Desiring, Discovering, Discerning, Displaying God’s Truth
|By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2010|
|Jack Nicholson, in the movie A Few Good Men, had a very famous line. He said, “You can’t handle the truth!” How about you? Can you handle the truth? Or, more accurately, how does God want us to handle the truth of His word?|
- 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
Jack Nicholson, in the movie A Few Good Men, had a very famous line. He said, “You can’t handle the truth!” How about you? Can you handle the truth? Or, more accurately, how does God want us to handle the truth of His word (John 17:17)? Paul said in Ephesians 6:17b that, “The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.” Hebrews 4:12 says, “…The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God’s word is very powerful, can you handle it?
It’s difficult to talk about handling the truth without first asking the famous question posed to Jesus just prior to his death by the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, “What is truth” (John 18:38)? Paul said, “In the last days difficult times will come.” For some people will always be learning and “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).
In our day, perhaps the biggest barrier, for some, in knowing the truth is that they don’t believe in the existence of objective truth. Some people are what we call “truth challenged.” A “truth challenged” person wouldn’t recognize the truth if it was staring him in the face. Those who refuse to face the truth about their sin and mortality are living a life of denial. Those who refuse to acknowledge their sin are self-deceived and call God a liar (1 Jn. 1:8-10).
Back to our original question: What is truth and can it be known? If so, how? The nature of truth has been one of the primary and persistent questions asked in our culture today as well as in philosophy, though out human history.
What is truth from a biblical perspective? Truth is that which corresponds to reality. One of the things God cannot do is lie (Titus 1:2). Jesus said is praying to the Heavenly Father in John 17:17b, “Your Word is truth.” In Isaiah 45:19 God declares, “I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.”
Jesus told His disciples in John 14:6, “I am… the truth….” Jesus is truth personified! Truth is not so much a concept as it is a person. The apostle John said in John 1:14b that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” Just prior to His death, Jesus promised His disciples that when the Spirit comes, “He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13a).
If we accept the above Scriptural teaching, we must conclude that the Bible as God’s written word is the ultimate source of truth – the final, infallible authority of faith and practice. Because God is always truthful, everything He does is worthy of our trust.
What was the first sin? In a nutshell, it was the failure to believe in the truth of God’s word. Adam and Eve questioned God’s love, wisdom and veracity. They were deceived into doubting God’s true nature. They believed the father of lies instead of the God of all truth.
Since the Fall, questions of doubt have plagued us. Jesus knew our doubts and He knew that we needed assurance that He was telling us the truth. Eighty nine times in the Gospels Jesus told His followers, “I am telling you the truth;” or, “Truly, truly, I say to you….”
Since Jesus came as the Word incarnate, truth personified, full of grace and truth, the question is not whether truth is revealed, the question is whether or not it is received. Francis Schaeffer, in his book True Spirituality, said saving faith involves “ceasing to call God a liar.” One of the nice things about truth is, once you see it, you can’t un-see it.
According to Jesus, what are the two keys to knowing the truth?
- In order to know the truth, we must first be willing to obey the truth. John 7:17: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own [authority].”
- In order to know the truth, we must consistently obey Christ’s teaching. John 8:31b-32: Jesus said, “If you continue to obey my teaching, you are really my followers. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (NCV). In a nutshell, we need to love, seek, know, believe, speak and obey the truth of God’s word.
I. In Seeking the Truth, We Need To Look In the Right Place
What if we seek and find the truth but we don’t like what we find? What if we discover we’re not so hot? Well, the truth is, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
Yes, the truth does set us free! It’s always safe to seek the truth because it always leads to life and freedom. Truth liberates us from the web of self-glorifying deception in which we have become entranced by the father of lies who weaves around us a web of deception.
If we are seeking the truth we will be committed to developing a biblical perspective, mindset or worldview. By immersing ourselves in the truth of God’s word, we are built up in the truth. If you want to develop a biblical worldview, there are two things you need to do: 1) You have to assimilate the truth of God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15; Col. 3:15); and 2) You have to live in obedience to the truth of God’s word (John 8:31-32; 14:21, 23).
Second Corinthians 13:5, 8 says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (ESV). The Message paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 13: 8 says, “We’re rooting for the truth to win out in you.”
II. Knowing the Truth That Sets You Free (John 8:31-32)
How do you know that you know what you think you know? That’s a question of epistemology. There are four basic ways of knowing:
- We know some things by personal experience (2 Tim. 2:15)
- We know some things by formal education or training (2 Tim. 3:15)
- We know some things by rational deduction – the proper use of logic (Isa. 1:18)
- We know some things by divine revelation – spiritual things are spiritually discerned.
There are three types of revelation:
A. The revelation of God in Creation (Rom. 1:20)
B. The revelation of God in Scripture and the illumination by the Holy Spirit
C. The revelation of God in Conscience and enlightened by the Holy Spirit
According to Paul in Romans 1:20ff, the truth about God’s existence and power is self-evident, but it is actively suppressed by unregenerate man’s sin. God has clearly revealed Himself in Creation, but natural man has exchanged the truth about God for a lie and chosen to worship the creature rather than the Creator. God’s revelation is so clear that we are without excuse if we don’t believe and obey the truth – if we don’t honor God as God and give thanks to Him. Futile thinking, darkened hearts and spiritual blindness keep us from seeing the presence, power and purpose of God in the everyday context of normal living.
Have you ever asked yourself why some get it and some don’t (1 Cor. 2:12-14; 2 Cor. 4:1-6)? We know some things in our heads. We know other things in our heart. Spiritual truths are spiritually discerned. We need to be spiritually regenerated and illuminated before we can develop spiritual discernment. Pride can blind us to the truth; while humility enables us to become receptive to the truth. There is some knowledge that requires faith. Hebrews 11:3a says, “By faith, we understand….” There is some knowledge that requires obedience. John 8:31, “If you continue to obey my word, you will know the truth….”
- Knowing of the truth and obeying the truth of God’s word is always wise and liberating.
- Living a life of deception and enslavement to sin is the ultimate in human captivity.
III. Speaking the Truth (God’s Will) In Love (God’s Way) (Ephesians 4:15)
In order to speak the truth about God, we must first be clear and confident about the existence, character and purposes of God. We must be convinced in our hearts and minds that God’s revelation of Himself in human history contained in the Holy Scriptures in true.
What God revealed to the apostles and prophets, who wrote the Scripture centuries ago, is just as true and relevant for us today. The reason for this is that God’s nature and human nature don’t change. “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
The Old Testament prophets spoke the truth about God into a relativistic culture (Ex. 20:1-4; Josh. 24:14-15; Judg. 6:1-10; Isa. 44:13-20; Jer. 7:1-11). The same is true in the New Testament (Matt. 3:7-12; 18:7; 23:13-27; Mk. 8:31-38; Acts 17:16-18; Rom.1).
The truth is “that which corresponds to reality.” God is the supreme realist and we are realistic only in so far as we see things from His point of view as revealed in Scripture. The Greek word for “confess” means “to agree together with God.” Do we agree with God concerning our sin and His holiness or do we not? Someone said “to not decide is to decide.”
How do we communicate the truth to those who don’t even believe in the reality of truth? When someone makes an unbiblical assertion we could politely response, “What you believe would be okay as long as the God of the Bible does not exist.” For example, we could say, “It doesn’t matter how you deal with your sin as long as the God of the Bible doesn’t exist.” The implication in this statement is that you can’t have it both ways. The real issue is God and His word and nothing else.
The one who states there is no such thing as objective truth has made a claim about truth. It would be naïve to assert that all ideas are equally valid or that all explanations equally correspond to reality. Ultimately our conversation needs to lead back to the trustworthiness of God and the truth of the word of God (the Bible). Either God is trustworthy and His word is true or He is a liar. Either you are wrong or God is wrong, but you can’t both be right. Here’s a thought, why have we been swearing for centuries in a court of law to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth if we truth does not exist is the first place?
While it’s our responsibility to speak the truth in love and present the truth claims of Christ and His word, we can’t ultimately convince someone else of God’s truth, we can only bear witness to it. The conviction of the heart concerning our sin and the illumination of the mind to God’s truth are ultimately the responsibility of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12-14).
Where did this belief in the relativity of truth come from in the first place? Perhaps it is nothing more than man’s vain attempt to exempt himself from being accountable to God. Humans have historically minimized their sinfulness and God’s holiness and our day is no exception. We do it, however, to our eternal detriment.
Why did Jesus come into the world? In John 18:37b, Jesus answered Pontius Pilate, “…For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
IV. Speaking and Living Truthfully (In an Age of Pluralism)
In John 18:37c, Jesus said to Pilate, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” In John 10 Jesus, as the good shepherd, said that his sheep listen to Him and follow Him. Jesus spoke the truth and he embodied truth. John 1:14, “He was full of grace and truth.” He not only spoke truthfully, he lived truthfully. In Him there was no room for falsehood or half truths. He gave no foothold to “the father of lies” to weave deception into his thinking.
How does one “live the truth?”
- In order to live the truth we must first, like Jesus, be full of the truth of God’s word. Paul says in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
- In order to live the truth, we need to submit ourselves to the Spirit of truth. Ephesians 5:18 says, “Don’t drink too much wine, for many evils lie along that path; be filled instead with the Holy Spirit and controlled by him.”
Here are two questions we all need to ask ourselves:
Question 1: Are we full of God’s word and God’s Spirit or are we just full of ourselves?
Question 2: What do our thoughts, words, actions and attitudes indicate we are full of? We are all full of something, and whatever we are full of comes out in our words and actions.
God wants His followers to be full of truth. What is a “truth-full” disciple?
Truth-full disciples are filled with the Spirit of truth who illuminates their minds to the truth. They are filled with God’s word – the word of truth which dwells in them richly (Col. 3:16). They speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). They stand firm in the truth and bear witness to the truth (2 Thess. 2:13-17; Eph. 6:10-18). Truth-full disciples know the truth and are set free by the truth (John 8:31-32). Truth-full disciples do not compromise with the truth or settle for half truths. Truth-full disciples understand the eternal consequences associated with committing spiritual perjury (Matt. 7:21-29). Truth-full disciples are also good stewards of the Gospel who believe and obey the truth. May God find us to be truth-full disciples!
Those who wish to apply this article might consider the following resource: Focus on the Family has developed a curriculum entitled The Truth Project. It’s an outstanding DVD-based study taught by Dr. Del Tackett in 12 lessons. It defines truth as that which conforms to reality and serves as a catalyst to examine one’s personal worldview.