The truth will set you free

by Glen Doss, major –

The young man was very distressed. Wiping his tears away, he said, “Chaplain, I don’t understand what’s happening. I knelt at the altar. I gave my heart to God and accepted Jesus as my savior. I confessed all my sins and asked him to take away my cravings for drugs and alcohol and the nightlife. For a while everything seemed fine. But this morning all my fears and obsessions have returned and I’m just as miserable as I was before! Where did I go wrong?”

I hear this complaint over and over. My response is calculated to enlighten the seeker, to show him that he has only begun a journey—but has not yet arrived. Though he has made a decision to surrender his life to God, surrender itself is a process—a day-by-day walk. I employ two teachings of Christ in making my point.

In John 8:31-34 Jesus informs “the Jews who had believed him” that they are not truly his disciples until they “hold to [his] teaching” (NIV) or, in other words, remain obedient to his commands. If they do that, then they will experience something wonderful: they will “know the truth” which will “set them free.” Free from what? Jesus tells us the answer in verse 34: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

Note that Christ is sending them on a spiritual journey in which they will continue in obedience to his teaching which (1) defines discipleship and (2) over time frees a person from enslavement to his or her sinful nature, or, as Paul expresses it in Romans 6:11, makes one “dead to sin.”

Recall the light bulb illustration used in comic books to denote a person’s moment of insight? Now envision such a bubble appearing above your head each time you experience an epiphany, a moment of clarity in the course of your personal journey. “Now I understand why I do the things I do!” I hear this repeatedly from beneficiaries who are seriously engaged in their faith walk.

The second passage that I employ as a teaching aid is Matthew 7:3-5. Here Jesus is apparently addressing hypercritical people. He asks, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (NIV).

Jesus’ point is: Help others with their blind spots, but first get your own house in order. To do so, however, requires at least three steps:

First, I must recognize I have a plank in my eye. Since we are speaking figuratively, this may not be such a simple matter. How many of us have been the only person in the room not to detect the invisible two-by-four protruding from out of our own eye socket?

Second, I must make the decision to remove the plank. Again, this may not be so straightforward. Our metaphorical logs have sometimes been in place a very long time. They are entrenched, and the discomfort entailed in removing them may dissuade many from making the effort. Some people, it would appear, must “bottom out” before making this call.

Third, I proceed to remove the plank. It’s noteworthy, I think, that Christ does not direct us to have the log removed; rather, he instructs us to remove it ourselves. In other words, we have much work to do.

We are directed to go through a process, to engage in a spiritual journey. In the Twelve Step program, we assess ourselves in Step 4. Here we make a list of our habits of conduct and demeanor with the goal of uncovering new information about ourselves, identifying character flaws that need to be eliminated, coming to terms with the people we are.

We undertake this step after making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. Everything that follows is a journey in which, one foot in front of the other, we do just that. We move out of the way and permit God to take over the control of our lives. “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30 NIV). Does it hurt? Sure it does! But this journey of transformation, in which we learn from Jesus new ways of coping, leads to increasing intimacy with him and is well worth it.

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