Discerning Spiritual Truth

By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©{{{copyright}}}
Why is truth so important? We need a clear understanding of reality in order to carry out God’s purposes in the world. Truth is important because it forms the basis for: 1) proper judgments, 2) wise decisions and 3) loving actions.

Text: 1 Corinthians 2:10-16

 

Introduction

Believe it or not, according to George Barna most Americans determine truth by how they feel. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Because sin has affected every aspect of man’s being man naturally suppresses the truth. Romans 1:18b says, “Men… suppress the truth by their wickedness” Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!” This statement applies to more people than we can imagine.

Why is truth so important? We need a clear understanding of reality in order to carry out God’s purposes in the world. Truth is important because it forms the basis for: 1) proper judgments, 2) wise decisions and 3) loving actions.

What is involved in making a judgment? To make a sound judgment we have to be able to accurately determine the value, purpose, utility and ramifications of a matter. If we don’t have a clear understanding of a matter, how can be make good judgments, wise decisions and take appropriate actions?

Discerning the truth about a matter is an extremely important endeavor! How can we know the truth and act upon accurate knowledge in order to get the results that we want and that God expects?

Not every source of information is accurate, true and reliable. We can easily be: 1) misled by false appearances, 2) held back by ignorance, 3) confused by incomplete information or 4) deceived by an adversary.

If we make judgments, formulate decisions and take actions based on false, incomplete or misleading information, our efforts will fail because we live in a world specifically designed by God and only by knowing and obeying the truth can we live in God’s world with any degree of effectiveness or success.

There are several different ways of discovering or discerning truth depending on the nature of the truth that’s to be understood. Scientists have developed a way of discovering the truth called the “Scientific” or “Empirical” Method, but it would be naïve and short-sighted indeed to think that this was the only method of discovering what is true.

The purpose of this article is to help us identify the different ways God has provided for discovering or discerning the truth.

I. The Scientific Method – Proof by Experimentation

The Scientific Method can be understood as proof by experimentation. Our senses are a primary means of understanding the world in which we live. This method has enabled us to discover a good deal of accurate information.

There are, however, some limitations of this method. It provides no final or ultimate comprehensive statement of the truth. It provides no grand narrative, or grand design or purpose for creation. It is not effective in examining unrepeatable events in history, including miraculous historical events.

Because of these limitations, God has provided several other different ways of knowing truth. Man isn’t merely a being with senses but a psychological, social, moral and spiritual being as well. When secular scientists limit reality to materialism they cut themselves off from other vital sources of truth. The truth of the matter is that the scientific method is not the sole arbiter of truth.

There are many other reliable sources of information which we need to discover and use to discern spiritual truth. As we consider these other methods of discovering the truth, let’s keep in mind the following considerations:

  1. Sense data requires investigating and engaging in inductive reasoning, spiritual data requires belief in and obedience to God’s holy, inspired Word.
  2. Other methods of knowing free us from the artificial constraints imposed by the scientific method. “If the only tool one has is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Some truth can’t be empirically known. According to 1 Corinthians 2:12-14: “Spiritual truths must be spiritually (not naturally or empirically) discerned.
  3. These other methods necessarily deal with a reality bigger than our material universe. There’s more to this world than matter and energy. The greatest reality – God Himself – can’t be discovered scientifically. Why? Because God is a Spirit which by definition means He is not subject to empirical investigation.

II. God’s Revealed Word – Proof by Divine Source

The Word of God is the very foundation of the universe. God created the universe through His Word and He sustains it by His Word. God communicates with man through His Word. God accommodates Himself to us by communicating with us through human language in the Bible and through the incarnate Word of Jesus Christ. Jesus, Himself, said in His prayer to His heavenly Father in John 17:17, “Thy [God’s] Word is truth.

God’s Word addresses issues that can’t be known through any other means such as: the spiritual nature of creation, the holiness of God, sin and lawlessness, death and suffering, redemption and eternal life, final judgment, reward and punishment. All these matters and more are issues on which we must have answers. Without God’s revealed, written Word we can’t know what God is like, let alone how to carry out the duties that He expects. Isaiah 48:17: “This is what the LORD says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel ‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.’”

It’s critical to identify a reliable source of information about God, and what better way than for God Himself to reveal to us what He is like? What other way could we learn this important information? The One who made the world through command and created all things by means of miracles, has the authority and power to address the issues of sin, redemption and the future blessing of his people. Can there be any doubt about this?

The source of the Word carries its own proof. At no point does the Bible attempt to prove that its information is from God. To what could it appeal as a higher authority? – there is none! Nobody can validate the authority of the Creator’s Words other than the Creator Himself. To deny the truth of God’s Word is to deny God Himself, since His Word comes from His very nature. One reason why we should believe that God’s Word is true is: God can’t lie!

III. The Supernatural Miracles – Proof by Demonstration

A miracle reveals the identity and nature of the God who performed it. It does so in such a way that we’re forced to admit that only God could have done such a thing – like predicting the future. Miracles serve several purposes:

  1. Miracles are needed when things can’t be done in any other way (Heb. 11:3). For example, how to you create the universe out of nothing without a miracle?
  2. Miracles show us that God is more powerful than we imagine and is capable of doing anything. Miracles tell us something about the nature of God and His will for our lives. Habakkuk 3:2a says, “LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.” (Awe – Reverence, fear and wonder.)
  3. Miracles show us how the Lord builds His Kingdom. Salvation history requires miraculous activity. The validity of our faith is based on the reality of a miracle – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  4. Jesus used miracles to prove his identity during His earthly ministry. For example, when John the Baptist wondered whether Jesus was the messiah that was prophesied, Jesus responded in Matthew 11:4-5: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor.” John 10:37-8a: “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles… John 14:11: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
  5. Miracles authenticate not only the messenger but the message: Hebrews 2:3-5, says “how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

The miracle of the resurrection of Christ demonstrates beyond any doubt that there is a God who is all powerful and capable of supernatural actions and that reality is not limited to the material universe. Scientists need to humbly acknowledge that not everything can be empirically investigated or explained.

IV. The Eyewitness Testimony – Proof by Legal Obligation

The biblical eyewitnesses saw God at work, or heard his voice and testified to us about the reality of God and the nature of his works. No one can doubt the testimony of an eyewitness without calling him a liar. In court, the testimony of an eyewitness is legally binding. Jesus warned we are obligated to take the testimony of eyewitnesses seriously:

John 12:47-50: As for the person who hears my words but doesn’t keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.

An eyewitness is either telling the truth about what he has seen and heard or he is not.

V. The Spiritual Fruit – Proof By Results/Consequences (Matt. 7:20; Prov. 4:23)

By God’s design, we can know the nature of a person’s heart by his actions. The reason this is such a reliable way of knowing someone’s character is that the heart is the “wellspring” of a person’s life.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:20-21, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize [know] them [false prophets]. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Have you ever heard the expression, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”? We may talk a good game but do we act consistent with our profession?

James 2:14, 18: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, you have faith; I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do.

Not only can we learn the state of a person’s heart by the fruit of their lives, we can also learn something about a person’s heart by the fruit of their lips. Jesus: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34b).

Galatians 5:16-23 contrasts the fruit of the sinful nature with the fruit of the Spirit. Any materialistic worldview will only result in failure, in a universe that was designed to glorify God. Christians are “salt” and “light” – the most valuable citizens in any healthy, wholesome community! What would happen if we removed all Christian influence from our nation?

VI. Regeneration and Illumination – Proof by the Spirit

All human beings are born ignorant of God in a personal/saving way. Sin has separated us from God so that no body automatically has a personal saving relationship with Christ. It’s possible to know about God without knowing God in a personal way (Jn. 17:3). Until or unless we personally encounter God, all our information is necessarily second-hand and a second hand faith will not indefinitely suffice. Eternal life is knowing God in a personal way!

There is a knowledge that comes from regeneration and illumination that comes in no other way: In John 3:3 Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see [or enter –verse 5] the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

1 Corinthians 2:12-14: We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. [But, verse 16b]…We have the mind of Christ.

There’s an assurance in the heart as a result of our relationship with Christ. Paul says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16). The internal witness of the Holy Spirit is what gives us the knowledge or assurance of our salvation.

VII. Historical Event – Proof by Historical Evidence

A person who walks by faith knows the reality of heaven and knows God rewards those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. According to 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, our faith is based on the historical fact of the resurrection of Christ from the dead!

Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” A person of faith knows even more. A person of faith understands how the universe was formed: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3). Since faith is a gift from God we can conclude that God gives this gift to his children (Eph. 2:8, 9).

The validity of the Christian faith is based on the historical fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must trust in the historical evidence concerning the historical event of the resurrection.

VIII. Obedience to God – Proof by Personal Experience

Our personal experience with God is an individual matter and it may not be convincing to others but it can be very convincing to us. The eyewitnesses, in some way, experienced God first hand but in John 20:29: Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

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.’” A sinful life style suppresses the truth. A live of loving obedience enables us to know the truth and we are free!

What does it mean to hold to my teaching or continue in my word? It means to continue to obey Christ’s clear commands (cf. also John 14:21, 23).

The person who rejects the many valid sources of spiritual information will suffer from the ignorance that he imposes on himself. “Light obeyed brings more light, light rejected brings the night.” The writer of Hebrews had it right when he asks: “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).

IX. Agape Love – Proof by Modeling or Personal Example

If we know all there is to know, what good is it without love? 1 Corinthians 13:2 says “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Why is love so important? It helps others to see what God is like: Jesus said, in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John says in, 1 John 3:18, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

X. The Assurance of Faith – Proof Based on God’s Promise

1 John 5:11-13 says, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Do you have the assurance of eternal life based on your trust in Christ as revealed in God’s Word? What greater knowledge and assurance could we have than knowing that when we die we will have eternal life?

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