For something to be true, it must be susceptible to being tested and then verified. It must correspond to concrete realities outside of our own heads. Unfortunately, we live in an age where much of what we hear, read, and digest does not meet such requirements. A vast amount of the information we consume in our daily lives has been manipulated to control our emotions, ensnare our thoughts, and lead our hearts and minds to rest in places that are not founded on things that are true. All too often, we are living a lie.
Lies are dangerous. Lies kill in ways both subtle and bold. They keep us from doing things that are healthy and good. They lead us to be comfortable doing and permitting things that are destructive to ourselves and others. Lies cause us to believe that we are better than we actually are and that we are superior to others. They lead us to believe that we neither need to give forgiveness nor ask for it. Lies teach us that we are the center of the universe and that we are the final arbiters of all that is true, right, and most important. Lies obscure reality. Lies kill.
The Bible is not a book that teaches the philosophy of what we often tell ourselves are “half-truths.” There is no grey area with God. Jesus says things like, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt 12:30; Luke 11:23). Notice that there is no “middle category” in Jesus’ statement. The contrast in God’s word is always portrayed to us in an extreme way: light against darkness, life against death, truth against lies. The Bible is also clear about the origin points of both truth and lies: “Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar…” (Rom 3:4).
In John 8, the Apostle John gives eyewitness testimony to the fact that Jesus engaged those who disputed his testimony about himself. They denied that what Jesus was saying was actually the case. What he told them is the key to us being able to discern truth from lies, light from darkness, and indeed life from death. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-33). This is a provocative statement, as freedom, like truth, seems to be a thing in short supply these days. But what does it mean that holding to Jesus’ teaching will set us free? Which teaching? What will we be set free from?
The gospel is the story of rescue. It is the historical account of Jesus, God in the flesh, coming to obey the law in our place.
Although there are 66 books and a couple thousand pages in the Bible, they contain only two categories of teaching: law and gospel. God’s law tells us what God commands us to do and not to do. His law is a perfect, unchanging standard that shows us what his will is for all mankind. The Bible tells us that breaking the law in even the smallest way leads to death, and that it is the case that we daily break God’s law in numerous, horrific, God-hating ways. The wages of sin is death, and all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. What we have earned by our failure to meet the law’s demands is an eternity in hell, where there is only suffering and separation from God.
In contrast, the gospel is the story of rescue. It is the historical account of Jesus, God in the flesh, coming to obey the law in our place. Jesus never broke God’s law even once, even in the smallest way. His perfect obedience rendered him the perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world. He came to earth for that purpose: to endure a horrific and gory death on a cross, and in doing so, atoning for the sins of all mankind for all time.
Understanding the truth about both law and gospel is the truth that sets us free. When we learn that we are all sinners who are incapable of saving ourselves, and that we can't reconcile ourselves to God, we believe what is true. That truth sets us free from thinking more of ourselves than we ought to think, which causes us to sin against God. It keeps us from thinking that we are better than others, which is the source of so many of our sins against each other. The law enables us to cease trying to justify ourselves before God because it shows us that self-justification is impossible. We must be rescued from our sins or face hell forever.
And it is the truth of the gospel that ultimately sets us free. While the truth of the law first frees us to look for a savior, it’s the gospel that tells us this Savior can be found in Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins. The demands of the law have been put upon Jesus, and God’s wrath over our sin has been extinguished by his innocent death. His blood has atoned for the sins of the guilty, and we are the guilty. We who believe that Jesus is our Savior are no longer threatened by the devil, or hell, or even death itself. We have received a pardon from eternal death, we have been given eternal life, and we have been made heirs to the kingdom of heaven.
In Jesus Christ, we find our origin story, as the Bible teaches us that he is eternal and was there with the Father and the Holy Spirit when all things were created. In Jesus, we find rest and peace in the present, because knowing that we are forgiven and absolved of our sins grants us peace even in the valley of the shadow of death. Set free from guilt, shame, ignorance, meaninglessness, and lies that kill, we can look to the future with hope, knowing that the story ends as it once began: in the love of Christ for us.
In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have the way, the truth, and the life. As we live in the truth of Jesus, the truth will set us free. If the Son sets you free, you are truly free, indeed.