Read John 8:31–47.
Etched into the wall of the lobby at the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, is a quotation from Jesus, taken from the King James Version of the Bible. It reads, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The agency considers this verse its motto, as it seeks to uncover nefarious schemes hatched by enemies of the United States and protect her citizens from harm.
But when Jesus utters these words, He isn’t thinking about Al Qaeda, Russian spies, or Islamic terrorism. He speaks the now famous phrase to a group of Jews at the Feast of Tabernacles. These are folks who are inclined to hear what He has to say, men and women who, John tells us, “believed in him” (v. 30). But, as we’re about to see, their faith is only superficial.
The freedom Jesus is talking about isn’t of the CIA’s variety; He’s not there to push back the Romans or lead a rebellion. The truth He offers—the truth He is—will bring freedom from sin (vv. 34–36). The people cannot see that they are slaves, and they repeatedly insist that they cannot be slaves because they are Abraham’s children. In other words, they believed their special status as God’s chosen people made them unique among the nations. Of course, it did in a certain sense, but being a child of Abraham isn’t enough to bring true freedom automatically.
Jesus tells them that sonship is about more than a bloodline. You can tell whose father someone is by how they live: “‘If you were Abraham’s children,’ said Jesus, ‘then you would do what Abraham did’” (v. 39). And what did Abraham do? He responded to the Lord in faith. He left everything familiar and comfortable behind to follow God into the unknown. Years later, he was willing to sacrifice his precious son in order to be obedient. That’s how much the truth mattered to him. But these crowds don’t have faith like that. They aren’t willing to fling aside what they’ve known in order to pursue the path Jesus is carving out.
Because Jesus knows where His story is headed—to His own murder at the hands of the Jewish leadership, with the full support of many of the people—He tells those gathered that their father isn’t really Abraham, or God above; rather, it’s the devil, who “was a murderer from the beginning” and “the father of lies” (v. 44).
Once again, Jesus is presenting two paths, as stark and different as can be. He’s already talked about light and darkness, life and death, and now He’s talking about one form of sonship versus another, truth versus lies. Sadly, the people in this crowd think they are on the right side of things, but they are deathly mistaken. You see, these folks aren’t really children of Abraham. If they were, they would respond to Jesus in faith, just as Abraham responded to God’s calling in faith (v. 39). And they aren’t really children of God. If they were, they would recognize God’s voice in what Jesus says (v. 47). Jesus is revealing what’s always been in them—and it isn’t good. The crowds are, despite their protests, children of the devil and slaves to sin.
The truth sets us free, because it reveals who we really are. And when we come to embrace the truth Jesus speaks, breathes, and embodies, we are pardoned from sin’s consequences. What’s more, we receive His Spirit, who enables us to battle against the sin at work inside of us. That’s true freedom, and it’s only ours when we first embrace Jesus, just as He is, not how we imagine He should be.
That last part is important. The people in the crowd that day expressed some sort of faith, but it was only surface-deep. It wasn’t the real thing. How many people today profess the name of Jesus but have never really gotten to know Him? The only way to know for sure that we are chasing after the true Jesus of Scripture is to never give up the chase. We must be willing to follow Him wherever He leads, just as Abraham was willing to follow God anywhere, even to Moriah to sacrifice his son. After all, that’s what children of Abraham do. It’s what true freedom looks like.