Question: "What does it mean that we are free indeed (John 8:36)?"
Answer: In John 8 Jesus exhorts His listeners that if they abide in His word they would be truly His disciples, they would know the truth, and that truth would make them free (John 8:31–32). They were a bit surprised to hear that because, as they were descendants of Abraham, they thought they had never been enslaved (John 8:33). Jesus then explained that, if a person is committing sin, that person is enslaved by sin, and slavery is not fitting for sons (John 8:34–35). But if the Son—Jesus says, referring to Himself—makes us free, then we “are free indeed” (John 8:36). He is the Son who remains forever, so what He determines shall stand. When He gives the recipe that we are “free indeed,” it is a reliable recipe because of who He is. The condition for becoming “free indeed” is that His hearers should abide (or dwell) in His word. He later explains that keeping His word results in eternal life (John 8:52), and He challenges His hearers that they need to believe in Him (John 8:46).
The apostle Paul gives us a further implication of “we are free indeed” (John 8:36). After expressing that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), Paul adds that in Christ Jesus we have been set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Because of that new freedom, we are no longer in bondage to sinfulness, and now we can choose righteousness (Romans 9:12–15). Peter adds a caution that we use this freedom not as an excuse for evil but that we use this freedom to walk in devoted service to God—as bondslaves (1 Peter 2:16).
Jesus came offering something very special, and if we take Him at His word then we are free indeed. He is “the truth” (John 14:6), and He desires that we abide in Him and walk in Him. As He expresses in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus wants to set us free from the curse of sin, shame, and death. He gave His own life so that we could be “free indeed” and asks us simply to believe in Him.
The true freedom that Jesus gives is freedom (1) from the penalty of sin—there is no more condemnation for those in Him (Romans 8:1), and no longer are we children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1–3); (2) from the power of sin—no longer are we in bondage to sin, but now we can do righteousness; without faith it is impossible to please Him, but, with faith, we can please Him (Hebrews 11:6); and one day we will be free (3) from the presence of sin—when our eternal life is fulfilled, we will be like Him and without sin (Romans 8:28–30).