John 8:32 (ESV) … “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
When Jesus spoke of “know[ing] the truth,” he was speaking of knowing God’s revelation to man. This revelation is embodied in Jesus himself, the Word; therefore, to know the truth is to know Jesus. The truth is not political freedom or intellectual knowledge. Knowing the truth means accepting it, obeying it, and regarding it above all earthly opinion. Doing so offers true spiritual freedom from sin and death.
Believers become truly free because they are free to do God’s will, and thus fulfill God’s ultimate purpose in their lives. As believers, we have the Holy Spirit living within us and guiding us on our journey through life. In fact, later in 16:13, Jesus specifically identified the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” who will “guide you into all truth” (niv).
Just as the Jews misunderstood what Jesus meant by “the truth shall make you free,” people today still take it the wrong way. In fact, this familiar phrase has been used out of context to promote a wide range of freedoms. Universities use it on their seals to promote the value of academic knowledge. Yet around the world people who know academic truths are still in bondage. So Jesus must have had some other kind of truth and freedom in mind. For many, “knowing the truth” means personal autonomy, creativity, and freedom from oppression and ignorance, which they define as mental slavery. But Jesus didn’t die to guarantee personal freedom of expression.
The error comes when we think of truth as a concept rather than God himself, which was the way Jesus used the term. Jesus clarified his meaning when he said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (8:36 NIV). By interchanging truth and Son, Jesus implied that granting freedom is God’s work. So Jesus promised freedom from slavery to sin. That freedom begins when we acknowledge our bondage to sin. Only God can free us through his forgiveness, which he made possible by Christ’s death in our place on the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice did not free us “to do our own thing;” rather he freed us from doing our own thing so that we could serve him!