remember the wrath of God that is poured out on sin. The western church, myself included, has a tendency to gloss over the wrath of God and move quickly to grace. But the hatred that God has for sin should not be reduced to a quick segway into “but Jesus loves you.” It should remind us how a holy God feels about sin, how sin really is, and how we will one day see sin! I believe when I enter the presence of God and behold his glory in heaven I will be stunned that I did not fight harder to defeat my sin against this glorious God while still on earth.
Truth about God
That leads to the second thing that I have chosen to meditate on, namely the glorious attributes of God. God's holiness and perfection, his wrath and anger and, yes, his love and mercy. The fact that God in Jesus has come to us, offers us a relationship with him, fullness of joy in his presence, pleasures everlasting at his right hand should move us to full devotion. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matt. 13:44) To joyfully sell all and strive for the kingdom of heaven, counting everything else as loss compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8) can only happen when you see how great God is.
John Piper uses an illustration at times that if you were imminently about to give in to the temptation of pornography and someone walked in the room with a gun and your best friend and said “I'm going to shoot him if you don't stop”, you would have no difficulty fighting temptation. You see the consequences before your eyes. Conversely, in the same situation, let's say someone walks in with a bag of cash and offers you a million dollars for fighting temptation, you again would be, in the moment at least, able to. This kind of replacing the pleasure of sin with the pleasures of God comes from meditating on the perfections of God, and for this reason, I have chosen to take that upon myself in these next weeks (and hopefully for the rest of my life). I aim to get to the point where I say “why would I want sin if I can have greater intimacy with Jesus instead.”
(An excellent book to read to this end is “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer, which I am currently reading.)
Truth about the Gospel
Finally and ultimately I have found that it is the truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is given to us to meditate upon. Understanding my sinfulness in light of the holiness of God, and understanding the grace of God in light of my sinfulness is still the most wonderful truth to renew my mind in, to drive me to sanctification. Jesus told the Pharisees a story of a man who had been forgiven a small debt and a man who had been forgiven an inestimable debt by the master. He then asked this all important question: “Which one will love him more?” And if he who has been forgiven much loves more, we should also take to heart what Christ said: “He who loves me obeys my commandments.” (John 14:21)
To know the truth of the forgiveness of sins is the most important truth to meditate upon. If he has done all this for me how could I not lay down my life for him? Because my sins have been forgiven, I will try to heed Jesus' words: “go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8:11)