The Truth Will Set You Free

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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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A Heart-Felt Prayer (Phil. 1:8-11)

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A Heart Felt Prayer

Philippians 1:8-11  God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.  I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.  May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

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In this short passage, Paul speaks about the great love that he has for the Philippian believers.  Although Paul was instrumental in bringing the Gospel of Christ to the Island of Cyprus at the port of Paphos, then on to the lower mainland of Asia to such cities as Perga, Antioch, and Iconium, Lysrta and Derbe, I believe that the visit to Philippi had to have been one of Paul’s most memorable events and was certainly directed by God’s Spirit in a powerful way.

Think about the idea that when Paul preached near Philippi and Lydia and her household members believed and were baptized, that this was the first time the Good News of Christ had taken a foothold into the continent of Europe.  It was a very resistant city towards anything religious, and so it was at a great cost of perspiration, perseverance and persecution that the new church was birthed.

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Paul talks in verse 5 about how they had been partners together in spreading this Good News.  And in verse 7, Paul speaks of the intimacy he had with the Philippian believers as they shared the experience of also being mistreated, and perhaps jailed along with him, and that they too took a stand publicly by making it known that they believed in the truthfulness of God’s Word.

In fact, in verse 8, Paul goes to the greatest possible lengths to express just how much he loved the Philippians.  He calls upon God to be his “witness” that it is true Paul has a great love for them.  This word comes from the Greek word, “martus“.  This is the root word for “martyr” as well as “testimony” or “one who testifies“.  In other words, Paul calls upon God himself to testify, and Him be willing to die to prove the fact that Paul loves the Philippians in all the depths of his heart.

Now actually, the Greek word for this expression “the depths of his heart” can be literally translated as “inner parts” or “intestines“.  This was their idiomatic way of saying “I love you with all my heart and soul, my very being“.  In old English, they talked about having “bowels of compassion” for someone else.  Today we say we love “with all our heart“.

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It is interesting to see the various body parts being used metaphorically to express the center of our very being, the deepest level of emotional love and commitment to another.  Over in Papua New Guinea, one will say that his inner most being is “the stomach“, “the liver“, or “the throat“.  In any case, the Philippians could not doubt that what Paul was sharing came from the depths of his inner most being.

It is at this point, when Paul was able to reflect on the intimate relationship he had with the people, that he then is able to offer up his heart-felt prayer, and the Philippians would receive it at this deep inner intimate level.  In verse 9 then, he begins his prayer for them and he prays for two important things to happen in their lives.

First, Paul prays that the people would increase more and more in their love for other people.  Think back to all the teachings of Christ, and you will recall that “love for others” is the greatest command, second only to loving God.  And then Paul prays that the people would increase in their knowledge and depth of insight, which most likely referred to them having a greater knowledge of God and how He wanted them to live.

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This brings us to verses 10 and 11, and I believe there is a powerful prayer tucked away in these two verses.  They can be brought out and stated as four distinct things that Paul prays for the believers:

  1. That they would understand/approve/discern the things that are best or excellent, or to basically “discern what really matters“.  This leads to the second thing Paul prayed.
  2. If the people came to know what really matters in this life, what things are truly excellent, then one result from this is that they would live pure lives.  They would be able to discern evil, even in its many disguises, and turn away from it before it touched and polluted them.
  3. The second thing they would discern is that when they know and do what is pure and true, then these people would be seen by God as being blameless or without guilt.
  4. By consistently following these practices above, this provides something that is more valuable than gold itself.  According to verse 12, the people described above would produce spiritual fruit in their lives, and have a consistently righteous character, and by means of their faith in Christ, one day would see the salvation of their souls.

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Now after examining the passage, I turn briefly to ask some practical questions.  Do you have anyone in your life that would pray a prayer like this for you on a regular basis?  Or is there someone for whom you could be praying this prayer for them?  Remember the example of Paul, that it was never a half-hearted prayer he made.  So we too must say our prayers for others from the deepest part of our being for another, whether that be from our heart, our liver, or our intestines.

May we always honor God and may we take up this example and know and practice how we can and ought to be praying for one another.  Amen.

A Disciple For Jesus

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Who Am I? Part 7

In the last article in this series, I talked about the year I spent traveling with the 1980 Staff Travel Team of Teen Missions.  That year was a very formative year for me as a young Christian, and I am so thankful to God that He allowed me to have those incredible experiences.  My faith was challenged and rewarded in so many ways, there has never been any doubt in my mind ever since then of the existence and the goodness of God.

There were also many opportunities for me to share the good news about Jesus: speaking with people in all the churches we visited, teaching the teens during our weekly classes which were a part of the summer mission, visiting local churches in the hills of Honduras, and having regular devotional periods with the others who were a part of the Travel Team.

In all of these experiences, I came to know and be certain of the basic truths of the Gospel, such as God created and loved all of mankind, but mankind rebelled against God and rejected Him.  This resulted in mankind being eternally separated from God by our sins because He is a holy God and cannot allow anyone tainted by sin to be in His presence.  But thanks be to God, His only Son Jesus came to earth as a man, lived a perfect sinless life, yet died on a cross and so gave His life in exchange for ours.  This opened the way for us to be purified and once more come into a fellowship relationship with God.

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As wonderful as all of this was during that year, I found that there was something missing in my life.  I knew my Lord and Savior, Jesus, but at the same time I realized that there was so much about Him, and the Word of God, that I didn’t know.  I had some incredible experiential knowledge about Christ and the Holy Spirit of power, but I did not have a deep knowledge about all the truths about God and what the Bible says and means.

It was because of this great lack of knowledge that I found I had a strong desire to attend Bible college.  Part of me said that I was quite capable of reading my Bible and doing my own study of Scripture.  But another part of me realized that I would be foolish to think I could do it all on my own, and that I ought to take advantage of the knowledge of skilled Bible teachers.

And so it was within days after coming home from Scotland, the last place that our Travel Team had its ministry, that I enrolled in Alberta Bible College.  This is a college that is a part of the same Christian heritage that I was a part of, and the wonderful thing was that it was also in Calgary, my home town.  Actually, it was on the same street as my parents house, one mile away.  What a wonderful blessing that was for me.

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And so in January 1981, I became a Bible college student.  At first, my thought was that I would just take one year of college, just so I could get a little more knowledgeable in the Scriptures.  And I must say that I did not have the best attitude toward the other students, and even some of the professors back then.  You see, I had “been to the mission field”, and so I “knew” what missions and ministry was all about.  That was my first year.

The second year came and went and I don’t know if my ego had learned much more in the area of humility.  In fact I must admit that I was rather proud that I was at the head of the class.  I had mastered the art of being a student.  But in spiritual terms, I don’t know if I had really learned a lot about being a “disciple” for Jesus.

The way that I viewed life at that time was this: I am a student, and if I work hard and study well for exams, I will “ace” the material and come out on top.  Even though I was studying the Bible, I was not getting the message that “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:11-12)

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It wasn’t until my third and fourth year of Bible college that I started to understand that followers of Jesus are meant to “serve each other out of love”, and that ministers of the Gospel are to offer their lives of service as a sacrifice out of a willing and humble heart.  We are not meant to think of ourselves as better than any one else, or that others “owe” us anything as we serve them.  As Jesus says, “Freely you have received, freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8)

So I think it would have been so much better for me, and others, if back then I had thought of myself as a “disciple for Jesus” rather than a “Bible college student”.  The latter seems to inherently carry the idea of knowledge, prestige, self-sufficiency.  But being a disciple of Jesus speaks more about simply being a humble, obedient learner who remains under Christ.

I can’t say I have yet completely learned this lesson.  But that’s the beauty of it.  God has never asks us to be perfect in this life.  Quite the opposite.  We are called to live a life of simple, humble obedience that is a life-long process.  In that sense, I am still a student in the spiritual classroom of Jesus.

How about you?  Do you feel you have “graduated” and learned all there is to learn about God?  Or are you allowing yourself to still remain under the supervision of Christ and are looking forward to His next lesson in His School of Life?  May we all remain good disciples for Jesus.