John 8:32 “The truth will set you free.”
If there is one idea, one concept, associated with the United States of America, it is freedom. Years ago I had a lengthy conversation with a woman from another country who wondered why the United States didn’t have stronger social programs. Why was there such resistance to socialized medicine? Why didn’t the government mandate more maternity and paternity leave? Why should college students have to pay for their own tuition? Didn’t these things make life better for everyone? Wouldn’t we all feel more safe and secure?
Perhaps she was right about feeling safe and secure. I didn’t debate the relative advantages and disadvantages of the government programs for which she was advocating. But I could point out that the great vision that captured most Americans’ hearts and minds was freedom. Our national anthem doesn’t celebrate “the land of the secure and home of the safe.” It calls our country “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Freedom also lies close to the heart of the Christian faith. It is, we should remember, a different kind of freedom than that enshrined in our political documents. It is not the liberty promoted in The Declaration of Independence or protected by the U.S. Constitution. It is not a guarantee that we will be able to speak as we wish, worship as we wish, or gather with whom we wish without being molested. It does not protect us from unreasonable intrusion and treatment by our criminal justice system. It is a freedom the Christian enjoys, that cannot be taken away, even if an oppressive government denies us all the freedoms of life and citizenship we have come to expect.
Jesus provides this indestructible freedom through “the truth.” This isn’t truth in the abstract. He isn’t promising that correct knowledge will free you and empower you to make correct decisions. That may often be true, but these are neither the truth nor the freedom with which he is concerned.
Nor is he commenting on the importance of telling the truth as opposed to obscuring it with lies. It may be true that telling lies constructs a prison of our own making around us. The more we lie, the more fear of exposure imprisons us. Keeping our story straight becomes increasingly difficult. Telling the truth may free us from the trap our lies have created, but Jesus has something else in mind when he promises, “The truth will set you free.”
The truth Jesus promotes is the gospel of grace. The freedom he offers liberates us from sin and death. In his next breath he told the Jews to whom he was speaking, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” But the truth will set you free. It does more than uncover a path to freedom for us to navigate on our own. It picks us up and carries us to freedom in its own arms. It delivers us. In the opening verses of his Revelation, the Apostle John praises Jesus because he loves us “and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” The writer of Hebrews assures us Jesus became a man to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” This gospel not only sets us free. It is a gift, a blessing God provides for free.
As American Christians celebrate Independence Day, we thank God for the freedoms that allow us to live our faith and share it with relative safety and ease. But even if these freedoms fail, Jesus’ truth has set our souls free. No government or power can take that freedom away.