Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32 NLT)
When people refer to Jesus' words, "And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free", they are often indicating that truth (right knowledge) precedes right action or obedience. Ok, I get that. Truth leads to belief which leads to behavior. Yep. I see that.
When you read his quote in context, however, there's an interesting order to what is said. Jesus seems to indicate a different order. Maybe even more of a process. Or even a progression. Can you tell that I'm still processing this?
First, Jesus is talking to those who "believed in him." He's been talking to crowds of unbelievers in this chapter. But in the preceding verse it says, "Many...believed in him." So he's talking to believers here. People who have heard the truth he's spoken and responded with faith.
And if they believe, there had to be something to believe. Jesus' words. Truth. Again, right knowledge. So truth preceded their belief. But are they free? Does belief automatically result in freedom? It can, but not necessarily. Think of the Chirst-follower struggling with an addiction. Think of the one who can't seem to stop viewing porn.
Second,he links truth with obedience. "You are truly my disciples if you REMAIN FAITHFUL TO MY TEACHINGS." (emphasis mine) That is, they show that they are truly his followers by how they follow him (his example and teachings) by living as he did. That's obedience.
Jesus says, if you follow him in obedience--THEN--you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Here Jesus seems to say that knowing and understanding truth follows obeying the Truth (the person Jesus). That is, freedom in Christ comes through the on-going obeying and trusting Jesus. It's more than just knowing the right information. It's knowing the right person--the Truth, that is Jesus.
Admittedly, it's a little like the chicken and the egg. Which comes first: truth or obedience. We sing "Trust and obey" and that is correct. But the Truth that "Sets you free" comes AFTER obedience that is rooted in faith.
If I want to live free (not just know truth), I need to obey the source of that truth--Jesus Christ. I need to walk with him. I need to follow Jesus' example and teachings by faith.
It starts and ends with a relationship. It grows through obeying the truth that flows from that relationship. Obedience unlocks truth which leads to freedom. That's the elusive fruit for me, it seems. I know the truth. But I don't always know the Truth. (stay in perfect fellowship with Jesus) So I don't always live in freedom. I don't always live out what I believe. So I know the truth but it doesn't set me free because I don't believe it enough to live it out.
So what do I do today? I start with the Truth (Jesus) knowing that he'll lead me to the truth (right thinking) through right behavior (obedience) that sets me free. Join me?