"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

What does Jesus mean by 'the truth'?

The word "truth" here is being translated from the Greek word, ἀλήθεια (alēthei). According to Thayer's lexicon, this means "what is true in any matter under consideration" but also, "in reality," or "in accordance with fact."

Jesus is referring to his teachings ("If you hold to my teaching"). This means that Jesus is saying that his teachings are factual. His teachings are displaying reality.

How can Jesus' teachings set us 'free'?

Currently, most of us in the physical world is bound by self-centeredness. We scheme or dream of things or events to come, thinking these things will bring us fulfillment. These are typically related to possessions, positions, fame, glory, respect, wealth, family, and so on. 

In other words, we are constantly seeking something in the future that might fulfill us. This means that we are not fulfilled. And we are trapped by our future schemes.

The problem is that none of these future schemes and dreams will bring us fulfillment. We can know this simply by looking around us at the people who have already accomplished those schemes and dreams.

We can see that none of the wealthiest, most famous, or most powerful people in this world are fulfilled. We see their emptiness in their continued search for fulfillment elsewhere. We see it in their alcoholism, drug addiction, suicides, anger, violence, and other symptoms.

Yet we scheme on, hoping to become wealthy, famous, and powerful, thinking that it will be different for us. Certainly, we will be happy even if they aren't, we think.

Our schemes and dreams are founded upon not only fulfillment but also love. Yes, we want worldly goodies. But if we become famous and powerful we will gain the adoration of others. 

Sorry, but this is an empty shell. We won't get the adoration of others by accomplishing our dreams of wealth, power and fame. They may become envious of our fame or power. But they won't adore us for them.

Our search for adoration doesn't end there. We are constantly looking for love in a partner, be it a wife or husband, girlfriend or boyfriend. Or even children. 

For those who do not have one, we assume that having a partner or child will fulfill us. But those who have found a partner or have children understand that they do not fulfill us. Yes, we may feel love for them, and this love can bring us some fulfillment.

But the love we exchange doesn't bring complete fulfillment. So we keep looking. 

Our endless search through the physical world for happiness is our jail. It is our prison.

This world is like a prison because we are chained to our worldly desires and schemes. We are chained to the notion we will be happy here.

Our worldly dreams and schemes are unfulfilling because we are not of this world. We are temporarily occupying a physical body much as a person operates an automobile. The body in itself is not capable of bringing fulfillment to the real person within - the spirit-person. Jesus stated this clearly:
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." (Matt. 10:28)
"Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit..." (John 3:6)
Each of us is a "soul" who is composed of "spirit," and the Supreme Spirit is our Creator, God. While the "flesh" - the physical body - can bring fruits of the flesh, these do not satisfy the spirit.

Jesus' teachings set us free because they teach us about our identity as spirit. They teach us the connection we have with God. This connection with God is outside the scope of this world:
"My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36)
Jesus' teachings are freeing because they allow us to step off the conveyor belt of our worldly desires and schemes, and understand that we don't have to be defined by how much money we have, what kind of car we drive or how big our house and family is.

According to Jesus, if we follow Jesus' teachings, we will no longer look for our fulfillment in the forms and things of the physical world. We become freed from those self-centered, unfulfilling concoctions.

What does it mean to 'hold' to Jesus' teachings?

Jesus clearly defines that his actual disciples are those who "hold" to his teachings. But what does this mean? It is very practical:

To hold to Jesus' teachings means first to study them carefully, then apply them to our lives.

To hold to Jesus' teachings means to not let them go. To not abandon them.

To hold to Jesus' teachings means to take shelter in them.

To hold to Jesus' teachings means to make them the center of our life.

By holding to Jesus’ teachings, we become his followers. This means we read those teachings very carefully and understand their meaning within the context that Jesus gave them.

This also means we abandon those teachers and institutions that do not hold to his teachings. Or make interpretations of his life and teachings in ways inconsistent with his teachings.

Should we hold to Jesus' teachings, we will direct our lives towards coming to know and love the Supreme Being, which fulfills us. This will set us free and release us from the jail of our worldly schemes and dreams.

As we seek the Supreme Being, He reveals Himself to us more and more. This allows us to increasingly fall in love with the Supreme Being - Jesus' "first and greatest" teaching:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)