It’s an undeniable truth that we are set free, because perfect liberty is part of Christ’s work on the cross. But it’s in living in Him and His truth that we see this freedom unfold and impact every area of our lives.
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
I come across many people who struggle with things of the past. Some wounds refuse to heal, or certain sins rise up continually to defeat us. I lived for a huge chunk of my born-again life battling the power of the past and wondering why this particular promise of freedom worked for others but not for me. It brought a lot of condemnation, too, because the inevitable conclusion was that there was ‘something wrong’ with me or my spiritual walk. I share this because I know that there are countless others out there who live with the same defeat, frustration, and self-condemnation. There are many who long for the liberty they know we have in Jesus but which always seems somehow just out of reach. There is an enormous difference between knowing we are set free and living it. One is faith and the other is experience.
The truth that believers are set free.
In His mercy, God revealed something to me which I’d missed and which no one along my journey had thought to teach me. Today’s verse isn’t simply the last phrase, yet that’s what we hear. The truth will set you free. It’s absolutely correct, and it’s the sum total of salvation. If God says it, then it is so and we cannot argue or deny it. So why, then, do so many believers live as they do, still longing to be set free from things that have already been dealt with on the cross. The answer lies in the simple reality that we don’t know these two verses in their entirety. We focus only on the last phrase and miss out the critical principles on which this liberty is built. First and foremost, it’s a truth for believers. Jesus spoke these words to those who believed Him.
That last phrase we’re so fond of contains an imperative – the truth shall make us free. Not maybe or could be or possibly or if He feels like it. The truth shall. There is no room for doubt or debate. It’s a simple spiritual fact backed by the person and power of God. If we are a believer, we are set free. That’s God’s intention and it has never changed and will never change. He does not compromise His purposes. But the reality is often very different. Believers seem to contradict the truth in their lives, despite prayer and a genuine desire to know the liberty of God. There is a gap between believing and being set free. That gap is covered by the phrases between the beginning and end of these two verses. They contain the truth that accomplishes the promise.
The foundation of being set free.
Jesus raises a beautiful image here. We must abide in His Word. To abide means to live. It’s to put down roots and establish ourselves, to make a home, a place we return to every day. To abide means to belong there. It means to live there. He then mentions that this abiding confirms us as disciples. To understand the significance, look at His disciples who lived with Him. They walked, work, ate, and slept with Jesus. He and His Word were their home. They were continually in His presence, listening to His Words and learning from Him. This is our powerful example. We are to live in the Word, not visit it now and then. Jesus is saying that we must live in the Word to be real disciples. It must be a daily, constant dwelling in the Word, rooting into it so we are inseparable from it.
This is the foundation for liberty. The Word of God is the means whereby we are set free. It’s not sufficient to hold onto the last statement that the truth will set us free and not know the multitude of truths that operate to set us free. Every type of human bondage is covered in the Word of God. To be set free from a particular wound or circumstance or sin, we must know the Word that is relevant. The Word of God itself contains the power for its fulfilment. The power of God indwells His Word, ready to fulfil itself. When we know the relevant Word and apply it, the Holy Spirit activates the power in it and we are set free. God’s Word contains the many truths that are necessary for our different struggles, but we must know them, believe them, and apply them.
The process of being set free.
In some instances, God may do a miraculous work of liberation. In many cases, being set free is a process. That’s because He desires that we remain free, and often, we are our greatest enemy and hindrance to freedom. We are wounded, battered, and ultimately conditioned to accept our bondage. Though part of us rebels and claims the freedom we have in Christ, self is so used to being the victim that it refuses to change its mind. It remains stuck in the cage, even though the door is wide open. In cases like these, we need to live in the truth in order to live in the freedom. Being set free is a process of renewing our minds and adjusting our habits and thinking. This doesn’t make victory the result of our efforts. God works to transform us so we hold fast to our liberty instead of reverting back.
The means whereby God works in us is through the Word. When we live in the Word, making it a part of who we are, it becomes more than words. It assumes the power God has placed in it. We are gradually changed from the inside out. Our thought patterns and destructive strongholds are removed. We begin to believe the Word with stronger and clearer faith. It becomes more real to us than our problems and we focus on Jesus and His redeeming work rather than our circumstances. Again, our faith increases because we see the I AM with whom nothing is impossible. Liberty is no longer up to us to ‘find’ or succeed at but a sovereign gift of grace. When it’s all about God, it’s so much easier to let go of self and take hold of truth. We begin to live the Word we lived in.
Being set free is already accomplished.
This is what made all the difference in my life. I realised that I would be set free because it had already happened. I simply needed to live in it. When I took hold of this I was able to examine the things that were holding me back from the liberty I already had through the cross. What I found was that my expectations contradicted the Word of God. On some level, I accepted that I would not be set free, despite what the Bible said. The pattern of my life denied the truth, and it was easier to go with that than challenge my wrong thinking and strongholds. But Jesus has already done all that is needed. The victory is secure. When we live in the Word, we live in Jesus. We live in a Living Word of power to accomplish the purpose for which He was sent.
Sweet saviour, Your perfect sacrifice has purchased every liberty from all bondage and captivity. Thank You for Your selfless love which has given all. Help us to walk in You, to abide in the Living Word so that You can transform us and set us free from the things that hinder us in our walk with You. Sustain and strengthen our faith so that we can look to You always, living in the glory and assurance of Your presence.