John 8:31 – 38

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. 38 I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”

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As we begin to look at our passage above, we must remember that this portion is one small part of a larger section.  To find the extent of the larger context, we would have to go back to chapter 7 beginning with verse 14 when Jesus first stands up in the middle of the Temple courtyards and starts to teach the people during the Festival of Tabernacles.

This festival was also known as “The Feast of Lights” as people lit torches and lived in tents to remember God’s protection and providence during the time of living as nomads for the forty years as they wandered in the wilderness.  Jesus used this background and in the early part of chapter 8, He declared, “I am the Light of the world.”

Jesus’ message is not received by the religious leaders, as we saw in chapter 7.  When Jesus turns and teaches further in chapter 8, it is now to the common Jews whom He was speaking to.  He challenged His audience in verse 24 to believe in Him, or they would die in their sins.  And we see in verse 30, that “many who heard Him say these things believed in Him.”

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Now in verse 31, Jesus turned to those who believed in Him and He extended a challenge to all of them.  Notice how He says, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.”  This statement implies that there was a difference at that time between “those who believed in Him” and a “disciple”.  That causes me to ask the question, “What is it within this context that the people believed? And why did that not automatically make them a disciple of Jesus?”

I believe if we are very careful to understand the whole flow of these two chapters in John, what Jesus first presents to people is His claim to be God, the “I AM” of Exodus 6:2-3, the Jewish Messiah, the Anointed One who would come to save His people.  That is an important truth statement which must first be accepted for someone to start on the path to discipleship.

But accepting this truth statement only without a change in one’s being and behaviour is not enough.  Look at what James 2:19 says, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”  We all must go one step further to becoming a disciple of Jesus: we must “be faithful to His teachings”.  This means that we will not only seek to understand what Jesus tells us, but we will put into practice what He is telling us to do.

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All this will help us to understand properly the famous saying of Jesus in verse 32, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  The biblical word here for “know” does not mean just to have knowledge about a certain fact, but to be fully engaged in doing that which we know to be true.  It is the difference between theoretical knowledge and experiential knowledge.  And it is the daily experience of having Jesus active within our lives that keeps us safe from the grip of sin that we once were experiencing.

Unfortunately the Jewish people do not understand that Jesus is talking about this experiential knowledge of truth that would keep them free from the power that sin has on people.  Ironically, they say they had never been slaves to anyone, when in fact, they were being dominated by all the forces of Rome in that day.

Instead, the Jews looked backwards to their bloodline inheritance of being descendants of Abraham to save them from their sin.  This is still a fallacy for people today.  They say they were “born into a Christian family”, and that automatically makes them a Christian.  But as some people jokingly say, “Well, if someone was born in a barn, would that make them a horse?”  Of course not.

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You see, what it really comes down to is this: if we want to truly be a disciple of Jesus, then we must not put our trust in some external factor, such as lineage, inheritance, rituals or behaviours.  We must look to the inner person of our soul and find out if we have submitted ourselves in obedience to make Jesus Lord of our lives.

The “truth that sets us free” is not mental assent that Jesus is the Messiah, God in the flesh.  Rather, it is the experiential knowledge that Jesus is Lord, and this can only be obtained by submitting in obedience to Him in our lives.  Then, and only then, will we be truly set free from bondage to sin.

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