Written by Paul J. Bucknell on July, 22, 2021
John 8:30-36 True Freedom in Christ
No chains can constrain the love found in Christ Jesus!
“30 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. 31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (NASB)
We all like freedom. The youth aspire to a greater life because of the freedoms sought in adulthood. People seek wealth and the freedom associated with it. Couples seek freedom in marriage. Countries desire their sovereignty. But what constitutes freedom? I’m afraid in this hedonistic age that people have confused their lusts with freedom.
Jesus resets our understanding of freedom through His words in John 8:30-36. Jesus states that freedom comes by knowing and living out His words. If this definition sounds too constraining, listen carefully, for it’s the words that Jesus uses. Life and true freedom are found in Jesus Christ and His Words. In a parallel vein, freedom is lost, and slavery adopted the more our lives are less impacted by the words of Jesus.
There have always been problems confusing the essential Gospel work with its effects. We face this challenge in an unprecedented way in today’s world as many Christians move their allegiance from Jesus’ words to what they think are positive effects of the Gospel. The darkening of the Dark Ages came upon those in greater Europe mainly because they lost connection to Jesus’ words. The Reformation brought success only to areas where they discovered and reclaimed the truth from Jesus’ words.
We need to be extremely wary of anyone, including Christian leaders and groups, who shift their foundation from Jesus’ words to popular and cherished slogans.
In John 8:30-36, John provides unique insights not only on what we should be seeking but on ways we hold wrong assumptions about freedom and slavery.
I encourage you to contemplate the glory of the freedom found in Christ‚ no matter where you are presently. With this challenge before us, let us step into the first main point: Freedom and Delight.
1. Freedom and Delight (John 8:30-32)
“30 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. 31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
The world persistently positions truth as being boring, constraining, and tedious. Jesus, however, interestingly attaches the truth to freedom, like a kite with its flying power sourced from the string held to the ground. Release the string, and the flying kite tragically and abruptly falls to the ground. Let’s see how Jesus presents His case. Whether religious or not, the modern world has perilously forgotten that genuine freedom is tethered to the truth of Jesus’ words.
Belief in Christ
John first points out that many Jews came to believe in Jesus: “Many came to believe in Him” (John 8:30). Saving faith is the greatest life-changing miracle that takes place—the change of heart and faith. Many want to see a healing miracle or another sort of miracle, but nothing proves God’s existence today as much as the change in people’s lives.
Belief in Jesus is more important than anything else in life, and so it’s tremendous to see so many people believe.
There are, however, a few reasons to wonder about their belief in Jesus. John first states that they had doubts—“They did not realize….” But later, he calls them believing Jews. Perhaps when Jesus spoke, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He” (John 8:28), they thought Jesus would reveal His great powers and overcome the Romans.
27 They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” (John 8:27-28)
It’s an eternal mistake to make one’s faith a secondary or extraneous life decision. John reaffirms that when defining the purpose of John’s Gospel: “But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
Do you believe in Jesus? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
This leads us to two questions. (1) What happens when a person believes in Christ? And (2) What happens after one believes in Christ? Jesus doesn’t say much on the first question here, as in John 3 and 4 but focuses on question 2. But let me first summarize the powerful work of God that takes place every time someone is born from above (John 3).(1) What happens when a person believes in Christ?
The Spirit convicts us of our sin and then causes us to be born again through the living Word of God.
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
Our living God initiates these authentic experiences; we respond to them. We must not minimize them as mere religious experiences; they are genuine and foundational. (Of course, the evil one is falsely motivating some, having some falsely confess Christ.)
God, similarly, is at work today. He works in our lives not because we are acceptably moral creatures but according to His great mercy (1 Peter 1:1-3). People share their testimony because the resurrected Lord has demonstrated the wonderful love of God to them.
Jesus points out that saving faith is only the beginning, not the end focus.
What happens after one believes in Christ?
The pursuit for our lives is not to gratify our immediate desires but to accomplish God’s purposes for our lives. Freedom is found by becoming Jesus’ disciples. Let’s see what He told them in John 8:31-32.
Jesus describes three results when securing spiritual freedom by faith in Christ; it’s portrayed as an event and process. The three facets work intricately together, though they appear to happen simultaneously: 1) Continue in My Word, 2) Know the Truth, and 3) The truth sets one free.
(1) Continue in My Word
Faith or belief in Christ initiates the whole process of learning the teachings of Jesus. Genuine disciples are not those that merely hear or acknowledge the words of Jesus but live according to them or as Jesus says, “You continue in My Word.”
Jesus distinguishes between those who believe (“Many came to believe in Him) and those who persist in their faith—continue in Jesus’ word. Jesus is not saying one has to do these things to become a Christian. This continuation in His Word is the direct result of genuinely coming to know the Lord. Again, it’s wrong to assume that this level of obedience is what it takes to believe in Jesus. Clearly, it’s faith, but it’s a saving faith that produces obedience.
Think of it as a meeting with God that never leaves you the same. God’s love is born in you, issuing a love for God, His Word, and others.
Genuine faith in Christ stirs deeply in the believers, causing a deep desire to know and obey Jesus’ Word. We can readily see this change in new Christians who suddenly love to hear and do God’s Words. His Word becomes their food (Heb 5:12-14).
(2) Know the Truth
The second step follows the doing of Christ’s word—knowing the truth. Sometimes, we demand to see the truth before we commit ourselves to the Lord. This is senseless. One can try to teach a dead man lots of things, but he can’t learn. A person first needs to be born again with a new life, and then being alive, he can understand and grow.
Disobedience cuts off the growing process because it doesn’t allow the truth to enter. We disallow a particular part of our lives to be corrected by Jesus’ words.
Some of you might get mad at the way we assert our knowledge of the truth. I can understand but realize what Jesus is saying. You can’t appreciate it because you are not listening and following Jesus’ words. Test His words if you will! Ask new Christians about how they considered themselves blind before they became Christians. Life precedes before the living out of these truths.
Knowing the truth is like a computer program. A computer might be plugged in and working, but it still needs a major operating system and smaller programs to be usable. God’s code is His truth, Jesus’ words. The Christian, now possessing life, seeks to acquire God’s Word and live by it so that they can live out God’s design for his life. (I remember back in the mid-80s writing a program for my computer to practice my Mandarin and Taiwanese vocabulary words. A few hundred Basic code lines helped me significantly improve my language learning.) Our hearts are now compatible with this truth, and when directing our minds, it directs our paths. We adopt His thoughts and desires, becoming overly important to our lives.
Jesus says, “You will know the truth.” Is this truly a one-time experience? Yes, but the question leads us in the wrong direction. Knowing the truth is like opening a blind man’s eyes, enabling him to see so many things he couldn’t see before. The giving of sight brings a believer into a whole new world of experience. Now he sees things in the car, on the elevator, and even on an evening walk. The result of knowing the truth enables a believer to acquire and access that truth regularly.
Salvation is a package deal. The initial changes open one up to all sorts of truth experiences. Holding the key to a house allows you to explore the entire place.
One of the greatest follies would be to gain that eyesight but to keep one’s eyes closed, or to possess that key but never explore all the rooms or be content with a darkened closet. And so, one of the greatest mistakes a believer can make is to think that the initial “know the truth,” being saved, is the sum total of being a Christian! A saving faith is fantastic but only jets us into the stream of eternal life. Who would be content with birth when there is a life to live?
This is what Jesus says. There is an ongoing acquiring and experience of God’s Word seen in His words, “If you continue in My word” or “You are truly disciples of Mine” or in the effects that “the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).
One of my biggest challenges as a teacher of God’s Word is to get Christians to see the greatest is yet to come! The growth of a believer is not counted in how much he gives or comes to church but in abiding in Jesus’ Word and letting it direct their paths (cf. the vine in John 15).
I wish believers would pursue doctrinal purity and insist on the Christian’s spiritual development. Jesus was not willing for these many new believers to fool themselves, now that they count themselves among His number.
(Behind the “knowing the truth” is the battle for the supremacy of God’s Word persists to this day, even in main denominations. Many have left God’s Word, evident by leaders who had no interest in God’s Word, leaving their denominations foundational-less, and many have disappeared.)
(3) The truth shall make you free
Jesus declares the third element of this belief process, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Free in what way? Free to do what we were created. Free to do all the things we should do. Free to be ourselves.
With this ‘freedom’ comes the real meaning in life for which we have been searching. They now abide in Jesus’ Word. Christ’s Spirit leads and lives in them. This leads us to the second step.
Jesus tried to clarify what was happening. Some are believers but not disciples of Jesus. It’s for this reason, many teachers, including myself, speak of “professing faith,” where one confesses belief in Christ but needs to give evidence for that faith.
The Reformers rightly insisted on the perseverance of the faith, which is Jesus’ point. The Spirit of God originates life from His Word of Life, which in turn brings a growing, persisting faith.
Time is needed to prove each one of us. Jesus’ words, “If you continue in my word” anticipate a deeper, ongoing conviction. These are Jesus’ true disciples. On the other hand, some professors of Christ only want the general association with Jesus and do not have a true commitment to His words. They believe association, like a good luck charm, will provide extra life benefits.
Captivity is seen in doing things that one was not designed to do. It is what we call sin. For example, will a fish consider it free if taken from a river and put on the land? Or again, if one does not supply power to the computer, it is a black screen—even without using a screen saver program. God’s truth restores freedom to human beings because it brings them back to the environment in which they were made to live—God’s presence. It is liberating because it is so right, natural, good, and beautiful. God made people in His image, bringing about a restoration that leads to true freedom.
One person, for example, might be a habitual liar. Lying is the way he gets what he wants. He thinks he is better off by lying and has deluded himself by not questioning the impact that lying has on his life. Though he gets some things by lying, he loses out in the long end. The liar convinces himself that he is doing great because he thinks his lies help him. But lies hurt people. Lies create superficial people. How can you have a friend if you lie to those around you? You don’t. You are disloyal, but to be a friend, you must be truthful. People find that if they cannot trust you in one area, they cannot trust you in other areas. If a person lies, it proves that he places his interests ahead of the interests of others.
Lying negatively affects your career; it destroys your marriage relationship. Now you might have grown up thinking that these relationships can never be good. But this is not true. Jesus brings the truth by which we can form strong friends and spouses. We are not going to flatter or show off but to care for others. Let love substitute your selfishness and transform your lives. You will become free.
Jesus essentially says that He has come into the world to set us free from all the sin patterns that have frustrated and troubled our lives. The more we go against the words of Christ, the more our lives become snarled and twisted. But as we abide in His Word, we reverse that cycle. He leads us into the truth, which escorts us into freedom.
Someone once asked, “Is there sufficient evidence to convict you of being a follower of Christ?” It’s a good question for us all.
2. Slavery and Delusion (John 8:33-36)
33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Everyone loves to hear about freedom. For most, it means release from oppression. Now the Jews lived under the strict rule of the Romans; one corner of the temple area had become a Roman fort.
The Jews, however, realized that Jesus was getting at something much deeper than the love of choice and belief. As a clever teacher, He pointed to their chains. They, like all, resentfully resisted the implication that they were enslaved and asserted being sons of Abraham. What they said was true about being Abraham’s children (not in Paul’s language where they clung to the Law - Ishmael), but the Israelites were, at times, held in captivity.
The most significant and telling teaching here is Jesus’ definition of slavery: “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34). This problem explains both the global problem as well as the social and individual problems of society—sin. Sin here means “miss the mark” or wander from God’s divine law. Jesus used it in a very decisive way, starting in verse 21, concluding, “For unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Jesus claims to be equal with Yahweh God through the phrase, “I am He,” the everlasting self-existing One. The personal Creator God came to earth to seek us. If we miss this truth—like missing a plane or mistaking a bridge, we will die in our sins.
What do you think is so important right now for us as a culture? In a society like ours with a strong Christian base, people don’t typically outright deny Christ, but they begin to marginalize His influence. They want us to accept Jesus’ thoughts as of equal authority and weight as others.
Jesus, however, states that life begins with His Words. Without them, without belief in Jesus’ work on the cross and resurrection, you will die in your sins and suffer the consequences of eternal damnation.
But you say, “Our sin isn’t that bad,” but did you note Jesus clarification. He who sins is the slave to sin. This includes us all. Sin shows that we belong to the evil one and live out his ways. Sin, then, betrays our pretended innocence. Sure, you might convince yourself to be better than another, but are you sinless? No, you missed the mark (Rom 3:21).
Although many theses and papers exist providing their proposals and solutions, Jesus upfront informs us that if they do not deal with mankind’s root problem of sin, they miss the point. Plans that diminish the Gospel truth by generating their own agenda form a false gospel.
Though people might make you feel backward or inferior, shouting down the importance of Christ, don’t be intimidated or misconstrue the problem. Sin betrays our heart problems and our resistance against God. Even in Catholic or Protestant churches sinful solutions and toleration reveal extensive hatred against God and His ways, such as promoting sexual immorality, abortion, hatred of others, etc.
It comes down to whom do you listen and follow. Jesus claims allegiance must come before any culture or party.
Christ above Culture
Truth above Falsehood
Like the believing Jews in Jesus’ time, professing Christians don’t directly say that they don’t need Jesus or that He is not important. Still, amid all of their socio-economic talk on values, one can see that they hold other things more important.
Jesus came to die on the cross and live like the King of His newly created kingdom of God, consisting of people free from their sins and the tyranny of the evil one. His people are thrust forward with an expectation of the king’s return and establishing a new heavens and earth.
Governmental reform is superficial, but the change of the heart of man remains most important. And as such, we are light and salt in this world.
The backslidden prefer the comfort of the screen and games to Bible study and application. They are not willing to advance Jesus’ Word over their conveniences.
Many in His time championed Israel and the temple against the Romans. Some of His disciples, including Judas Iscariot, were Zealots, but Jesus refused to sterilize the Gospel with the world’s acid. Judas later betrayed Jesus, allowing his political affiliations to sway His loyalty to Jesus and the truth.
Each generation should similarly disdain slavery, but our culture delights in sin with its promiscuity, bribes, and manipulating deceptive ways. Though people decry slavery, they cannot link it to their sin.
But perhaps, most suspiciously, Jesus spoke to them, “If you continue in My Word….” This forms the backdrop of Jesus’ famous statement found in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” But this statement, upon closer observation, ends up meaning something far different what people hope to hear.
- Can we conclude there is no freedom outside of Christ?
- Can we equally agree that all the world’s systems, no matter how prominent or esteemed, are failed systems?
- Can we, lastly, openly admit Jesus’ way as the only way to find freedom?
Freedom describes a person in light of God’s unique and special design without all the cramping and depressive effects of sin on one’s life. Positively, it’s who one is! It helps if we think about God’s purposes and plans for our lives. Do you sense the freedom here?
John Stott rightly stated (in my own words) that most people think about freedom in terms of what they escape rather than what they are freed to do. Both are important, but most believers end up thinking only of the first. It’s when we start seriously considering where God is leading us that the excitement of life begins!
Discussion Questions on John 8:30-36
- What was the Jews’ response to Jesus’ message in John 8:25-30?
- How does belief in Christ save a person?
- Define belief. What do you think it means by the phrase “believed Him?”
- What makes us, in these verses, conclude that Jesus thought some who believed were not genuine believers but only professing believers?
- Do you know of any individuals that believed but then turned away? Share.
- How are truth and freedom related?
- How do “know the truth” and “the truth shall set you free” work together in the Christian life?
- Why do people not easily come to know Jesus? Don’t they see their sin and feel their chains of slavery?
- How does the author describe this freedom?
- Are you free from your sin? Give an example of how you know.