Question: What did the Savior mean when he said, “ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32)?
Answer: “Truth proclaimed by deity is as absolute as deity. It is defined as ‘things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.’ The glory of truth is revealed in these words of the master: ‘If ye continue in my word then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.’ Truth literally frees us from the bondage that ignorance brings.”
“Truth and more bring more than truth alone. Just as oxen may be equally yoked together to accomplish what one could not do alone, so the power of truth is augmented if equally yoked together with righteousness, or with mercy, or with the spirit of love.” (Russell M. Nelson, BYU Devotional, August 1981)
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28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up (crucified) the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he (the Messiah), and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. (You will know that I am God’s Son and that I bring you His word.)
29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (The Savior loves His Father and loves to keep His commandments.)
30 As he spake these words, many believed on him.
31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Note: This verse is one of the most profound verses in all scripture. The truth sets us free from false concepts and ideas, as proclaimed by many in the world today.
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President Marion G. Romney:
On another occasion the Lord said, “If ye continue in my word … ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31–32) The truths that can free us from our sins, guilt, false concepts, erroneous understanding, and unproductive habits and behavior are to be had only through the Holy Spirit.
There has never been a day such as now in all of earthly history when secular learning was so far advanced and widespread as it is today. Yet so many of those around us do not enjoy the truths and the freedom those truths bring of which the Master taught. Rather, to so many people, it seems that truth and true freedom elude their grasp.
The central core of the Father’s plan of salvation is that to obtain these truths and the peace, happiness, security, and freedom these truths bring to their righteous adherents, we must draw upon a source of knowledge that lies above and beyond the reach of ordinary learning processes.
The road to this sure knowledge is a sincere and honest desire to obtain truth from God, seeking such truth through sustained prayer, through devoted study of God’s scriptures, and through righteous, charitable behavior in our daily lives. (First Presidency Message, July 1984, “Receiving and Applying Spiritual Truth,” By President Marion G. Romney, First Counselor in the First Presidency)
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President James E. Faust:
Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). People have been struggling with this question for centuries. Each man or woman has the responsibility to find the truth.
Another appropriate question is, “Where can truth be found?” Perhaps a clue to the answer can be found in the following story:
Ali Hafed, an ancient Persian, owned much land and many productive fields, with orchards and gardens, and had money out at interest. He had a lovely family and was “contented because he was wealthy, and wealthy because he was contented.”
An old priest came to Ali Hafed and told him that if he had a diamond the size of his thumb, he could purchase a dozen farms like his. Ali Hafed said, “Will you tell me where I can find diamonds?”
The priest told him, “If you will find a river that runs through white sands, between high mountains, in those white sands you will always find diamonds.”
Said Ali Hafed, “I will go.”
So he sold his farm, collected his money that was at interest, and left his family in the charge of a neighbor, and away he went in search of diamonds, traveling through many lands.
The man who purchased Ali Hafed’s farm led his camel out into the garden to drink, and as the animal put his nose into the shallow waters, the farmer noticed a curious flash of light in the white sands of the stream. Reaching in, he pulled out a black stone containing a strange eye of light.
Not long after, the same old priest came to visit Ali Hafed’s successor and found that in the black stone was a diamond. As they rushed out into the garden and stirred up the white sands with their fingers, they came up with many more beautiful, valuable gems.
Thus were discovered the diamond mines of Golconda, the most valuable diamond mines in the ancient world. Had Ali Hafed remained at home and dug in his own cellar or anywhere in his own fields rather than traveling in strange lands, he would have had acres of diamonds (adapted from Russell H. Conwell, Acres of Diamonds , 4–9).
The search for truth is often not unlike Ali Hafed’s search for diamonds. The truth is not in distant lands but under our feet. Sir Winston Churchill once said of someone, “Occasionally he stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened” (in The Irrepressible Churchill Stories, ed. Kay Halle , 113).
One of the significant legal trials of all history was the trial of Socrates. The charge against him in the Athenian court was twofold in nature: first, that he was atheistic and did not believe in the gods prescribed by the state; and, second, that he was corrupting the youth, in the sense that it was contended he influenced the young people to inquire for themselves as to the wisdom of the Athenian society. Socrates was convicted by the majority of the jury and was sentenced to death by poison.
As a means of coming to truth, people in the Church are encouraged by their leaders to think and find out for themselves. They are encouraged to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to such knowledge of the truth as their own consciences, assisted by the Spirit of God, lead them to discover.
Brigham Young said: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. … Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 135). In this manner no one need be deceived.
Searching and inquiring are a means of coming to a knowledge of all truth, whether that truth be spiritual, scientific, or moral. The restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and all that it means to us came about because of the inquiring after truth of the 14-year-old Joseph Smith, guided by the passage, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).
Many years of experience in courtrooms have taught me that truth, in the sense of obtaining justice, is arrived at only by questioning in a searching way. Members of the Church are encouraged to seek learning from all good books and from any helpful source. For “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things” (A of F 1:13).
The Queen of Sheba, having heard of the fame of Solomon, came to visit him to learn if his fabled wisdom, his great wealth, and his splendid house were as great as had been reported to her. It is recorded that “she came to prove Solomon with hard questions” (2 Chr. 9:1). Solomon answered her questions, and she became satisfied and said to him, “It was a true report which I heard in mine own land of thine acts, and of thy wisdom” (2 Chr. 9:5).
The principal question that we each must answer for ourselves is that question spoken of by Amulek in the Book of Mormon: “And we have beheld that the great question which is in your minds is whether the word be in the Son of God, or whether there shall be no Christ” (Alma 34:5).
Some people in their searching, however, are not seeking for truth but are given to contention. They do not sincerely seek to learn; rather they desire to dispute, to show their supposed learning and thus cause strife. The Apostle Paul said to Timothy, “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes” (2 Tim. 2:23).
Since each one of us has his free agency, the ultimate determination of what is inspired of the Lord, what is right and wrong, true or false, can be made by each of us. President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871–1961) made this statement: “The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members [themselves], whether the brethren in voicing their views are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest” (“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954, 10). Each must bear the accountability of accepting or discarding the values of truth, which values if followed will produce his greatest happiness.
As we each ask Pilate’s question, we can learn from the wisdom of Sir Francis Bacon, who said there are three parts in truth: first, the inquiry, which is the wooing of it; secondly, the knowledge of it, which is the presence of it; and thirdly, the belief, which is the enjoyment of it (see “Of Truth,” in Essays [n.d.], 18).
President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) on many occasions counseled the leaders of the Church to make time to think and ponder, to withdraw and evaluate. This wise counsel would be beneficial to anyone.
A key to individual knowledge and truth is contained in the ninth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, which promises that if inquirers will study a thing out in their mind, they shall have a burning feeling within their bosom of that which is right (see D&C 9:8).
Yet while the gathering of many facts may be very helpful and productive, the inquiring mind must not stop there. Henry Alford said: “Truth does not consist in minute accuracy of detail, but in conveying a right impression; and there are vague ways of speaking that are truer than strict facts would be. When the Psalmist said, ‘Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because men keep not thy law,’ he did not state the facts, but he stated the truth deeper than fact, and truer.”
Those who earnestly inquire, under the Spirit of God, will enjoy a companionship, not only of the Spirit, but of others who seek truth. Thomas Carlyle said, “I have always found that the honest truth of our own mind has a certain attraction for every other mind that loves truth honestly.”
There is no greater truth than that spoken of by the Savior: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32), and, He continues, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6), and “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37).
All who seek to rise above themselves must make a humble and honest inquiry to determine where truth lies: an inquiry in their hearts as well as in their minds and in their lives. May each of us consciously seek to know the truths of God and to courageously live those truths in love and thanksgiving.
Source: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 66; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 1, Volume 2, by David J. Ridges, 287; Ensign, September 1998, “The Truth Shall Make You Free, ” by James E. Faust, Counselor in the First Presidency.