John chapter 8 begins with the story about the woman caught in adultery. Since that day we only know her by this designation as she is brought to Jesus for judgment. Jesus confronts the scribes and Pharisees saying, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” As they walked away the woman was set free from the penalty of death. His counsel to her: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” Perhaps she should be known as the “woman set free from adultery” or the “woman whom Jesus forgave.”

Jesus then deals with the Pharisees who continually question Him and His teaching asking: Where is Your Father? Who are You? (John 8:19, 25) They challenge His statements: Your testimony is not valid (John 8:13). In the midst of this conflict many Jews believed in Jesus.

30 As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. 32 You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “We are descendants of Abraham,” they answered Him, “and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus responded, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. 36 Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.
John 8:30-36 (HCSB)

Some of those who have been listening to Jesus are now new believers. The Pharisees are questioning, prodding, plotting and attempting to lure Jesus into a theological trap. As he speaks many of them are not aligning themselves with the Pharisees, but with Jesus. They believe Him and they believe in Him. It is to these new believers that Jesus makes a grand promise: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What is the truth? How does it set us free?

Truth is not a philosophical proposition or a theoretical claim about the workings of the world. The truth is a person. His name is Jesus.

True freedom, not merely political or societal freedom, is centered in knowing Jesus, both objectively and experientially. The beauty of Jesus’ promise is that you can enjoy true freedom in any situation without changing where you live, how much money you make or who is running the government.

To really understand this freedom requires an objective knowledge of Jesus and His word. The first thing Jesus tells these new believers is to “continue in My word.” Those who are truly His followers will continue to learn and follow His word. He is not saying that you gain salvation by studying His word, but that you show your salvation by spending time in His word. This is a call to knowledge, to understanding objective truth. You must seek more knowledge of Jesus through His word. You will not experience real freedom unless you spend lots of time learning truth from God’s word. Without this revelation of truth in your life you will be trapped by falsehoods that will hold you prisoner to the very things from which Jesus desires to set you free.

Bible study should be done consistently. More than on Sunday mornings, the Bible should be a regular part of your reading. Read through it, chapters at a time. Read it in depth, spending time with small sections or short chapters. Read for an overall sense of the book and study for deeper knowledge. Read it instead of the devotional book or with the devotional book. Read it, then pick up the book about it. There is no substitute for reading His word.

Reading the Bible should be done systematically. Follow a reading plan or devise one yourself. Reading or studying through a book of the Bible gives you a sense of the entire counsel of God’s word. If you only read your favorite parts, you tend to only reinforce what you already know and are not challenged to deal with those truths that are uncomfortable or that do not support your preconceived notions.

As a side note, deep understanding isn’t required to become a believer, but it is required of those who are believers. Sometimes we emphasize a false idea that a person must know a lot of theology to become a Christian. The plain truth of Scripture is that all you need to know is that you have sinned and that God has provided a remedy for that sin in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Some people, after maturing in their understanding of truth, think, “I had no idea what I was doing when I was baptized. I didn’t understand the meaning of my sin or the depth of God’s forgiveness. I must not have been saved. I need to do it again.” While no one should be talked out of a deeper commitment to Christ, newfound knowledge does not negate childlike faith at the moment of salvation. Most of those who are married would say some of the same things about love and marriage: “We had no idea what it really meant when we exchanged vows at the altar. We didn’t understand the depth of commitment or patience required for marriage.” Immature ignorance about love and commitment does not mean a marriage is no longer valid.

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Rahab the Harlot. Doubting Thomas. The “thief on the cross.” The “woman caught in adultery.”

You probably recognize the names and maybe even know their stories, at least how they received these monikers. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho who hid Jewish spies, protecting them from the king of Jericho. Those spies gained crucial information in the conquest of Jericho and Rahab’s acts secured her future with Israel. In Joshua 2 and 6 she is called Rahab the prostitute 4 times, simply Rahab only twice; even in the New Testament she is Rahad the prostitute (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25) to identify her from the other Rahab’s found in scripture (Job 9:13; 26:12; Psalm 87:4; 89:10; Isaiah 30:7; 51:9; Matthew 1:5). Many remember her as a prostitute, but few may remember her acts of courage and of God’s provision for her.

Thomas was a twin and one of the twelve disciples, a faithful follower of Jesus who for some reason was found to be absent when Jesus first appeared to the disciples as recorded in John 20:19-23. When he heard of the appearance from the other ten he expressed his famous statement of doubt: “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!” (John 20:25) Forever known from that point as Doubting Thomas, he was confronted by the resurrected Jesus eight days later. Jesus offered his hand and his side and Thomas responded with one of the first statements of the deity of Christ: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) It is interesting that many know to call him Doubting Thomas, but few may realize that his was one of the first recorded statements of Jesus’ deity.

The thief was one of three hanging on the cross that day. Joining him that day were one more thief and Jesus. His name is not known, he is recalled simply as the thief. He is remembered for his cry out to Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42) Jesus responds with a promise: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) That promise assures those who believe and trust Jesus as Savior and Lord that there is immediate presence with Him after death and that there is nothing required for salvation beyond a faithful call to Him. This thief, in his simple request, leaves all Christendom with lessons about salvation that are spoken simply in his story.

As important and theologically significant as these individuals are in the story of faith, they are all popularly known for their mistakes and not their faith. Rahab is still called a prostitute. Thomas is still a doubter. The thief is, well, a thief. Be assured that today, as she stands in heaven, Rahab is not called a prostitute by her heavenly father and Thomas is not known as the doubter and the thief is called by his name, not by his sin.

I use these to illustrate what often happens in life. People are often called or known by what they have done wrong, not what God has made right. Everyone has committed sin and everyone has fallen short of the glory of God. You may have been able to hide your sin from the masses, or it may be well known. Sometimes there is no way to keep it secret. An out of wedlock birth, a DWI conviction, a public divorce or any other number of public transgressions cannot be hidden from others and can become the most common way others identify you. Even if it doesn’t become part of your name, like Rahab the prostitute, it can last as your reputation long after you have left that lifestyle or repented of the sin.

Even worse than the public humiliation, you might feel a private shame that never leaves. You might be haunted by your own past to the point where you are unable to go forward. You may not feel worthy to serve God or to speak on His behalf to others whose sin is less public. Without the benefit of God’s work and His truth on your life, your failures may define your identity for the rest of your life.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is hope for us all. Rahab, Thomas and the Remembered One each found new life and hope for an eternal future when they came to faith. This new identity is here for you also.

By faith you confess your own sinfulness and accept the truth that only the death of Christ can redeem you from the wrath of God. You commit your life to Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. You are justified by His death, cleansed from all sin, adopted into the family of God and sealed by the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of your sure salvation. Now God’s work of sanctification begins. You bring to Him all of your mess of identity and He begins to remake you.

Do you remember your sins that have been forgiven? Do they follow you wherever you go? Have you allowed the truth of God to set you free from your past? Have you begun to live in the freedom promised in John 8:32?

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