The truth will set you free (8.31-47)

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In our last blog we rejoiced that “many believed in him” (8.30), but now we are saddened to discover that these leading Jews who had believed him (not now “believed in him”, but just “believed him” – 8.31) utterly reject Jesus’ teaching and want to kill him (8.37, 40). As children of the devil, they are doing “the works of their father” (8.41) and “are not from God” (8.47). In this tragic disappointment we are reminded how Jesus saw through the apparent faith of people who only saw his miracles and basically believed on that basis (2.23/24).
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (8.31). Jesus shows no concern for any past conversion experience, but assures his hearers that if they are now continuing in faith and obedience to his word, then they are (present tense again) truly his disciples. As Christians we dare not rely on past faith decisions. The question is, ‘are we living in his word today?’. Does Jesus’ teaching determine the very character of our lives in the practicalities of everyday relationships and activities?  When asked to ‘give our testimony’, should we concentrate more on our current experience of the Lord rather than just on our past conversion?

Whose children?

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a) Seed of Abraham?  
The Jewish leaders quickly assert that they are the seed of Abraham and therefore have never been enslaved by anyone. While Jesus castigates them for wanting to kill him, he nevertheless agrees that they are indeed the children of Abraham (8.37). If they are really Abraham’s children, they should be “doing the works of Abraham” (8.39). But actually they are trying to get Jesus killed which would never have entered Abraham’s head (8.40). In rejecting Jesus who brings God’s word and is God’s word, they are certainly not following their father Abraham. Jesus has told them God’s truth, but they do not accept it.
As the seed of Abraham they think they enjoy true freedom, but Jesus points out that anyone who sins becomes the slave of sin. Sin dwells in them, so they are indeed slaves and thus have no permanent place in the family household (8.34). But Jesus as God’s Son has the right to impart the freedom that comes to us when we belong to God’s family. If the Son sets us free, we are indeed free (8.36).

b) Seed of the Devil?

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Evidently they can be children of Abraham and, at the same time, children of the Devil. Jesus cites two signs of this. Firstly, the Devil had always been a murderer (8.44) and they followed in his footsteps as they sought to kill him. Secondly, the Devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (8.44). Speaking of the Devil, Jesus asserts that “there is no truth in him”. Likewise these Jewish leaders refuse to believe in Jesus because he tells the truth (8.45). Their failure to hear Jesus’ word which is the truth proves that they “do not belong to God” (8.47).

c) Children of God?

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Were these Jewish leaders smiling nastily with reference to Jesus’ virgin birth when they declared that they (unlike Jesus?) were not born out of (Greek ek) fornication? They proceed to assert that they have only one father, even God himself (8.41). Jesus counters this with the fact that he was sent by God and came from (Greek ek) God (8.42). If they really were the children of God, they would love Jesus. But sadly they cannot hear or receive his word.

Following his earlier teaching in John 8, Jesus once again underlines the vital importance of truth. This whole passage resonates with the centrality of truth in Jesus’ life, thinking and teaching. As so often in John’s Gospel we note again the emphasis on Jesus’ word. His oral teaching carries divine authority which demands entire obedience. It is totally trustworthy because his word is truth; it is the word of Jesus who is the truth; and Jesus comes from the Father who is in himself the author of all truth.

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With the words “you are truly my disciples” (8.31) truth is directly associated with believing faith and Jesus’ word. Faith, word and truth determine whether we are in reality Jesus’ true disciples. Truth should be the foundation and a central characteristic of genuine discipleship. As a result of becoming his disciples we shall know (future tense) the truth and the truth will set us free (8.32). Only through knowing the truth can we enjoy true freedom. Pastoral counsellors some times observe that freedom from past hurts and scars can only come when we truly face past traumas. In life generally a sense of freedom from the tensions and pressures of life can only be fully experienced when the truth of Jesus undergirds our lives. In the truth of Jesus lies freedom from bad habits and pervasive sins. In the light of Jesus’ teaching on truth we may hardly be surprised that our ‘post-truth’ society faces such fearful intractable problems.

In the 21st century we face the temptation that spiritual experience replaces truth as the basis and heart of our Christian faith. As we have seen, in 8.31 Jesus declares in very non-21st century fashion that “if you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples”. Genuine discipleship is founded on Jesus’ word and teaching. And genuine discipleship is characterised by truth which comes through and in God’s word. Indeed the word of Jesus is absolute truth because it comes from God, whose word is truth (8.45/46). As Christians throughout our history we have therefore believed that the whole Bible (not just the specific words of Jesus), God’s word, is the truth. So we do not accept the high church idea that a reading from the Gospels is somehow holier than a reading from some other part of the Bible.
In contrast to the truth of Jesus’ and God’s word, Jesus points to the lying deceit of the Devil. We should not be surprised therefore when a society (or individual person) which rejects Jesus, and so comes under the sway of the Devil, downplays the vital importance of truth.
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