If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31,32
When we here speak of “truth” we are not speaking so much about the opposite of a lie, but we are identifying that upon which reality is based. This has been the constant quest of man, finding the foundation of reality, finding truth. The Church of Christ has always had the truth, but at times she has had thinkers (theologians) who have slipped off the edge of this foundation. This is what the Reformation was about, knowing the truth, bringing the Church back to its foundation.
Jesus promised, If you abide in my word,…you will know the truth. If His Word is some abstract reality, then we can make no progress in discerning the truth, for that abstract reality will be subject to every thinker’s whim and fancy. His “Word” must be something to be discerned, and so it is. Simply put, Christ’s Word is the Bible. It explains itself to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, who is appropriately named the Spirit of truth.
To be sure, the Bible has been miscopied, mistranslated, and it certainly has been read with varied interpretations. So are we back to square one when it comes to realizing the truth? Absolutely not! First of all Holy Scripture is redundant. It keeps repeating themes and topics so if some verse or section is unclear, there are other verses or sections that make the unclear, clear. However, the most important reality in interpreting the Bible is understanding its central topic. Jesus calls the Word, MY Word. As such He not only identifies His possession of it, but it is His Word by virtue of the fact that it is about Him. Jesus Christ is the topic of the Bible, as abundantly attested by the Bible itself. For example He said of the Old Testament writings: …it is they that bear witness about me [Jn 5:39]. The New Testament is unquestionably about Christ. This is exemplified by the Evangelist John who summarized his gospel records with these words: these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name [Jn 20:31].
Of this reality Martin Luther wrote: “Whoever does not have or want to have this Man properly and truly who is called Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who we Christians proclaim, must keep his hands off the Bible—that I advise. He will surely come to naught. The more he studies, the blinder and more stupid he will grow, be he Jew, Tartar, Turk, Christian, or whatever he wants to call himself.” [LW 15:268]. Keep your hands off of Holy Scripture if you push away Christ Jesus as the central topic!
Not only is the truth—Jesus—the center of Holy Scripture, but Jesus is Himself the very embodiment and personification of the truth. He stated, I am the way, the truth and the life [Jn 14:6]. In His very being He is not only the way and He is not only the life, but in His very being He is the truth. If you want to know truth, you must know Jesus; there is no real truth—foundation to reality—apart from Him.
The Reformers sought to bring people back to the truth, back to the centrality of Jesus. What is wrong with salvation partly attributed to works? What is wrong with “coming to God” by invoking the saints? What is wrong with the doctrine of purgatory? What is wrong with creating church laws that are nowhere found in Holy Scripture? What is wrong with these and other false doctrines is they are not truth, for they have robbed Christ of His glory; He ceases to be central. In these doctrines He no longer gets full credit for saving us. And the ultimate abomination is that they make the forgiveness and salvation earned by Christ’s cross and empty tomb an uncertainty.
Jesus sets forth the reality that if we continue in His Word, then we are truly His disciples, and we will know the truth. That truth has a wondrous power connected to it: The truth sets us free! To be sure we could speak of this truth (Jesus Himself, for He is the truth), freeing us from all to which the fall of man enslaved us. Jesus, however, zeros in on the ultimate freedom delivered by the truth. He summarized this by saying, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin [v 34]. This identifies every human being, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Everyone is enslaved to sin. The Lord Christ then states, So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed [v 36]. Note the parallel that the truth sets us free and that Christ sets us free. Christ and the truth are rightly seen to be one and the same.
What then does this freedom from sin boil down to? That the Christ had to go to the cross for our offenses and be raised again for our justification. God saves us—forgives and frees us—entirely by His work. This is the truth.