TRUTH AND FREEDOM
T. PIERCE BROWN
Most of my life I have quoted and heard John 8:32 as if it stands alone. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The statement can stand alone in the sense that it is a general truth, universal in its application. That is, medical truth can make us free from certain diseases. Financial truth can make us free from certain financial problems. Scientific truth can even make us free from the law of gravity for a time as we operate under another law in outer space.
Here, Jesus is talking about a different kind of truth, and a different kind or dimension of freedom. Richard Lovelace was right when he said, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.” John the Immerser, in prison with his head about to be removed was free in a far more significant sense than Herod on his throne, for Herod was a slave to pride, passion, lust, licentiousness, greed and gluttony.
So, although the statement can stand alone and be true in all sorts of situations, it is in a connected thought when Jesus said it. It is connected with an “if” in verse 31, as Jesus said, “If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples.” Then he says, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Since the statement in its original context is contingent on abiding in His word and being truly a disciple, it is evident that He is speaking of a specific kind of knowledge, truth and freedom rather than general ones. Note some significant things that are promised to those who abide in His word.
First, there is a difference in just being a disciple of some sort and being a disciple indeed, as the King James Version puts it. A person who hears and believes enough of God’s word to obey the gospel is a disciple, but only one who continues or abides in His word is truly a disciple, for a disciple is a disciplined follower. So, although a person may be classified as a disciple if he has been disciplined enough to start following Christ, he is not called a disciple indeed unless he continues to follow.
Second, this person can know the truth. Some years ago an elder came to me quite disturbed, for his daughter had gone away to college and came home emphasizing the great truth she thought she had learned which he did not know how to refute. It was that all truth is relative, and what she had learned in church as absolute could not therefore be true. The first thing I asked him was, “Is she absolutely sure that all truth is relative?” The second thing I tried to get him to see was that it is true that many truths are relative, and the Bible plainly teaches that. But one does not need the Bible to realize that statements having to do with how tall or short something is, how fast or slow, how pretty or ugly, how hot or cold and many other things are relative. Even the statement, “It is 6 A. M.” may be true here, but not true at another locality.
It is possible that there are those who have done much damage by teaching about relative truths as if they were absolutes. Is eating meat offered to idols a sin? Is circumcision a sin? Is every sin the same as every other sin? It amazed me when I had a long discussion with four elders who tried to convince me that any one sin is as bad as another. Of course, one statement of Jesus should settle that. He said to Pilate in John 19:11, “He that delivered me unto thee hath greater sin.” As great, or greater damage is done when one assumes that because many truths are relative, all truth is relative.
Perhaps, even more ridiculous and destructive is the idea advanced by some who claim to be preachers of the gospel that one cannot know the truth. Again, this one statement of Jesus should and will settle that for all who have the proper faith in Him.
However, it is worthwhile to examine in more detail the meaning and application of that statement. First, the word “know” is an interesting word. Even in English, if you are asked, “Do you know John?” you may reply, “I know him when I see him, but I do not REALLY know him.” That suggests the Bible truth that the word “know” has several meanings. One of the meanings is found in such expressions as “Adam knew Eve.” It involves more than a casual acquaintance, but a special intimate close relationship in which the two became one. This is the same word, “ginosko,” used here about knowing the truth. It is not as intensive as “epiginosko” which suggests that one may know the truth enough to be free without having the fullness of knowledge that he will later have about that and other truths. For a person to suggest that because one does not know all the truth about any particular thing, he cannot know the truth about it reveals an ignorance or blindness that is amazing almost beyond belief.
It is fascinating to meditate on the wonderful truths that one can know about the nature of God, the nature and origin of man, the purpose and destiny of man and many other profound things about which philosophers and scientists have pondered for years, and still remain in ignorance. God revealed those truths, and we can know them. It would take a book to properly deal with how some of these truths can make man free, and the kind of intellectual, psychological and spiritual freedom man may have as he abides in the word of God.