To the Jews who had believed him, 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.”
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:31-34)
My heart and my calling in life coaching is to help individuals who are stuck. So I love today’s red letter passage, because it gives the solution to people who are stuck in slavery to sin.
In my experience, it’s really difficult for people to get unstuck. They have patterns of thinking that they must break. They have emotional baggage and fears to overcome.
It’s hard to get unstuck because our brains get hardwired to be a certain way. So when it comes to sin, we can repent. But it takes a lot of effort to make the repentance organic. We have to repent over and over again before we no longer struggle with the old pattern of sinful thought and behavior, and our new “wiring” of righteous thought and behavior becomes set in place.
And Jesus knew this, and told people exactly what would change the wiring. They had to “hold to his teaching.”
The translation “hold” doesn’t adequately communicate what the Greek word used here, meinete, means. The definition of this word is to “abide,” “stay,” or “remain.” For example, it was used in John 11:54, “He went . . . to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.”
Another place meinete is used, which gives us more insight into our red letter passage, is John 12: 46, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” John 12
There’s this sense that where you stay reflects your state. In this case, you’re either part of the darkness, or part of the light. That’s your identity.
So, I believe that in John 8, Jesus was saying that when you hold to the teachings, or remain in them, that reflects your state, your identity. You’re taking ownership of the teachings. You’re living by them entirely. You once belonged to the world, but now you belong to Jesus/God.
When we look at the passage in this way, it makes total sense that Jesus said that we must hold to the teachings in order to be set free from sin. It’s only when we totally embrace Jesus as our new life that we can break the patterns of our old life. Now, every behavior and every thought is about him.
One thing I see frequently in coaching is someone who’s miserable and wants to change, but isn’t really willing to make the adjustments that will bring about that change. They just want to add positive behaviors to their life, without getting rid of the things that are holding them back. And it doesn’t work. They can’t make the changes stick. Because their heart is still too invested in their old ways, and not enough in the new ways.
Jesus says that our heart has to be invested in him, or we won’t be able to be set free from sin. Yes, his death can set us free from the penalty of sin. But we’re not going to stop sinning until we decide that we belong to him.
When I was in my 20’s there were many wonderful things going on. I had a dream job in public relations. I had two of my children. I had a great church that I attended 3 times a week. But I was still unhappy. I would go to bed at night and wonder what it was all for.
When I was 30, we moved, and I studied the Bible anew, and realized that I’d been living out the verse, “Having a form of godliness, but denying its power.” (II Tim 3:5) I’d been on the fence with God. I hadn’t been keeping all of the scriptures.
So I made a commitment to follow and obey Jesus wholeheartedly for the rest of my life. When I look back, I can see so clearly that it was the moment when I began to have true joy in my heart. As I lived out my new commitment, I felt full, not empty.
The truth will set you free. Today’s red letter passage is powerful. The more we hold to the teachings, and stay in them, like they are our identity, the more we will find the joy of belonging to Jesus instead of to the world.
And let’s remember. It’s truth that sets us free. The truth is Jesus’s way. It’s the lie that our way and our thinking is best that gets us stuck.