I hear these words of Jesus quoted a lot, and it always makes me wonder if the speaker knows from what we’re being set free. I tend to think most people refer to the removal of mental and/or emotional burdens from hiding the truth, or living with misunderstandings. But that is not the intended meaning.
Just so we understand the context, here are the verses where the quote comes from:
John 8: 31-32 (NIV)
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 set you free.”
From this text, I can conclude two requirements of being Jesus’ disciple.
1) we must believe Jesus
2) we must hold to His teaching
Then, we will know the truth.
By the way, we receive the love of the truth from God through faith.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 (NIV)
Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
But let’s return to the original question. Free from what? After all, we’re not slaves who need to be freed. Jesus’ audience had the same question.
John 8: 33 (NIV)
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 then explains his meaning in the following verses.
John 8: 34-36 (NIV)
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.
Notice Jesus equated Himself to be the truth. (The truth will set you free = If the Son sets you free)
All of us sin. That makes us slaves to sin. Sin masters over us. But when we humbly come to Jesus, repent, and believe His word (that He died to redeem us from the penalty and power of sin), we are set free. God removes the penalty of sin from us and gives the Holy Spirit so that the believers could live under His influence and not be slaves to sin anymore.
What God requires of us (repentance and faith) is very little, compared to what He offers us in return. I am a new creation, a living testimony of His work.