What is Truth?

What is truth? This the question Pilate asked our Lord. It is not the same as asking what is the what is the truth? We often ask “What is the correct answer?”. We are familiar with discussing the true plan of salvation, the true pattern of worship, and the true nature of Christ. However, we find ourselves in a culture in which we must answer the question, “What is truth?”.

Many today have exchanged the concept of truth for relativism. This mindset is demonstrated when individuals try to defend their “new teaching” or departure from “our tradition” by showing how much more effective the church could be if only we would introduce instruments into our worship or allow women to fill our pulpits. While there is no Scriptural authority for these practices, appeals are made to so called alleged greater evangelistic effectiveness (although the opposite has proven to be true), changing cultures, and even direct speech from the Holy Spirit.

Ideas have consequences. If we reject truth there will be devastating consequences. Many of these are already being seen on the nightly news. Note also that if we say we cannot know truth, then we must also say God is unable to communicate with us. If we say that we cannot know truth, then we must also abandon any concept of law, justice, or fairness. If we say we cannot know truth, then we must also admit the Bible is useless for our lives.

G. K. Chesterton said, “A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.” The comfort of opinion is valued above the discomfort of truth. The culture and many in the church have rejected of the concept of truth and God’s Word as the source of truth. We must study again what truth is.

The Concept of Truth

Truth (from the Hebrew and Greek words, אֱמֶת and ἀλήθεια) is defined as “factuality, faithfulness, firmness, reality, reliability.  The Hebrew word אֱמֶת (truth) is closely related to the Hebrew concept of חסד (chesed, steadfast love, loyalty). Those who translated the Hebrew Old Testaement into the Greek Septuagent translated the word as πιστιs (faith) and δικαιοσυνη (righteousness).

In the New Testament, the important nature of truth is demonstrated by its relation to Jesus.

    • Jesus is the true light (John 1:9).
    • The Father desires true worshipers (John 4:23–24).
    • Jesus’ body is true food (John 6:32, 55).
    • Jesus is the true vine (John 15:1).
    • Jesus ministers in the true tabernacle (Heb 8:2; 9:24).

To pervert abandon “the truth” is to abandon God himself. The Gentiles stood condemned because they “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Rom 1:25). Furthermore, as Christianity is practiced, the acts of love must be performed not only with words but in truth (1 John 3:18).

Christians and Truth

Too often Christians fall into the trap of accepting any position as someone’s “own personal truth”. Differing interpretations are allowed because of political correctness, fear of discussion, the possibility of loosing a relationship, and an apathy for finding what is right. This practice must not continue.

Christians are expected to “rightly divide the word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). This exhortation informs us not only about our responsibility but also about the nature of truth itself. The Bible speaks of “truth” as something which is to be studied in order to be interpreted. This task of study is expected to lead to spiritual truth—that which is correct to the exclusion of every other option.

Even in our postmodern age, this search for truth cannot be abandoned. Psalm 100:5 tells us “His truth endures to all generations.” The truth of God is always the truth of God. Cultures will change. Opinions will vary. Social norms will evolve. However, God’s truth revealed in his Word will remain the same.

The importance of the truth is again demonstrated by its relationship to salvation. 1 Timothy 2:1 teaches us that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This is why Paul described himself as a teacher “in faith and truth” (2:7). Many will be lost because they “refused to love the truth and be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Those who have fallen away from Christ are described as having abandoned the truth. James 5:19 records, “If any wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

Often individuals are encouraged to “follow our hearts”. Many times this means that we have decided we are going to do what we know is not exactly in harmony with the Lord and excuse the behavior with “our heart.” This is dangerous. Jeremiah 17:9-10 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings”.

Salvation and truth are inseparably linked. The only way one may be saved is by obedience to the truth (Romans 6:17). The Christian stays saved by God’s grace and “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7). To abandon the truth is to abandon God himself (1 John 1:6). Many reject truth because their works or plans are evil (John 1:19-21). 

Principles from John 8:32

  One of the most popular verses in the New Testament is John 8:32, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” The great verse comes with great truths. First, this verse teaches that truth is a corporate responsibility maintained by individuals. Every individual is responsible for searching for, discovering, and applying the truth. This responsibility is not just for individuals, though. The church is the “pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The world should have the opportunity to seek truth from the church and the Christians who compose the congregations.

We also must note that truth is absolute and attainable. Jesus spoke of “the truth”. It was not “my personal truth” or “your life experience”. Rather, Jesus spoke of the truth. This truth is also knowable. Truth is attainable. A vital part of understanding John 8:32 is recognizing that in order to be “set free” you must first “know the truth”. Therefore, without knowing “the truth” it is impossible to become a Christian or live as a Christian.

Finally, know that the truth “sets you free”. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance condemns. It is the truth which enlightens, empowers, and enables one to live in the freedom of the Gospel (Galatians 5:1).

Let’s Work on Developing a Mind for the Truth

First, we need to have an open mind. The famous noble Bereans of Acts 17 were praised because “they examined the Scriptures to see if the things which they were taught were so.” The word “noble” in this verse is similar to our “open minded” in this usage. Hence,  it could be translated, “these were more open-minded” (William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 404.). We must develop open minds so that we will be able to examine truth claims without prejudice.

However, we must also be narrow-minded. Jesus exhorted us to choose the narrow gate and narrow way in Matthew 7:13-14. This is the way of truth. The way of error is broad and comfortable. By contrast, the way of truth is narrow (exclusive) and often difficult. But this narrow way of truth must be chosen and lived because it is the way that is from God and leads to God (John 14:6). 

So What Is Our Responsibility?

We must continue to preach the truth—2 Timothy 4:1-2. We must preach the truth in love-Ephesians 4:15.

We must defend the truth—Philippians 1:16. We aren’t just proclaimers and practitioners. Christians are to be “set for the defense of the Gospel”.

Finally, the truth must be obeyed. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). Salvation and reception of the truth are inseparably linked (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). Even as Paul described salvation in Romans 6, he does so by speaking of obeying the pattern of the Gospel—Romans 6:17.

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