Twisted Scripture Number 17: John 8:32 is Not Talking About the Truth of a Political or Philosophical Argument

By Brannon Howse

The Scripture: And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.


The Twist: This verse is often invoked for a purely intellectual argument on some topic. For instance, you may hear this used on secular talk radio, in a discussion about a public policy issue. Someone will quip, “Well, you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Finally you’ve seen the light, and I’m glad you believe in this particular policy,” or “I’m glad you finally agree to vote for this certain candidate. You’ve seen the truth; and the truth has set you free.”


That, of course, is not at all what this verse is talking about. The truth Jesus refers to here is not some intellectual issue that a person must understand. It’s not about an ongoing debate in which one person finally agrees with another.

To understand the context, you need to go to look at the preceding verse, 31:


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.”


Then look at the subsequent verse, 33:


They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”


And verse 34:


Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.”


 Jesus is saying to these Jewish people that “if you want to be free, believe in Me.” Jesus had already declared earlier in verse 26 that “I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true.”

So we’ve got to ask ourselves, “When Jesus says in John 8:32, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,’ what does He mean by truth?” Jesus is describing the character and nature of who He is—Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fully God and fully man.

Compare John 3:33 in which John the Baptist declares, “God is true.” And John 14:6, where Jesus proclaims, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to Father except through Me.” Jesus is truth. This is the key to how we know what is true today. One way we know truth is by recognizing it as anything which is consistent with the character and nature of God.

     The Bible reflects God’s character and nature. So when Jesus says in John 8:32 “you shall know the truth,” He’s referring to Himself and means that “you shall know the truth if you know Me, for I am the truth. And if you know Me and you come to Me and you repent and place your faith and trust in Me, then you can have access to the Father.”

Jesus declared in John 14:6 that He is the way, the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father except through Him. He is the truth He’s talking about. Christians must judge everything by the truth of God’s character and nature as revealed in His written and incarnate Word.

John 1:1 also underscores the significance of the Word as the revelation of truth: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And a few verses later in John 1:14 we read that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

     In John 8:32, Jesus is speaking of the Gospel. It is a very specific reference and doesn’t allow some sort of broad reference to “truths” about an intellectual, political, or public policy debate. The truth is the Gospel; the truth is Jesus Christ; the truth is God; the truth is the Word of God.

To expand our understanding of Jesus’ reference to Himself as truth, consider John 17:17 where Jesus prays this for His disciples:  “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” What does it mean to be sanctified? It means to be set apart for God’s purpose. And how are we sanctified? Through Jesus Christ and through the study of His Word. We are sanctified by the truth of the Gospel and by the Holy Spirit which renews us. This makes each of us a new creation in Christ. But we’re also set apart for God’s purpose as we study His Word and walk in obedience according to Scripture. We’re sanctified through an ongoing life process as we pursue righteousness and holiness.

Christians are justified immediately through faith and repentance in Jesus Christ as they rely on the blood of Christ. In Him, God sees us as sinless; our sins are separated as far as the East is from the West. They’re buried in the depths of the sea, to be remembered no more. That’s justification.

Sanctification, however, is the lifelong process through which we are set apart for God’s purpose through the study of His Word and walking in obedience to Scripture, in accord with God’s character and nature. Sanctification is the pursuit of holiness.

And what is holiness? It is separation from sin. While we cannot be completely separate from sin in this world, we pursue righteousness and holiness. We seek to be sanctified—set apart for God’s purpose—through the Holy Spirit, the study of His Word, and walking in obedience. That’s the process to which Jesus refers when He says, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”

Notice also how 1 John 2:3-5 enlightens our understanding of this issue:


Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.


(This means that the one who does not keep the commandments of God is not really a believer.)


But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.


So when people say, “You’ll know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” in reference to an intellectual argument, a political debate, or some public policy issue, they’re doing the twist. The truth to which this scripture refers is Jesus Christ. The truth reflects God’s character and nature as revealed in God’s Word. I hope this background will encourage you the next time you hear someone use John 8:32 out of context, even as non-believers do, and you can lovingly share the true meaning of this verse and the truth of the Gospel. 

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