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.