To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
John 8: 31-36
When I was doing my student teaching at a high school in Michigan, the senior literature class was reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the classic novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe that raised awareness of the horrors of slavery in 19th century America.
One day these AP students were sitting in their circle discussing the book with their teacher. I was sitting next to my mentor. When his eyes were elsewhere, I passed a note to the student next to me.
“At exactly 1:10, get up and leave the room. Meet me in the hall. Pass it on. – Mrs. A.”
The student gave me a quizzical look and passed it to the next person. At first each student looked confused and glanced at me, but seeing my subtle smile, obediently passed the note along.
At precisely 1:10, as the student next to the teacher – the only one who hadn’t read the note yet – was saying something, the rest of the students gathered their books, got up, and followed me out of the class.
Of course, the moment we were in the hallway, everyone wanted to know what was going on. This was fun, but what was I getting at? (They had known me long enough and heard enough of my stories to know that everything I did had a point.)
When the class regrouped, my surprised mentor and I had a good discussion with the students about the fact that slaves were forbidden to learn how to read, and the reasons for depriving them of an education. The kids had just experienced an example of what might have happened if slaves all over a plantation were able to have clandestine communications with one another, since slaves usually outnumbered their masters.
Slavery thrives on ignorance.
Time and again in the Bible we are admonished to read and hear God’s Word. Our spiritual lives, and often our physical lives, depend on knowing the truth. But what did Jesus mean by “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”?
The dialogue in John 8 makes it clear. If we sin, we are slaves to sin, and while the Jews took offense at the very idea that they were slaves, today we can see examples all around us – and maybe in ourselves – that sin enslaves. As Paul lamented in Romans 7, we do things we don’t want to do, and we can’t do what we really want to do.
For about twelve years I was a slave to an eating disorder. Paul’s lament fit me perfectly – I was always doing what I didn’t want to do, and I felt like “wretch,” indeed.
If you have ever struggled with an eating disorder, you know that the issue isn’t food, it’s self-worth and control. People who starve themselves frequently feel out of control, and they look at dieting as one thing they can control in their lives. People frustrated by dieting failures turn to vomiting or laxatives to purge themselves of their overindulgence and try to regain control. But in both instances these people end up more out of control than ever – slaves to their appetites and warped self-image.
At the time I was struggling with all of this, I was also leading a youth group. Ironically, I spent a lot of time and attention telling the teens how much God loves them, how precious they are to Him, and how He is gracious and forgiving when we mess up. And yet there was a disconnect when it came to my life, my actions, my view of myself. Yes, we’re saved by grace, but I have to do better. Yes, God forgives, but I have to “fix” what I’ve messed up so God will accept me.
I know, crazy. But that was the lie. Oddly, my self-condemnation was really a form of arrogance. I was placing standards on my life that I wasn’t putting on anyone else, standards that even God didn’t hold me to.
I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – PERIOD.
The turning point in my journey to normalcy was when I decided – as an act of my will – to take God at His Word and believe it, whether I felt it or not. In other words, if I had confessed my sin, I was forgiven, even if I still felt guilty. I didn’t have to wait until all the guilt feelings faded away to believe that I was forgiven. And I no longer found myself trying to eat the guilt feelings away, a form of “self-medication” which had only plunged me into deeper guilt.
This choosing Truth over feelings was huge for me, and it was the beginning of my deliverance.
God’s Truth is what sets us free. But Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching.” In other words, to be free, we need to know what that Truth is!
Do you want to be free? Read the Bible! You’ll find directions for a life of faith and promises you can choose to believe, not because of any emotion, but because God said so.
And God doesn’t lie.
Prayer: Father, thank You for giving us the truth of Your Word. Help to confess our sins the moment we’re aware of them and stand on Your promise that we are forgiven and free. In the name of Your Son, the Word made flesh, Amen.