The Truth Will Set You Free | John 8:21-59
Brian Hedges | November 4, 2018
So I want to begin the message this morning with a quote from one of my favorite theologians, and this time it’s not St. Augustine, it’s not John Calvin, it’s not even Charles Spurgeon; it’s, rather, Bob Dylan. You may not think of him as a theologian, but, believe it or not, Bob Dylan has some pretty good theology in his songs, and this one in particular. There’s a great song that goes like this:
“You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls;
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be working in a barbershop,
You may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, maybe somebody’s heir;
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody;
Yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
It is one of those songs that points to a reality that all of us recognize, that deep in our hearts and lives, we are not our own; we are servants to another master. We’re serving something, and as Dillon says, it may be the Lord or it may be the devil, but we’re serving someone, we’re serving something.
So this speaks to the condition of slavery, spiritual slavery in our hearts and our lives. That’s what the text that we’re looking at this morning is about. We’re going to be in John 8:21-59. Okay, so this is a long passage of Scripture, and I’m going to read the whole thing, John 8:21-59. You can follow along on the screen, or you can read along in your copy of God’s word. So, John chapter 8, beginning in verse 21. Jesus is speaking.
“So he said to them again, ‘I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come. So the Jews said, ‘Will he kill himself, since he says, “Where I am going, you cannot come”?’ He said to them, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.’ They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.’ As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.’ They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.’ They said to him, ‘We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.’ The Jews answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’ Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.’ The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, “He is our God.” But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
This is God’s word.
So, as you can see in this passage, there is a growing, intensifying opposition to Jesus. As you read through the passage you can see the confusion that people have about Jesus, you can see that they are aspiring to kill him, they begin to insult him, they say that he has a demon, and the passage ends with them picking up stones to throw at him; but, as John often says throughout this gospel, “the hour had not yet come,” and so Jesus escaped from their clutches.
So, there’s a lot going on in this passage. It’s a dialogue that takes place towards the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, which has filled up John chapters 7 and 8, and in this dialogue we learn certain things about Jesus, but we also learn certain things about ourselves. I want to organize the passage this morning around this concept of slavery and freedom, and I want you to see three things. I want you to see:
I. Humanity Enslaved
II. Christ the Liberator
II. The Freedom He Brings
I. Humanity Enslaved
So, first of all, humanity enslaved. I’d just draw your attention to verses 31 through 36, right there in the middle of our reading, where this concept comes to the fore. Jesus says in verse 31, “If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So his words presuppose a slavery, a bondage, a captivity in his hearers.
They understand this, and they reply, “We’re offspring of Abraham. We are Jews by descent. We’re heirs of the covenant promises. How can you say that we are enslaved?” They object to Jesus’s characterization of them. “How is that you say, ‘You will become free’?” they ask.
And Jesus answers in verse 34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” So that’s the slavery he’s talking about. He’s talking about slavery to sin, and then in verse 36 he says that “if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
So, humanity enslaved. I think one of the things we need to see in this passage is that this contrast between slavery and freedom is really just one of a series of contrasts that happen in this passage. There is a contrast in this passage from darkness and light, in verse 12, which we studied last week. There is a contrast between those who are from below and those who are from above, in verse 23, [between] Jesus, who is not of this world, and those who are of this world. There’s a contrast between fathers, right? Jesus says that God is his father, but he tells his opponents here that they are of their father the devil. A contrast between Jesus, who is of God, and those who are not of God and so do not hear God’s words, between those who do not know God and Jesus, who does know God. Slavery, those who are slaves, versus the son, who is free, is just one of those contrasts.
So what this teaches us, I think, is that slavery is one of several very powerful metaphors that are used in this passage and used in Scripture to describe the spiritual condition of unbelieving, sinful human beings to those who are outside of God’s grace in Christ.
So, what is this slavery? What does it entail?
(1) Well, first of all, it’s slavery to sin, as we’ve already seen. You see it in verse 34, “the one who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Jesus has already mentioned sin a couple of other times in the passage. In verse 21, he says, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” “You will die in your sin,” and there the sin is singular; “You will die in your sin,” so he’s thinking of one particular sin, the root son, and I think that is the sin of unbelief. He’s speaking here to people who do not believe him. In John 16:8-9 Jesus says that “when the helper comes [that is, the Holy Spirit], he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.”
So here you see the root of all sins. The root sin itself is the sin of unbelief, and Jesus says if you die in your sin, in the sin of unbelief, you’re going to die, you’re going to face death if you continue in this sin.
Then in verse 24 he says something similar. “I told you that you would die in your sins,” and here it is plural. So the fruit of unbelief is seen in this life of sin, a lifestyle of sin; as verse 34 says, “practicing sin.”
I think one of the most vivid illustrations of this is found in the Old Testament, in Psalm 107:10-12, which describes a group of people who cry out to the Lord, and God rescues them. But the condition out of which they cry is a condition of slavery. The text says, “Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons. They had rebelled against the words of the Most High, spurned the counsel of the Most High; so he bowed their hearts down with hard labor. They fell down, with none to help.” It’s a very vivid picture. They are in darkness and in the shadow of death.
So here are people who are locked up in a dark dungeon. Now, you have to think that prisoners, slaves who were imprisoned in the ancient world, they didn’t live in a prison like our modern prisons today. They were very different after prison reform. They didn’t live in something like a comfortable setting with climate control and a TV and things like that; they would live in a whole in the ground or a hole in a cave, there were going to be bars on this cave, they were going to be living only on a subsistence diet, right, and it’s dark; there’s no light. So that’s the condition that’s being described. They are confined, they are restricted, they are perhaps shackled with iron, iron shackles on their hands or on their feet. That’s the condition that the psalmist is drawing up here, prisoners in affliction and in irons, bowed down with hard labor, with none to help.
It’s a vivid metaphor that the Scriptures use often for sin. Sin is slave labor, folks. As the book of Proverbs says, “The way of transgressors is hard,” and some of you know that this morning. I just wonder, what is it that binds you? What fetters you? Where do you feel constricted, confined? Where do you feel stuck in your life? Maybe you feel captivated by anger or fear. Maybe you feel imprisoned in pride. Maybe you find yourself in a dungeon of discouragement and despair. Maybe you find yourself shackled with the chains of lust or unruly desire, or maybe you’re in the bonds of an addiction. It’s a slavery to sin. You’ve tried to help yourself, you’ve tried to set yourself free, you’ve made resolutions and vows never to do something again, and you go right back to it. What is that? It’s slavery.
We’re something like Jacob Marley in that old Dickens novel [A Christmas Carol]; do you remember Jacob Marley, who visited Ebenezer Scrooge, and he carried this huge chain around him? The chain was forged link by link by his own malice and his greed. Some of us are carrying around chains just like that. We’re chained by our own sins, slaves to sin. Jesus says, “Whoever practices sin is a slave to sin.” That’s the slavery we’re in, and that’s the slavery that’s true of the entire human race, until we are set free by Christ.
(2) That slavery leads to something else; it leads to death. Jesus says, “If you don’t believe in me, you will die in your sins.” Sin always leads to death. Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…” The prophet Ezekiel said, “The soul that sins, it shall die.” James chapter 1 talks about this progression of temptation. “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” Then “desire, when it is conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth” what? Death.
Sin always leads to death. And death in Scripture is not only physical death (it includes that, of course), but it’s also spiritual death, separation from God. We are dead in our trespasses and in our sins. And, it’s ultimately the second death; it is eternal death. It’s death that is separation from God in the eternity of hell. That’s the final death. That’s the death that never ends. When Jesus says, “You will die in your sins,” that’s what he’s speaking of. He’s speaking of a finality in their separation from God, their alienation from God.
My friends, that our condition apart from Christ. Apart from grace, our sins lead to death, and that death is a final separation of the soul and the body from God in an everlasting punishment. That’s a frightful reality to consider, but it means that the stakes are high. Will we be set free or not?
(3) So, this slavery, it is an enslavement to sin, it’s an enslavement to death, and then, thirdly, there’s a deeper root to all of this: there is an enslavement to the devil.
Now, I won’t read all of this again, but verses 32 down through about verse 47, I think, Jesus is bringing this to light. He says to these people, “If you abide in my word” - “if you continue in my word” - “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They object! “How can you say we’re going to be set free? We’re children of Abraham!”
Jesus then begins to talk to them about their paternity, about who their father really is. They say, “We’re offspring of Abraham. We’ve never been enslaved to anyone.” Jesus says, “If you practice sin, you’re a slave to sin.”
And then Jesus goes on to say in verse 38, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” Now, at this point they’re still thinking, “Abraham’s my father, God is my father. Jesus is the bad guy here.” In their minds, Jesus is the enemy. They don’t yet perceive what Jesus is actually saying to them.
But look at what Jesus says, verse 39. They answer, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus says, “If you were Abraham’s children you would be doing the works Abraham did, but you are seeking to kill me.” “I’m speaking the truth to you; you’re seeking to kill me.” Why is it that they’re seeking to kill him? Look at what Jesus says, verse 41, “You are doing the works your father did.”
Now again, they don’t understand, so in verse 41, the second half of that verse, they say, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one father, even God.” Now, that’s probably a slur towards Jesus. They probably know that Jesus was born of Mary. They don’t know it was a virgin birth. They probably know that Jesus was born of Mary and that she had become pregnant before Joseph and Mary had been wed. So they’re probably saying, “You’re the one who’s an illegitimate child. We were not born of sexual immorality; we are the children of God.”
Now, I will read verses 42 through 44. Look at what Jesus then says to them. He says, “If God were your father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Jesus is telling them here that their deepest problem in this slavery to sin finds its origin in their very nature. They bear the characteristics of their father, and their father is not God; their father is the devil. I can’t think of anything more brazen and stark that Jesus could say than just that. They’re seeking to kill him, and Jesus says, “You’re just seeking to do what your father does! Your father, the devil, was a murderer from the beginning! You’re following right in his footsteps.”
Now, there’s a principle here, right, a principle that we all understand, that behavior follows nature. We say this in all kinds of proverbial ways. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” “Like father, like son.” “He’s a chip off the old block.” “You’re just like your mother.” Right? We say these kinds of things when we see that a child bears resemblance to the parent, acts like the parent, has the same nature, the same personality, the same temperament as a parent, the same characteristics of a parent.
Jesus is doing the same thing here and applying it on a spiritual level. He’s just telling them, “You’re doing what your father does; your behavior shows your nature. It shows that you are a child of the devil.”
This shows, I think, the deepest form of slavery that we are in. It’s not just a slavery to sin and death; it is a slavery to the devil himself. We are held captive by this evil power that works upon our hearts and upon our lives, bringing us into deeper and deeper bondage and captivity. That’s the slavery of the human race. Humanity is enslaved.
II. Christ the Liberator
Well, that would be really bad news if there wasn’t a liberator, but there is, so I want you to see Christ our liberator.
This passage, as the whole gospel of John is as well, is a passage that discloses for us a lot about Jesus and who he is. I want you to just note some of these things in the passage. These are going to be familiar themes that we’ve already seen in the gospel of John, so I’ll go through these quickly, but I just don’t want us to miss here the claims of Jesus Christ and what it is that Christ claims to do, Christ who is our liberator, who he claims to be.
(1) First of all, you can see that he is the Son of God. I won’t read all of the passages, but probably half a dozen times or so in this discussion Jesus refers to God as his Father. God is his Father; he is the Son. I will just read verses 54 and 55. Jesus says, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say I do not know him I would be a liar like you, but I do know him, and I keep his word.”
So, Jesus here is claiming his paternity over and against theirs. They are of their father the devil; he is the true Son of the Father, of God the Father. He is the true Son of God. He knows God, he obeys God, he follows God, he keeps God’s word. He is the Son of God. He has come from God, he is going to God. God has sent him, the Father has sent him. These are the themes that pop up over and again in this passage.
(2) So, he is the Son of God, but not only that, here’s the amazing thing: Jesus, three times in this passage, says something which echoes the Old Testament itself that shows that Jesus is one with Yahweh, God as he disclosed himself in the Old Testament, the eternal God. Three times Jesus says something that echoes that.
In verse 24 he says, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.” That little phrase “I am he.” Now, I’ve noted this several times in this series on John, that Jesus uses this phrase “I am,” ego eimi [εγω ειμι], “I am.” It’s a not-too-subtle reference to Exodus 3:14, where God revealed himself to Moses, “I am who I am.” Jesus says over and again, “I am,” and then follows that with a predicate, “I am the bread of life,” or, “I am the light of the world,” these “I am” statements. But several times the statement is just there on its own, “I am,” and here you see it in verse 24.
In verse 28 Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I can do nothing of my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
Now, the background here is not only Exodus chapter three, but perhaps even more so it’s the book of Isaiah, Isaiah 40-55, where over and again Yahweh declares himself by saying, “I am the Lord,” or, “I am he.”
I’ll give you just one reference, Isaiah 43:10: “You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, and you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no God was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” It seems that Jesus is channeling that language as he speaks with these folks in this passage.
Then it becomes crystal clear in verses 56-58. Again, they’ve been claiming that Abraham is their father, and Jesus is saying, “If Abraham was really your father you would believe in me.” And then notice what Jesus says in verse 56, “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’” Look at Jesus’s response, verse 58: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’”
It could not be more clear. Jesus claims preexistence. He claims to be eternal. He is claiming to be Yahweh himself, and it’s clear that they understand that Jesus is saying something radical, because in verse 59 they pick up stones to throw at him; they’re ready to kill him for it. He has made himself equal with God.
(3) So Jesus is the Son of God, he is the eternal God, Yahweh himself; and then one more thing to see about Jesus, who is our liberator, before we look at the freedom, the liberation that he brings: Jesus is also the Son of Man who his lifted up.
Look at verse 28. Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he.” What does he mean by that phrase? “When you have lifted up the Son of Man.” If we’re attentive in our reading in the gospel of John, we know that that phrase over and again in this gospel is pointing us to the cross. In fact, right here it’s even pretty clear. He says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man.” How are they going to lift him up? They’re going to lift him up on a stake! They’re going to nail him to a cross! That’s how he’s going to be lifted up.
That’s absolutely necessary to God’s plan. John 3:14-15, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Now, here’s the amazing thing. Christ, the liberator, he’s the Son of God, he’s God himself; but the way in which he will redeem is to be lifted up on the cross, crucified like a criminal, and through his crucifixion those who look on him and believe on him, they are the ones who will be saved. They are the ones who will be set free. Even as Jesus speaks all these words, it’s leading step-by-step to the very plot that will end in his death. His death is necessary in order to bring us freedom.
III. The Freedom He Brings
So, let’s look at the freedom. What is the freedom that he brings?
(1) I just want you to see, first of all, that it’s comprehensive. It covers every aspect of our slavery. So it’s freedom from sin and death and the devil. These are the things we are enslaved to; this is what Christ sets us free from.
He sets us free from sin. I think that’s clear in verses 31 through 34, when Jesus says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They begin to talk about what this slavery is, and Jesus says, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” The freedom he’s talking about here is freedom from sin.
Indeed, the Scriptures over and again emphasize this, that Christ, when he saves us, frees us from sin, perhaps no passage more strongly than Romans 6:17-18. The apostle Paul says, “But thanks be to God that you, who were once slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed. And having been set free from sin, you’ve become slaves of righteousness.” You have a new master.
Listen, Christian: this is true of you this morning. If you’ve believed in Christ, if you have trusted in Christ, if you’ve been born of the Spirit, if you are a Christian you are not a slave to sin anymore! Praise God. If you’ve trusted in Christ, then you’ve been set free!
As Paul says to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
I think what happens for some of us is that we’ve been set free, but we still have the mentality of slaves, we still act like slaves, we still live like slaves. We don’t live up to our privileges. We don’t live in the freedom that Christ came to bring us. I want us to see how do we do that. How do we begin to experience this freedom?
I will say this, that if you know no freedom from sin whatsoever, if you’ve never had victory over sin, if you are in absolute bondage to your evil desires, if you have no ability to say no, if you never know victory in the Spirit, then you’re not a Christian, and you need to come to Christ this morning, because when you come to Christ he does set you free from sin. There will be change. “Sin shall not have dominion over you,” Paul says, “for you are not under the law, but under grace.” Grace sets us free. Have you experienced freedom? Do you know freedom in Christ?
So it’s freedom from sin, it’s also freedom from death. Look at verse 51, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” What does he mean by that? He doesn’t mean that the believer will never experience physical death; he means that we will never see death in its full ugliness, we will never be met with the second death itself. He means that there will be eternal life, that there will be resurrection at the end.
I love a story that the old preacher from Philadelphia, Donald Grey Barnhouse, told. Donald Grey Barnhouse lost his wife when he still had a young daughter at home, and his little girl one time was asking him, “Daddy, if Jesus died for us, why did Mom have to die?”
He didn’t know the answer; he couldn’t quite answer the question. He said, “I need to think about that. Let me think, and I’ll try to respond to you.”
One day Barnhouse was sitting there in the car, with his daughter, at a traffic light, and a huge semi-truck drives by, and the shadow of the truck passes over the car. Suddenly it came to him how he could explain this to his little girl.
He said, “Honey, would you rather be run over by the truck or by the shadow of the truck?”
She said, “Well, the shadow of the truck, Daddy. To be hit by the truck would hurt. We might be hurt or we might die.”
He says, “This is what happened. Jesus took the truck of death, but Mommy just went through the shadow of death, not the truck.”
When Jesus says, “Whoever keeps my word will never see death,” that’s what he means. You’ll pass through the shadow, but you don’t meet the reality itself.
I don’t know if you ever wonder how you’re going to feel on your deathbed; I wonder, I think about that. You know, morbid, melancholy kinds of people think these things. So some of you are not like that, you probably need to think about it more often, and some of you probably need to take hope in the gospel and quit despairing! I think about these things. What is it going to be like? What is it going to be like?
I want to tell you, “our only comfort in life and death” is that we “belong to God and to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ,” and he’s taken death in our place. He’s set us free from death, and therefore we have hope.
He sets us from sin, he sets us free from death, he sets us free from the devil himself. Hebrews chapter 2 says that “Christ through death destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
One of my favorite books, written by an old Puritan John Owen, is called The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Christ through death conquered death, and he conquered the power of death! Death died when Jesus died! The devil was defeated, and we are free.
“He breaks the pow’r of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.”
(2) So, the freedom is comprehensive, freedom in every dimension, freedom from sin and death and from Satan himself. How is it that we experience that freedom? It’s freedom through the truth. Verses 31 and 32: “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”
Jesus doesn’t free you apart from the truth, he frees you through the truth! That’s why there’s such a strong emphasis on the word in this passage. Jesus says, “If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth…” What does that mean, to abide in the word? The word “abide” means to continue, it means to remain, it means to live in, it means to persevere. So, it’s persevering in the word.
In verse 37 he confronts these hearers and he says, “My words find no place in you.” It’s like he’s speaking to them and it’s in one ear, out the other. The word finds no lodging place in their hearts. In verse 43 he says, “You cannot bear to hear my word.” In verse 47 he says, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God,” and in verse 51, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
Do you see here a responsibility that we have to the word, to the truth of the word? This means that if you want to experience the freedom that is in Christ, you need to know the word, you need to know the truth. You need to hear it, you need to receive it, you need to abide in it, continue in it, and keep it, and obey it. It’s not that our obedience wins us anything; it’s rather that the power of the word of God operates in our lives as it comes to intersect with our hearts and our minds. That’s what sets us free; that’s what changes us.
I think every Christian has to figure out, “What does this look like for my life? What does it mean for me to abide in the word? What does that mean tomorrow, what does that mean Tuesday? What does that mean for my reading and for my meditation and for my prayer life? What does that mean for the way I live, the way I make decisions?
I think one of my biggest concerns for Christians today is biblical illiteracy. We don’t know the word, we don’t know the truth. We don’t know it because we don’t read it, we don’t know it because we don’t study it, and consequently we’re still living in slavery, because we don’t know the truth, and it’s the truth that sets you free. So I want to urge you, Christian: give yourself to know the word of truth so that you will be set free through it.
(3) It is freedom through the truth, and then it is freedom through the Son himself, the Son of God. Verse 36, “So if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” If the Son sets you free. It’s not simply that if you read your Bible and pray you’ll be free. We know that. We know it’s possible to have lots of knowledge and not experience transformation. There is a personal dimension here; it is a personal relationship with the crucified, risen Son of God. He is the one who sets us free, and if the Son sets us free then we’re truly free.
How is it that the Son set us free? I’m almost done; I want to give you just two answers to this, and then we’re done. How does the Son set us free? He sets us free through the cross, and he sets us free through his Spirit. I’ll give you just a word on each.
First of all, the cross. He sets us free through the cross. The cross is the price of our redemption. Can I slip in one Spurgeon quote?
“Think too,” Spurgeon says, “how dearly this freedom was purchased. Christ speaks it by his power, but he still bought it by his blood. He makes you free, sinner, but it is by his own bonds. You go free because he bore your burden for you. See him bear his agony, crushed beneath the millstone of the law till all his head, his hair, his garments were bloody. See him yonder, dragged to Pilate’s hall, bound, whipped like a common felon, scourged like a murderer, dragged away by hellhounds through the streets. Look at him, fastened by those cruel fetters which went through his flesh to the accursed word. See him yielding up his liberty to the dungeon of death. There the mighty one sleeps in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Dearly did he purchase with his own bondage the liberty which he so freely gives.”
Christ frees us by being nailed to the cross, crucified like a criminal himself.
And then he frees us through his Spirit. In 2 Corinthians chapter 3 Paul says that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” The Spirit. The Spirit is one who comes and fills our hearts and applies the blood of Christ to the conscience. The Spirit is the one who comes and makes the truth abide in the heart, so that we actually do hear it, and it actually does work. The Spirit is the one who renews our minds. The Spirit is the one who makes the gospel sing inside our hearts, so that there is freedom as a result! Have you received the Spirit? Do you know the power of the Spirit of God in your heart and in your life? Do you know the freedom that comes through him?
Where do you get the Spirit? You get the Spirit from Jesus, you get the Spirit from the Son; you get the Spirit by looking to the crucified Christ, trusting in him, and as you do the gift he gives is the Spirit.
Let me end with these words from the great hymn-writer William Gadsby. William Gadsby says,
“Mercy speaks by Jesus’ blood;
Hear and sing, ye sons of God!
Christ has full atonement made;
Justice is satisfied indeed.
“Jesus’ blood speaks loud and sweet,
Here all deity can meet
And, without a jarring voice,
Welcome Zion to rejoice.
“Peace of conscience, peace with God
We obtain through Jesus’ blood.
Jesus’ blood speaks solid rest;
We believe, and we are blest.
And then in a chorus he says,
“All her debts were cast on me;
She shall, she must go free!”
Where do we get freedom? We get it through the Son who shed his blood for us, who gives his Spirit to us, who makes the truth live in our hearts.
Father, as we come before you this morning we pray that you would bring us to know the fullness of the liberty, the freedom that belongs to all who believe in Christ as their birthright, as their inheritance. Lord, we pray that you would search our hearts to help us recognize and acknowledge and confess the areas in our lives where we’re not living in that freedom, where we still behave like slaves. Lord, help us see it, help us name it, and help us take it to Christ so that we’ll know the freedom that comes in him.
Father, I pray this morning for any who do not know Christ in a saving way, who have never known a moment of freedom from the shackles of sin and shame. I pray that they would know this morning, that they would look to Christ, who freely sets us free, who’s already paid the price. There’s nothing left for us to do except to receive what Christ has done for us. Lord, would you give the gifts of faith and repentance to every person who needs that freedom this morning?
Father, I pray that you would send your Spirit to us. Lord, these words that we’ve heard are powerful, but it’s not the word only, it’s the word and the Spirit making the word effectual to our hearts that brings freedom. So we pray that your Spirit would work, water and fertilize this seed so that it will bear fruit in our hearts.
Father, as we come to the table this morning, we pray that you would help us come, with our hands wide open, to let go of anything that’s hindering and to receive from Christ all the fullness that is offered to us in him. May this be a moment of real consecration and real fellowship with him. We pray it in Jesus’s name, Amen.