Freedom to Hear

By James Cornwell

Reading from the Gospel of John, 8:21-32

21 Again he said to them, “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. 24I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” 25They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to you at all? 26I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. 28So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. 29And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” 30As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”


“The truth will make you free.” In today’s reading, Jesus emphasizes the importance of believing that he is the saving Messiah sent from God. This truth has liberating power: it frees us from the powers of sin and death, and brings us to our ultimate end. Why would anyone not believe such a wondrous thing?

In organizational psychology, there are typically three reasons why people do not do their job well: (1) they can’t, (2) they won’t, or (3) they’re being prevented from doing it. Too frequently, employers skip straight to explanation #2, because it involves less work — doesn’t require them to further train workers or restructure an organization.

When encountering disbelief or outright hostility towards the truth of the gospel, Christians can be quick to do the same. We assume “they won’t” — that our motivations of love and wonder are met with the inverse motivations of hatred and indifference, as though all of those who choose to sleep in on Sunday have freely considered the gospel, and just as freely rejected it.

No doubt this applies to some unbelievers, but we also live in a profoundly ignorant time, filled with devices that perpetuate that ignorance. If our arguments aren’t working, we should listen for opportunities to illuminate the truth of the gospel using methods and language people can understand. At the same time, we need to continue sweeping away things of the world that serve to distract or drown out this witness from within. The more different the insides of our churches are from what’s outside of them, the better.

We may be surprised by how many have wanted to believe the gospel and didn’t know how, or were searching for something like the gospel, but were prevented from hearing it by the noise of our distracted world.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their five children.

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