…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.John 8:32
There are probably hundreds of articles and sermons which start off with something like, “Pilate asked that age old question, ‘What is truth?'” Then, some definitions of truth are typically given such as “truth is objective” or “truth is consistent.”
After that, John 17:17 is quoted which says, “Sanctify them through your truth; your word is truth.” “What is God’s word? Is it not the Bible? The sixty-six books which make up the Old and New Testament?” the preacher asks.
Finally, the minister says that we must interpret the Bible correctly if we want the truth. Only then can we be set free. All the other churches, he might say, don’t interpret the Bible like we do, so they are in bondage to sin since they do not have the truth about baptism, five acts of worship, women in ministry, head coverings, fellowship halls, one cup, no Sunday school…
This line of argument seems compelling doesn’t it? But I believe we need to question the question. Asking what is truth misses a key biblical truth (see what I did there?). Instead, we should ask who is truth? Or we might even ask who is the Word of God? Changing the focus here from “what” to “who” moves us from an object to a person.
It’s interesting that Pilate asks, “What is truth?” and he is never given an answer. Isn’t it interesting that the answers we give for Jesus, since He didn’t respond, typically have to do with doctrines which we use as justification for cutting off 99% of Christians?
In this article, we will try to answer Pilate’s question the way Jesus would have. At the end of the article, we may just realize that Jesus didn’t give an answer because had Pilate been able to “see” Him, his question would have been answered.
Questioning the Question
First, let’s take a look at the context of John 8:32.
A few verses above, Jesus said, “I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world” (John 8:26).
God is truth, so the things which Jesus heard from God, He told to the world. Read our passage again (and the verse above it) with this new information:
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”John 8:31–32
What is Jesus’s word here? It’s the things the Father gave Him to say. Jesus’s teachings would bring people to know Him, and if they knew Him then they would know the Father. Notice what Jesus says in the following passage:
So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.John 8:36
Truth is not a what; He is a who. Truth is the Father. Truth is the Son. And as we know from John 16, the Spirit is the “Spirit of Truth.”
In John 14:16, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). As Jesus told Phillip, if we have seen Him, then we have seen the Father. If we know Jesus, then we know Truth. In fact, to know God is to have eternal life (John 17:3).
Salvation isn’t about intellectual knowledge but a relationship. For example, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8,
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.1 Corinthians 8:1–3
Would you rather be known by God or know facts about God? I know which one I would choose! Yet, my entire life I have demanded near perfect knowledge of others. I was asking the wrong questions.
Take John 17:17 for example. “Sanctify them through your truth; your word is truth.” I think if translators want to be consistent, they should capitalize the words “Truth” and “Word” because both refer to a person, not a thing.
John 1 spends several verses identifying the Word, but when preachers come to John 17, they forget John’s definition and say that Jesus is talking about the New Testament, something that hadn’t even begun to be written yet!
Jesus is the word. Jesus is the truth. And if we know Him, then we know the Father.
Question: how do we know that we know Him?
By what doctrines we believe? By how we worship? That’s not what the Bible says.
We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commandments. At least, this is what John says in 1 John 2:3. But which commandments? Don’t worry. John tells us plainly:
This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.1 John 3:23–24
Or we could word this in a different way: how do we know that others know Him?
The answer is similar: “you shall know them by their fruits.” And what are the fruits of truth? Faith in Jesus which manifests itself in love for one’s neighbor.
I’d rather be in church with people who don’t agree on every doctrine but who love their neighbor than be in church with people who have perfect knowledge but no love.
When we change the question from “what is truth” to “who is truth” we open up the door for unity based in common faith in Jesus and love for our neighbor instead of the division that comes from an emphasis on intellectual knowledge or agreement of opinion.
The Truth that sets us free is not a list of beliefs but a person! And it is through knowing Him that we know the Father. Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39–40).
I love the Bible, and I believe it is the word of God in the sense that it is from God, but it does not set us free. It does not sanctify us. Jesus does that. Some Christians, like myself several years ago, think they have life because they “know their Bible.” I have life because I know Jesus.