Jesus told his first disciples that they would know the truth and the truth would make them free (John 8:32). As with all Scripture it is important to understand the context. The full quote is directed at Jews who had decided to follow him. He said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

There was a group of hyper-religious fundamentalists standing nearby who took exception to Jesus’ statement. To say that one will be set free is to imply that one has been a slave and they asserted that they had never been enslaved by anyone or anything. They were oblivious to the fact that they had so completely bought into the behavior-focused, rules-based system of their ancient religious faith that they were powerless to consider any other view. They were slaves, whether they knew it or not.

In our age, when truth seems to be a subjective matter, with “alternative facts” being accepted whether or not they have any basis in reality, it is critical that we Christians avoid applying those same tendencies to our faith. There is a truth that sets us free, but that truth isn’t just anything we want it to be or say it is.

Note the condition on which our access to the truth is based: “If you continue in my word.” Truth isn’t found in correct behavior, adherence to a political party platform, agreement with theological doctrines, or membership in a religious institution. Truth is found in following Jesus.

It is so much easier to believe than to follow. To believe simply involves intellectual agreement. To follow requires courageous action.

The truth is that we are called by Jesus to love unconditionally. We don’t get to choose who is acceptable. We don’t get to limit the extent to which we place ourselves in service to the ones for whom Christ died. We don’t get a free pass simply because at some time in the past we were willing to say, “Jesus is Lord” and were baptized. If Jesus isn’t the one who determines what we do, then we aren’t his true disciples — his words, not mine.

I’m picking up on a lot of anxiety within the leadership of the institutional church today. There is concern about why more people aren’t joining our churches. There is great angst about being “relevant” or speaking in language to which each generation can relate. All reasonable concerns, but not our primary one.

As individual Christians, as the family of faith at Parkway, as the Church Universal, we should have only one concern: are we following the one who said, “I am the truth, the way, and the life”? If we are, the number of people who become followers is in God’s hands, not ours. If we aren’t, the size of the crowd is irrelevant. Let’s just keep telling the truth — and acting it out.