“If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36 NASB
Therefore – Don’t we love this verse! I hear it all the time. “Jesus set me free.” “I’m free because Jesus died for me.” The great mantra of the Western world is “Freedom!” Of course, none of us bother to ask what freedom meant in the biblical context. We just assume that being able to do what I wish to do is the desired state of human existence. Freedom becomes a synonym for lack of restraint or hindrance. With this in mind, we imagine that “Jesus” came so that we might never again be under anyone’s thumb.
There’s just one problem. Or maybe two. The first problem is that freedom in the Bible means nothing like unrestrained or complete liberty. More about that later. The second problem is that this verse is far too often quoted without the “therefore.” The addition of the little word oun implies that the statement about being free follows from a previous discussion and it is on the basis of that previous discussion that the terms must be defined.
What is the previous discussion? It is a conversation between Yeshua and other Jews about the relationship between obedience and sin. Yeshua tells these Jews that if they became His disciples, they would accept His teaching and would continue to express in their lives what He taught to them. Then they would be free. They misunderstand Him, thinking that He is speaking about physical slavery, so they object, claiming that they have never been enslaved by any man. Yeshua corrects them. They are in fact slaves to their own behavior, in this case, to the yetzer ha’ra. He notes that whatever a man practices continually is the master of that man. So we see that the conversation is not about restraint of physical liberty at all. It is about the power of the yetzer ha’ra to dictate how men live. At this point, Yeshua tells the audience that He has the ability to release them from this power. In other words, the entire discussion is not about doing whatever we wish to do. It is about being freed from the power of the evil inclination.
And accomplished how is this? (Think Hebrew verb first, like Yoda). By keeping His instructions – by following His commandments – by living according to Torah, just as he did. “If you continue in my word,” says Yeshua. What does that mean? Well, for starters it means doing everything He tells us to do, namely, the list of New Testament commandments (which, by the way, assume and endorse the Old Testament commandments). In biblical terms there is no such thing as unrestrained, uninhibited liberty or freedom. But there is release from guilt and release from the dominance of the yetzer ha’ra. This kind of release is a trade. We trade guilt and corruption for Torah obedience, and in the process we discover that life lived God’s way is a blessing. Continuing in His word becomes orderly alignment with the grain of the universe. It isn’t freedom to do whatever I wish. It is the power to serve as I was designed.
Why are we free indeed? Because only when we are under the protection of Torah are we able to be who we really are. And that is biblical freedom.
Topical Index: free, freedom, John 8:36, therefore, oun, Torah
Just a footnote from Cyndee who does my proofreading. She said, ” John 8:36: It’s a good thing I own a hard copy of the 1963 NASB since Bible Gateway AND Blue Letter Bible AND BibleCC ALL quote this verse as ‘so if’! So much for trusting online translations. I guess even the 1995 NASB version has translation bias that the general reader won’t pick up on.”