John 8:31-36

The Truth Will Make You Free

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John 8:31-36

The Truth Will Make You Free

By Richard Niell Donovan
Jesus said:

“If you REMAIN in my word,
then you are truly my disciples.
You will know the TRUTH,
and the truth will make you FREE”
(vv. 31b-32).

Once again, Jesus said, “If you REMAIN in my word.” Some translations read “If you ABIDE in my word” or “If you DWELL in my word” or “If you LIVE in my word.” The Greek word is meno, and the idea is that the person chooses to REMAIN in a particular place—to put his or her foot down there and to stay there.

When Jesus says, “If you REMAIN in my word,” he means:

• “If you choose to live your life being guided by my word” or

• “If you choose to launch your boat on the sea of my word” or

• “If you seek to fill your emptiness with the nourishment of my word” or

• “If you allow my word to become the center of your life.”

“If you REMAIN (meno) in my word.” That word meno is one of Jesus’ favorite words. He uses it frequently in John’s Gospel:

• He said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood REMAINS (meno) in me, and I in him”(6:56).

• He said, “REMAIN (meno) in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself, unless it REMAINS in the vine, so neither can you, unless you REMAIN in me” (15:4).

• He said, “If you keep my commandments, you will REMAIN (meno) in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and REMAIN in his love” (15:10).

I like that word REMAIN (meno)—“if you REMAIN in my word.” Jesus is talking about a life that is firmly planted in his word—a life that seeks guidance through his word—a life that is nourished by his word.

When I hear Jesus says, “If you REMAIN in my word,” I picture a sturdy house with a small, vulnerable person dwelling inside. I am that small, vulnerable person. You are that small, vulnerable person. As we REMAIN in the sturdy house that Jesus built—the house of his word—he protects us from the big, bad wolves of this world—the evil forces that lurk in the shadows, just waiting for an opportunity to huff and puff and blow us down.

That image of a big, bad wolf huffing and puffing and blowing down houses comes from the children’s fable, “The Three Little Pigs.” That fable tells of three little pigs who go out into the world to seek their fortune, and each of them builds a house.

The first little pig builds a house of straw. The big, bad wolf knocks at the door, but the little pig says, “No, no, I won’t let you come in, not by the hair on my chinny, chin chin.” But the big, bad wolf says, “Well, then, I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in”—and he then proceeds to do just that. Then he eats the little pig.

The second little pig builds his house of sticks. The big, bad wolf comes to visit and has the same conversation with the second little pig—with the same result. The big, bad wolf huffs and puffs and blows down the house of sticks—and eats the little pig.

But the third little pig builds a house of bricks. The big, bad wolf comes and has the same conversation. But this time, when the big, bad wolf huffs and puffs, nothing happens—BECAUSE THE HOUSE IS MADE OF BRICKS. This little pig sits safe and secure inside his house, because he built a solid house—solid enough to withstand the huffing and puffing of the big, bad wolf.

That story seems too scary for small children, but it conveys a real truth. The truth is this. If we want to be safe from danger, we need to build strong houses—strong lives. We need to be sure to use solid materials to construct our lives. And so Jesus said:

“If you REMAIN in my word,
then you are truly my disciples.
You will know the TRUTH,
and the truth will make you FREE.”

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When I read those words, I imagine myself abiding in the strong house of Jesus’ word—a house so strong that it keeps me safe from the big, bad wolves of the world.

Is there anyone here who doesn’t believe in big, bad wolves? Little children believe in them, don’t they! But most of us have experienced enough big, bad wolves in our lifetimes that we need no convincing.

But if you happen to think that big, bad wolves are a myth, listen to what the author of Ephesians has to say about living the Christian life. He says:

“For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood,
but against the principalities,
against the powers,
against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age,
and against the spiritual forces of wickedness
in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Yes, they are out there: The principalities—the cosmic powers—the spiritual forces of wickedness—the big, bad wolves. But Jesus says:

“If you REMAIN in my word,
then you are truly my disciples.
You will know the TRUTH,
and the truth will make you FREE.”

When Jesus talks about abiding in his word, he is talking about obeying his teachings. But he is also talking about something more. He is talking about building a life based on Jesus himself—a life of faith—a strong life.

We know people like that, don’t we! There are people like that in this sanctuary today—sitting in these pews—quite a few of them. I could point them out. I could call them by name. I could invite them to join me in the chancel—but I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to do it for two reasons. First, it would embarrass them. Second, in many cases you already know who they are.

How would you recognize these people who have built their lives on Jesus’ teachings—who have founded their lives on Jesus himself? Well, first, you have to get acquainted. Sometimes we just come to the worship service and then go home without stopping to get acquainted with our Christian brothers and sisters.

If you do that, you’re missing something—something important—because there are some rock-solid Christians here, and some of their rock-solidness will rub off on you if you will take time to get acquainted—if you will come to the coffee hour and talk to people—if you will get involved in a small group—if you will seek out friendships among the good people of this congregation.

But I asked how you can recognize these people who have built their lives on Jesus’ teachings—who have founded their lives on Jesus himself. Here’s the clue. You will see something rock-steady about their lives. There is nothing flighty or frivolous about them. They have built their lives on Jesus, and Jesus has given them the strength to deal with life—and death—and everything in between.

I see it every day. I conduct weddings, and find myself enriched by the depth of love that I find there. I celebrate the birth of babies, and rejoice in the commitment that parents make to raise their children as Christians. I visit sick people in the hospital, and find myself strengthened by their faith. I conduct funerals, and find myself dealing with grieving people who have a faith-anchor that keeps them steady through the storm.

So how can we be like that? How can we abide in Jesus’ word? How can we build lives founded on Jesus?

We can learn from Martin Luther. He came into a church that had gotten off the tracks. His early life was anything but rock-solid. He bore the guilt of his sins like a hair shirt, and found no solace anywhere.

But, then, he read the book of Romans, and the scales fell from his eyes. Through the scriptures, he learned of God’s love—of God’s grace. He then turned to scripture to learn about other things as well. He read the scriptures, and they transformed his life. He read the scriptures, and they transformed the church. He read the scriptures, and they made the world spin just a little differently on its axis. Luther said:

“The Bible is alive; it speaks to me.
The Bible has feet; it runs after me.
The Bible has hands; it lays hold on me.”

What Luther determined, of course, was that to abide in Jesus’ word, we must first understand that word—and he determined that we can learn Jesus’ word through the words of the scriptures. He said:

“I have made a covenant with my Lord God
that He send me neither visions nor dreams,
nor even angels.
For I am well satisfied with the gift of Holy Scriptures,
which gives me abundant instruction
and all that I need to know
both for this life
and for that which is to come.”

You and I are blessed to live in a time and place where everyone can have a Bible. That has not always been true, and it is not true everywhere today. There are places in the world today where you can be arrested for possessing a Bible. There are places in the world today where attending Christian worship can put you at risk of losing your job or your life. But that is not true where we live—at least for the present. We might not always be so privileged.

If you would like to live the kind of rock-steady life that many people in this congregation are already living today, take the opportunity that lies before you now to learn what it means to abide in Jesus’ word—to be his disciple.

To do that, let me suggest that you involve yourself in some spiritual disciplines.

First, accept the grace that God wants to bestow on you. Accept the forgiveness that he so willingly offers. God doesn’t want you to walk around with a burden of guilt. God wants to set you free from that guilt. He will do that if you let him.

Second, immerse yourself in the fellowship of Christian people. Get to know them. Let their faith rub off on you.

Third, observe the sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They convey God’s grace and forgiveness. You need them.

Fourth, get involved in some sort of scripture study. Read your Bible. Learn what it has to teach you. Go where it would direct you. It will not lead you astray.

And, finally, remember Jesus’ promise. He said:

“If you REMAIN in my word,
then you are truly my disciples.
You will know the TRUTH,
and the truth will make you FREE.”

And so it will. Amen.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2009, Richard Niell Donovan