”And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Joh. 8:32)
Jesus’ words about that the ”truth will set us free” has often been misunderstood to mean that only if we are completely “truthful” in all our actions, thoughts, and motives, we can be set free. In other words: Only if we live holy in every aspect of our lives can be experience freedom from whatever binds us. However, such mindset has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth that sets us free; in fact, it will most definitely lead us into religious captivity.
Numerous Christians – and people from other religious as well – try to appease what they believe to be an angry God through different kinds of religious efforts and exercises. It can be about pilgrimages, giving of finances, prayer and fasting, or other so called “spiritual disciplines”. To pray and fast or to give in the offering might be good – but not if it is done with the motive of making God accept or love us. The Gospel of grace means that God loves us with an unconditional love, which was the reason why He sent His only begotten Son to die for all of mankind “while we still were sinners”. The fact that God loves us with an unconditional love, means that we cannot do anything to make God love us neither more nor less through our own goodness or spiritual performance.
Others believe that “the truth that sets us free” means that we need to tell others about what’s wrong with them, so that the knowledge of what’s wrong can lead to a changed behavior, which in turn will lead to that they are set free. I encourage those who believe so to study all the Old Testament prophets and consider how (un)successful they were at having the people of Israel repent by pointing out the sins of the nation. You will find that they failed most of the time, and that when they succeeded, it was only a matter of time until the people of Israel had fallen back into sin again.
When Jesus said that the truth will set us free, He meant that the truth of the gospel will set us free. We will not be free by focusing on our problems, sins, or failures, but by focusing on what Jesus has done to overcome our problems, sins, and failures! Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life…” Thus, “the truth” equals Jesus and His finished work!
A person who suffers from feelings of shame and condemnation will not be free by us saying, “You are a sinner and that’s why you feel like one”. Instead, they will receive freedom if we say, “Jesus died for you sins and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.
It is not facts about the actual situation – no matter how correct they might be – but the truth of the Gospel, that sets us free. Our job is not to diagnose the problem by pointing out to people what’s wrong with them, but to present the solution about what Jesus through His finished work has done for them.