“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free‘ ” (Jn 8:31-32). What “truth” is Jesus talking about? And what kind of “freedom” does this truth deliver to us?
The dialogue that immediately follows these verses gives a clue to the freedom offered by Jesus Christ. The Jews parked on the word “free” and answered Jesus. “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free?’ ” (Jn 8:33). The Jews were thinking in terms of political freedom; that is, in specific terms of slaves and masters. Basically they were saying, “How can you offer us freedom when we are already a free people?”
Now it is ironic that the Jews would strut their freedom at a time they are under Roman rule, but technically they are correct. Slavery was common throughout the Roman Empire, and the Jews were not slaves in the specific sense of owned by masters. They had a measure of political freedom.
But Jesus is not talking about political freedom as we continue in the passage. “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin’ ” (Jn 8:34). The freedom Christ promises and delivers is the freedom from slavery to sin. This language is a forerunner to the exact same word picture used by the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 6 regarding sin, slavery, and true freedom.
“Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Rom 6:6-7). Based on the context, “freed from sin” means freed from sin’s power and control, not from sin’s presence. And Paul sums up this idea with, “For sin shall not be master over you” (Rom 6:14).
Not only is sin no longer our master, but God has given us the power to choose a new master, Jesus Christ. “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:16-18). Notice the time line: you were slaves of sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
Returning to our text in John chapter 8, Jesus concludes, “So if the Son makes you free [free from sin’s power and mastery], you will be free indeed” (Jn 8:36). The freedom Jesus promised in John 8:32 – the oft quoted, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” – is the freedom from sin’s slave-creating power; freedom from sin as our master. It is a promise of freedom that should be the hallmark of our gospel message.
We are keen on explaining the gospel message in terms of our deliverance from sin’s penalty as we should be. But let us never forget the equal part of the gospel, deliverance from sin’s power. The promise of a heart set free from sin’s power – so eloquently argued by the apostle Paul in Romans chapters 5 through 8 – has its foundation in Jesus proclamation, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”