John 8:32 famously says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
We have all heard that we have entered the "post-modern world," where truth is relative. Agnosticism – literally the view that you know nothing for sure – is in style. It is impolitic to be certain of anything that smells religious.
I believe that we as Christians minimize what we know. We act as if we don’t know anything, that we only think or prefer. We act scared of the word “truth,” preferring instead to say that we have a "point of view." We are too quick to retreat to a position that says something like this: "Faith is inherently unproveable. If it were a scientific formula, it would not be faith. Therefore, since we cannot prove matters of our faith in a laboratory or a courtroom, it would be presumptuous of us to say that we know them."
A dangerous extension of this view goes to our witnessing, our evangelism. Because we cannot really say that we “know” our faith, it is impolite, if not outright unacceptable, to attempt to persuade someone else of our faith. We can too quickly fall into the view that decides that faith is just a matter of opinion and that we therefore have no business talking to anyone else about it.
I have written before (here) that we Christians share our faith (what the New Testament calls "evangelism") in a genuine desire to help, that we have to package what we say properly, and that we have to base that sharing on a pre-existing personal relationship with the person with whom we are sharing.
But the point is that we know something. Jesus says that we shall know the truth, and the truth will make us free. The concept of what we can know is all over the New Testament:
- When the apostles ask Jesus why He speaks in parables, Jesus responds that “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given” to them. (Matthew 13:11)
- After Jesus speaks to the woman at the well, she tells her friends that she has met the Messiah. They run to meet Jesus and then tell her, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the savior of the world.” (John 4:42)
- At the Last Supper, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will bring glory to Him by taking what is His and “making it known” to us. (John 16:14)
- John finishes his gospel by saying that “we know” that what Jesus has said is true. (John 21:24)
- Paul tells us that in Jesus we have been enriched in all our knowledge (1 Corinthians 1:5), that we know the mystery of His will. (Ephesians 1:9)
- John tells us that this is how we know we are His: that we keep His commandments and walk as Jesus walks. (I John 2:3,6)
- He tells us that we know we have passed from death into life because we love our brothers. (1 John 3:14)
- And we know that we live in Him and He is us because He has given us His spirit (1 John 4:13), which Paul calls a deposit that guarantees our inheritance. (Ephesians 1:14)
Of course, we see through a glass darkly. We do not know now as we will one day know. (1 Corinthians 13:12) Still, the key to all of this scripture is that there are things that we know. We do not know it all; we will never know it all. We cannot know our way to heaven – salvation is a matter of faith and the heart, not knowledge and the brain. But, as children of God, one of the great gifts we have is insight, clarity, knowledge, the unraveling of at least some of the mysteries of God.
A key gift of God to us Christians, of course, is hope. We typically use that word wrong – I "hope" she will go out with me, I "hope" the Titans win the Super Bowl, I "hope" it doesn’t rain tomorrow, I "hope" Mom orders pizza tonight. Those are not hope – those are wishes.
Here is my favorite quotation, from Peter Kuzmic: “Hope is the ability to hear the music of the future; faith is the courage to dance to it today.” Hope is not a wish. Hope is tangible, it is real. Hope is knowledge. Having hope means that we know what is going to happen. The writer of Hebrews says this:
"Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." (Hebrews 6:17-19)
We shall know the truth, and the truth will make us free.
Taking that verse out of context is dangerous. I see it on pediments in courthouses where I practice. The truth shall make you free. And yet many who walk down those hallways have no idea how to access the truth that is described.
Jesus is specific on how we know the truth that makes us free. With the preceding verse, John 8:31, in context Jesus says this: “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” That is a different ballgame – we can certainly know things, but we can only attain that particular freedom-giving knowledge one way: we have to have an encounter with the one who is truth. For if the Son sets us free, we are free indeed. (John 8:36)