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Jesus Frees Us to Seek the Good in Truth

General Audience — August 3, 1988

Christ the Savior came into the world to free humanity from the slavery of sin, at the price of his paschal sacrifice. If the concept of liberation refers on the one hand to evil, freed from which we find salvation, on the other hand it refers to the good, for the attainment of which we have been liberated by Christ, Redeemer of man, and of the world with man and in man. "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32). These words of Jesus indicate in a concise way the good, for which man has been liberated by the Gospel in the sphere of Christ's redemption. It is freedom in the truth. It constitutes the essential good of the salvation effected by Christ. By means of this good the kingdom of God is really near to man and to his earthly history.

The salvific liberation effected by Christ in regard to man contains in itself, in a certain sense, two dimensions: liberation from (evil) and liberation for the (good), which are intimately united, and mutually condition and complete each other.

Referring again to the evil of sin from which Christ freed man, one must add that by means of the extraordinary "sign" of his salvific power (the miracles) worked by him in healing the sick from various infirmities, he always indicated, at least indirectly, this essential liberation, which is liberation from sin, its remission. This clearly appears in the healing of the paralytic to whom Jesus first said, "Your sins are forgiven," and only later, "Rise, take up your pallet and go home" (Mk 2:5, 11). In carrying out this miracle Jesus said to those around him (especially to those who accused him of blasphemy on the ground that only God can forgive sins), "that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (Mk 2:10).

In the Acts of the Apostles we read that Jesus "went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him" (Acts 10:38). Indeed, it appears from the Gospels that Jesus healed the sick from many infirmities, for example, the crippled woman who "could not fully straighten herself" (cf. Lk 13:10-16). When he "cast out the evil spirits," if his opponents accused him of doing this with the help of the evil one, he replied by showing the nonsense of such an accusation and said, "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mt 12:28; cf. Lk 11:20). In freeing the human family from sin, Jesus unmasked the one who is the father of lies. Precisely from him, the evil spirit, the slavery of sin in which humanity finds itself had begun. "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (Jn 8:34-36).

Faced with the opposition of his hearers Jesus added, "For I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (Jn 8:42-44). It is difficult to find a text in which the evil of sin is so forcefully shown in its root of demonic falsity.

Let us hear once again Jesus' words, "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (Jn 8:36). "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:31-32). Jesus Christ came to free man from the evil of sin. This fundamental evil has its origin in the father of lies (as is evident in the Book of Genesis (cf. Gen 3:4). Therefore the liberation from the evil of sin, effected to its very roots, must be liberation for the truth, and by means of the truth. Jesus Christ reveals this truth. He himself is the truth (cf. Jn 14:6). This truth brings with it true liberty. It is freedom from sin and from lies. Those who were "slaves of sin" because they were under the influence of the "father of lies," are liberated through participation in the truth, which is Christ, and in the liberty of the Son of God they themselves reach "the freedom of the children of God" (cf. Rom 8:21). St. Paul can assure us, "The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:2).

In the same Letter to the Romans, the Apostle eloquently presents the human decadence involved in sin. Surveying the moral evil of his time, he writes that men, having forgotten God, "became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened" (Rom 1:21). "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom 1:25). "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct" (Rom 1:28).

In other passages of his letter, the Apostle passes from the external description to the analysis of the inner man where good and evil are locked in combat. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me" (Rom 7:15-17). "I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin.... Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:23-25). From this Pauline analysis it results that sin is a profound alienation; in a certain sense it renders man an outsider to himself in his intimate identity. Liberation comes with the grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:17) brought by Christ.

One sees clearly in what the liberation effected by Christ consists, in regard to which liberty he has made us free. The liberation effected by Christ differed from that which his contemporaries in Israel expected. Before going definitively to the Father, Christ was questioned by his most intimate friends: "Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Therefore, even then, after the experience of the paschal events, they continued to think of liberation in a political sense; under this aspect they expected the Messiah, the descendant of David.

However, the liberation effected by Christ at the cost of his passion and death on the cross had an essentially different meaning. It was liberation from that which in the innermost depths of man is an obstacle to his relationship with God. At that level sin implies slavery. Christ has overcome sin in order to confer once more on man the grace of divine sonship, the grace that frees. "You did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship through which we cry 'Abba! Father!'" (Rom 8:15).

This spiritual liberation, that is, "liberty in the Holy Spirit," is therefore the fruit of Christ's salvific mission. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor 3:17). In this sense, we "were called to freedom" (Gal 5:13) in Christ and through Christ. "The faith that works through love" (Gal 5:6) is the expression of this freedom.

It is a question of the freedom of the inner man, of the "freedom of the heart." Liberation in the social and political sense is not the true messianic work of Christ. On the other hand it must be noted that without the liberation effected by him, without man's liberation from sin, and therefore from every kind of egoism, there cannot even be any real liberation in the socio-political sense. Not merely external change of structures brings about a true liberation of society, as long as man is subject to sin and lies, as long as the passions hold sway, and with them exploitation and the various forms of oppression.

Moreover, that which could be called liberation in the psychological sense cannot be fully achieved, except through the liberating power which comes from Christ. It is part of his work of redemption. Only in Christ is "our peace" (Eph 2:14). His grace and his love free man from existential fear when confronted with a lack of meaning in life, and from that gnawing of conscience which is the inheritance of fallen man in the slavery of sin.

The liberation effected by Christ with the truth of his Gospel, and definitively with the Gospel of his cross and resurrection, by preserving its particularly spiritual and interior character, can have a universal range of action, and is destined for all humanity. The words, "by grace you have been saved" (Eph 2:5) refer to every person. At the same time, however, this liberation, which is "a grace," that is, a gift, cannot be achieved without human participation. Man must receive it with faith, hope and charity. He must "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" (cf. Phil 2:12). "God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). Conscious of this supernatural gift, we ourselves must collaborate with the liberating power of God, who with the redemptive sacrifice of Christ has entered the world as the eternal source of salvation.