One of Jesus’ most profound teachings is found in today’s reading in John 8 – “the truth will set you free” (v.32). What do you think that means? Free from what? And what is the truth? It’s maybe easy to have a simplistic view that the truth Jesus is talking about is referring to having sound doctrine – assenting to a list of fundamental Bible teachings we call “The Truth”, is what will set us free. While sound doctrine is important, Jesus’ words go deeper than that. The people he was talking to were the equivalent of Christadelphians – people who would have claimed to “have the truth”, Bible students who had separated themselves from mainstream religion. But Jesus told them “you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (v.37). Seeking to kill the Son of God isn’t really the sort of healthy outcome you’d expect from having an intellectually sound understanding of Bible doctrine. The Jews Jesus talked to were still slaves to sin (v.34) and were about to manifest that slavery by crucifying him despite all the time spent deeply studying God’s law.
So, what is it about “truth”, the kind of truth Jesus is talking about here, that makes us free? The concept of truth is a fascinating Bible study. In the Old Testament the idea behind truth is more to do with faithfulness. In Exodus 34, for instance, when God revealed to Moses his character, he said he is “abundant in goodness and truth” (Exo. 34:6 KJV). The Hebrew word emeth (truth) is rendered in better translations as “faithfulness” (like in the ESV). It’s one of several words which comes from the Hebrew root aman, which has the basic idea of a support, in the sense of something which you can trust in because it is firm and reliable. The first occurrence of the word emeth is translated “believed” in Genesis 15:6 when Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Another word which comes from the same root is “Amen”. When we say “Amen” we are meant to be showing our faith and trust in the reliability of the God to whom we pray.
Truth, then, is a much deeper biblical concept than just things that are true. You can assent to true doctrine but still manifest the worst of characteristics. Sometimes we do this when confronted with those who disagree with our understanding of Bible teaching. Our sometimes-aggressive defensiveness of what we call “The Truth” can betray the fact we’re not really free from the slavery of sin. What can end up happening is we get so worried that “The Truth” will be harmed that we put our own fence around it. The Jews did that with their traditions and before long the truth became obscured and they created their own self-made imprisonment. And it was their combative defensiveness of those traditions that led them to put the Son of God to death.
The answer is all about trust. Do we trust, or have faith, that the things to do with God are trustworthy, reliable and stable? When we obscure the truth with things we think are needed to prop it up we are demonstrating our lack of trust. But there is nothing more stable and reliable than the truth. Think about it: if we become people of truth rather than just assenting to a list of truthful statements, then we will do the right thing. A person of truth is a person of integrity – someone who is faithful and can be relied upon. Also, the truth is not like a rickety old bridge that lacks structural integrity. It doesn’t require additional support. And God, whose name is emeth, is faithful, reliable and trustworthy to the core.
What God is looking for is people who have faith in his ways. When we develop that characteristic, we release ourselves from the shackles of the sort of religion the Jews descended into, and the kind of negative behavior it produces. We trust that God is right, buy into his plan and don’t override his ways with our own. And it’s not just about being faithful to God; it’s also about being faithful to one another. In Ephesians 4:25 Paul tells us “having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor”. That’s a good thing to do, obviously, but then Paul explains the motivation behind telling the truth – “for we are members one of another.” We should speak the truth not just for the sake of teaching sound doctrine, but because of our relationship with one another in Christ. We should want to be people of truth – integrity – because that’s the sort of character which binds together the body of Christ in unity.
Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Abiding in Jesus’ word is not just about agreeing that his words are true. It’s about being faithful to those words. God is looking for people of character, trusting that he is right. He’s not looking for good Bible students who can remember a set of doctrines and agree that they’re true. He’s looking for truthful, reliable, dependable, trustworthy people of integrity who can be relied on and entrusted with helping Christ rule in the coming Kingdom.
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