Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
When confronted with the question “Is this true?” most of us weigh the idea or statement in our mind. We consider if it is logical, if it meets certain criteria for reasonable thinking. We see if we can find evidence to support it. We compare it with our experience. We consider our emotional response to it. Having done all of this, we determine whether or not something is true. Only then do we decide if we will do something about it.
The problem with this, for Christians, is that it does not take into account human sinfulness and frailty. The scriptures continually insist that, as fallen creatures, everything in us has been distorted and crippled by sin. Not only are our desires and emotions distorted, our reason itself is distorted. And this is true even of those who believe in God. Yet if we are so frail in our fallen condition, how could we ever know the truth or rightness of anything?
Speaking in this gospel passage to believers, Jesus encourages us that the truth—about God, ourselves, and our world—can be known, even by fallen creatures. But it cannot be known in advance. Jesus says the truth can only be known on the other side of obedience. This runs counter to almost all our notions about the truth. Jesus is not interested in our fallen notions about the truth. He has not asked us to determine in advance if it will be effective for us to love our enemies, if it is reasonable to bless those who persecute us, if we think the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow really deserve our help. He only asks us to obey his commands. In fact, Jesus says only those who continually submit to his teachings are truly his disciples. (The Greek word he uses to describe this manner of obedience is meno, meaning to remain, abide, or stay.) It is only the true disciple who comes to know what is true.
So, to know the truth is to undergo a process of seeing and experiencing the world differently as a result of our continual obedience to Jesus’ teachings. If we seek to know the truth before we choose to obey, we will remain blind and never become true disciples. If we obey what Jesus has said, we will know the truth and be set free.
Lord, first help us to believe what you say about our fallen condition and the frailty of our human faculties. Help us to trust your description of us more than we trust our feelings about ourselves. Stir in us a deep desire to know the truth—about you, ourselves, and our world. Awaken in us an excitement for what simple obedience offers: To see as you see, to know as you know, and to be made free. For Christ and his kingdom, Amen.