“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” This scripture found in John 8:32 is often misquoted as, “and the truth shall set you free.” While it may not seem like such a big deal, replacing one word with another in scripture can often be problematic. However, taking one or two verses out of context can cause even greater problems for the reader, namely that the point the Holy Spirit was making when He inspired the author to pen certain words may be lost if the entire context of scripture is not followed.
In the context of John 8:31-32, Jesus was teaching in the temple, with many people listening, some of whom became believers in Him, when he was confronted by a group of religious experts of the day, the scribes and Pharisees. These religious folks brought a woman taken in adultery unto Him, and tried to use her to trap Jesus in His words. They were very aware that The Law of Moses pronounced a sentence of death by stoning for adultery; so, in their treachery, they demanded to know what judgment Jesus would pronounce on her. However, Jesus quietly knelt and wrote on the ground with His finger.
As the scribes and Pharisees continued to tempt Him, He stood and said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). Then, once again, He knelt and wrote with His finger on the ground.
We are not told what Jesus wrote either time, but, between what he said and His writing on the ground, His words convicted them; and, one by one, they went out from Jesus’ presence. The wisdom of God, through the Holy Spirit in Jesus, shut the mouths of the religious Jews who tried to catch Jesus in His words. We are not told that Jesus tried to hide what He wrote, so we can assume that His tempters could see the writing.
Many have conjectured that Jesus wrote down their own, likely hidden, individual sins. In any case, with her accusers gone, Jesus did not condemn the woman, but instead admonished her to “go and sin no more.” If she followed the words of Messiah, she was to be separated from the life of sin in which she was trapped.
In everything He said, Jesus spoke only the truth to all those listening. Unfortunately for the scribes and Pharisees who refused to hear Him, Jesus words, the Truth, separated them from their Messiah. Had they truly heard His words, believed on Him and repented of their sins, they would still have been separated by Jesus’ words, but in a very different sense. Believing on Him, they would have begun the process of separating from the generations-old Jewish customs and traditions that yet today separate the unbelieving Jews from their Messiah.
During this teaching recorded in John 8, when Jesus said that if those listening to Him should continue in His word, they would be His disciples and they would be made free, the Jews stated, in what I would guess was a very indignant manner, that, being the children of Abraham, they had never been in bondage to any man, and then questioned how they would be made free.
At this point, Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34).
What He was trying to get across to them was that they were all in bondage to sin, any sin in their lives, and their religious traditions, being in contradiction to what Jesus taught, were definitely sin in their lives. Had they listened to His words, accepted them and ‘continued in them,’ the bondage of which they seemed unaware would have been removed and they would have been made free.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus spoke many things that seem difficult to understand. For instance, it is recorded in Matthew 10:33, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” Note that in this verse Jesus is talking about separation, and this separation is eternal and unchangeable.
In Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
In this scripture, Jesus was indicating that, when a person accepts Him as Lord, it may separate that person from even his closest family members unless those others also follow Jesus. When the Truth begins its work of separation, a believer will sometimes be faced with difficult choices and a serious question: Who will have first place in the life of a believer?
Paul explained the work of The Word in separation, and it is recorded in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
The sword of the Word will bring separation, as the believer allows it to work in his or her life.
The theme of truth that brings separation is repeated many times throughout the New Testament. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
To be conformed to the world is to be in bondage to the world and all its ways.
Here, Paul is teaching the saints in Rome about the same separation that Jesus was trying to get across to the Scribes and Pharisees. In fact, in verse 1, Paul calls this separation, ‘offering our bodies a living sacrifice, which is man’s reasonable service.’ According to the law of Moses, for any sacrifice offered by the Jewish High Priest to be accepted by God as a substitute for that perfect sacrifice which was yet to come, it had to be as free from any impurity as humanly possible. Any lesser condition was a reason for rejection of the sacrifice.
Paul was saying that, to be approved by God, and know His will for our lives, we are required to separate ourselves from any sin/impurity we had previously engaged in and become as ‘living sacrifices,’ living as purely as possible through the constant renewing of our minds, by allowing the Word to cleanse us and bring purification through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Although the rebirth of the human spirit is instantaneous when we accept Jesus as Lord, the purification of the soul, and sometimes the body, is a much longer process, depending on the type of bondage one has been in. In fact, due to the temptations offered by Satan, this is a lifelong process and must be continued diligently by every true believer.
When any person sincerely accepts Jesus, The Truth, he or she begins the required separation from old habits, old traditions, old friends, old haunts, old beliefs, anything that would hinder a closer relationship with Jesus, the Word of God. This is what Paul referred to as ‘the renewing of the mind.’ It is also known as discipleship.
The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day walked away from Him and his words in the temple, still in bondage to their traditions and customs. Instead of being separated from those bonds, their hearts, being hardened, separated them from Jesus, the only Way to God. Being unwilling to separate themselves from their religious customs and traditions and accept the Messiah standing before them, they disqualified themselves as candidates for becoming the living sacrifices Paul taught later. They were still dead in their spirits, and until the human spirit is reborn, the human mind cannot be renewed, and the required separation cannot begin.
It is crucial, in this unbelievably evil day in which we live, that all believers continually allow the Word to perfect us from glory to glory.
As written in Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus: “…even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify (*separate) and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25b-27) (*parenthesis mine) Amen.