ďChristianity in 12 Words Ė New Testament ChristianityĒ Series
Timothy J. Keller, who is a Presbyterian pastor, author, and has served as assistant professor at Westminster Theological Seminary once accepted an invitation to appear on a panel discussion in New York City with a Jewish Rabbi and a Muslim cleric. Keller upset many in the audience by stating that if Jesus is not just a prophet showing us how to find God, but actually God come to find us, then Christianity would have to be a superior religion. On the other hand, if what Jesus said was not true, then it would have to be an inferior religion. Christianity is either a far better religion, or a far worse one, but it cannot be equal to the others. (Keller, Timothy J.;A Place for Truth; IVP Books; page 62).
The audience objected, because in todayís cultural environment, all religion is supposed to be equal. Now, the Rabbi and the cleric agreed with Kellerís statement. Its truth is obvious. But the students objected to this truth because it was not what they came to hear. They came to hear the three speakers tell them whichever religion of the three they preferred was equally as right and as true as the others. The fact that Jesus claimed to be the Power behind the universe and the only Redeemer of mankind is a truly bothersome fact to those inclined to put truth aside so we can all choose our separate ways and still be considered equally correct with everyone else. But really now, it cannot be done. Not with Jesus.
We live in a pluralistic society, and while there is a good side to this, there is also a tremendous downside. For the sake of pluralism, the concept of truth has become foggy and of secondary importance. The important thing is to maintain a plurality of differences in everything. Applaud pluralism. Defend it. If truth must suffer, then let it. So often, the answer to the question"Do you believe in God?" is "Which God?" Pretty much all of them are fine; or none of them, thatís fine too. It is the name of pluralism that is now treated as holy.
The modern enchantment with pluralism and the downgrading of the place of truth is actually not all that modern. There is an incident in the Old Testament where an advisor to the king of Aram develops this war strategy to employ against Israel:"Their gods are gods of the mountains, therefore they were stronger than we; but rather let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we will be stronger than they." (1 Kings 20:23). Of course, the true God is not limited to the mountains at all. That was extremely poor advice offered by a man with a confused concept of plurality. He figured that all gods are powerful somewhere. "Then a man of God came near and spoke to the king of Israel and said, "Thus says the LORD, "Because the Arameans have said, "The LORD is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys," therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.'" (1 Kings 20:28). The man of God spoke the truth, and truth prevailed. Ultimately, it always will.
Paul dealt with the concept of multiple gods with the converts at Corinth and made it quite clear that there is the true God that means everything and the false gods that mean nothing."Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him." (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).
Today, truth is as it has always been, whether men respect it or not. The refusal to accept the notion of multiple, conflicting truths is not a popular thing today. Nor was it in Paulís day. At Ephesus, Demetrius the silversmith made much of his living as did other local silversmiths. He made idols. He sounded the alarm against the preaching of Paul,"You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all." (Acts 19:26). The world of Paulís day was insisting on pluralism when it came to gods and spirituality. But Christians offered the world the way of truth. Singular. Unflinching. In fact, they referred to themselves as "the Way" (Acts 19:9). Not very ecumenically minded at all!
The very basis of a worthwhile faith in anything is truth. The source of all truth, and especially spiritual truth, is God. The world will demand an apology from you if you say that truth is exclusive and use such terms as"the truth" or "the Way". Even some progressive clergy who would claim to speak for Christ today will offer such an apology for such narrowness in other believers. The world will applaud their open-mindedness and exalt them as heroes. It always has. But the Christ they speak for offered no apology for such. There might be some things that some of us should apologize for, but not this. Never this!
What is Truth?
What is this thing called"truth" and why is it so important? Can anyone really know what the truth is? How do we find it?
I suppose it is difficult for the modern mind to accept that truth is identifiable and knowable. Moral and spiritual confusion reign precisely because of the devotion of many toward pluralism at the expense of truth. Understand; pluralism itself is not the problem, but the rejection of truth is. The motives for regarding truth as vague or unknowable are probably many. A governor by the name of Pilate once explained why he was about to do the wrong thing. His hand was being forced by politics.
Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)
Jesus had been brought to Pilate for judgment, falsely accused and condemned by his enemies. Pilateknew Jesus was innocent, and said so. In his conversation with Jesus, Pilate was brought to the point where he must accept the truth of Jesusí innocence, let Jesus go and infuriate Jesusí powerful enemies; or ignore the truth and let the enemies of Jesus have what they wanted. I am sure that Pilate resented being forced into such a decision by those he was supposed to be governing. But there was a way here to take the easy way out and salve what little conscience he still had - simply suggest that one cannot really know what truth is. Therefore, Pilate held himself not responsible for any lack of justice because, after all, truth is unknowable. What is truth? Now isnít that convenient!
So, what is truth?
Something is true when it conforms to the facts. It is consistent with reality. For example, to have faith in Jesus means that one believes that His identification as the Son of God is consistent with reality, and therefore, He is worthy of our confidence in all things. But this also means that one must view those who believe something contrary about Jesus as beingwrong about Him. Determining what is real and therefore true will have a large impact on the course we will choose for our lives.
Jesus prayed to the Father on His way to Gethsemane on the night before His arrest. Though He would be facing the cross on the following day, most of His prayer was about His disciples and not so much about Himself. He prayed,"Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17). Then, a moment later, He added "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth." (John 17:19). Jesus was certainly not nebulous when it came to the importance of truth. He "sanctified" or "set Himself apart" to accomplish Godís will. The cross itself was one part of that Divine will, and it would be the most difficult thing that anyone has ever done. But Jesus did not plead that, because the task at hand was so difficult, He should avoid it. God had said for centuries through the prophets that His death was a necessary part of the plan for human redemption. Godís word is truth. Our need for a Savior and sanctification is real. Truth does not simply yield to our personal preferences, prejudices, opinions and desires. It can be brutally honest and consistent whether we like it or not. Isnít there another truth? Another way? Godís answer to Jesusí prayer in Gethsemane later that night was that there was, in truth, no other way. We are thankful that Jesus did not respond to the unsavory task at hand by avoiding it in feigned confusion asking, "What is truth?"
Many people today take the same route that Pilate took and not the one Jesus took. We regard truth as something to be manipulated according to our desires and purposes. The moral confusion that reigns in modern minds is testimony to our willingness to take even simple, obvious truths and wrongly place them in the realm of that which is unknowable. This certainly may be momentarily convenient and easy, as it was with Pilate, but further consequences often compound in the severity of their complications. Cultures that lose sight of the significance and importance of truth will certainly pay a heavy price for doing so. There will be turbulence and a loss of direction, chaos and anarchy. Yes, these are turbulent times in which we live. Many do not know what truth is anymore. We think it can be anything we want it to be at the moment. We are wrong.
Truth and Freedom
It is very important what we believe, because what we believe, truly believe, will be reflected in how we live. Todayís world often seems to think that there is a great disconnect between a cultureís core beliefs and the behavior of its members. Also, it is often thought that holding your chosen belief to be exclusively right is a great moral evil that is paramount to binding enslavement. Freedom from such narrowness will make one free and happy, we are told.
First, that is not what Jesus said. He taught that what we become as individuals depends on what is within us. What we believe to be true has great affect on how we live and what we become. Jesus, in language many would consider harsh, put it this way, "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.í (Matthew 12:34-35). When a man is less than convinced that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, then his failure to love his neighbor as himself as Jesus taught us to do will not be considered such a big problem. Why should we be surprised that a culture in the process of rejecting the concept of absolute divine truth is producing the sad newspaper headlines that we read every day about the awful things we do to one another?
Some may suggest believers are guilty of producing many of those headlines. I would suggest it may be so that those claiming belief in Jesus are responsible for some of them, but are they following the voice of the Redeemer? A comedian was once performing in Northern Ireland. He later said,"When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, ĎYes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you donít believe?" (Strobel, Lee; The Case For Faith; Zondervan; page 155). Yes, plenty of headlines have been produced in sectarian strife. But truth has no "Catholic God" or "Protestant God" any more than it had the multiple gods of old Corinth in Paulís day. As Jesus told Pilate, "He who is of the truth hears My voice." If one claims to be a Christian, but does not follow the voice of Jesus in his living, then he is not of the truth. It is much easier to defend the teachings of Jesus than it is to defend the behavior of everyone who claims to be a Christian. The two are not always the same thing, though they certainly ought to be.
Secondly, Jesus said that truth, and allegiance to its Giver, will give freedom, not slavery. He said, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32). This is where true freedom is to be found. This is what people who are "truly" disciples of Jesus do. They "continue in (His) word"
Jesus said knowing the truth depends on continuing in His word. Now, I am sure it is possible to knowabout the truth without knowing it by experience. But Jesus desires that we come to know the truth by experience, and we do that by continuing in His word.
Before I ever became a husband and a father, if someone had asked me if I knew what it was to be one of those, I could, on one level, have said,"Yes, I have read about it and have seen examples in my own father and others so I have a pretty good idea." But I must say that I didnít know anything yet! There is so much more to learn from personal experience that will never be known through merely reading about it or observing it in others. Thus it is with discipleship and the freedom it brings. I can read Jesusí promise about the truth making me free, memorize it, and bind it on my forehead. But until I continue in His word, I will never come to fully, or even adequately, know the truth nor the freedom it brings. To better appreciate this freedom, consider its true opposite.
The Truth About the Lie
The opposite of truth is the lie. It is the lie that brings cruel enslavement while promising freedom. Of course, the lie does not admit to this, but great harm results everyday because the world has believed the lie instead of the truth. Jesus explained to some of His day how they had been enslaved by their spiritual father,"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44).
Yes, we need to find our liberty from this great evil. The lie is a powerful and prevalent force in our world, bringing about grave consequences and wreaking havoc everyday. It is so common that many think it is the norm. What faithful disciple, from the first century to this day, has not faced the same challenge that Peter once described;"For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved." (2 Peter 2:18-19).
From beginning to end, the lie promises good results but delivers death. Depravity and cruelty grows. Not long before the writing of this chapter, there was a news report out of Chicago about another shooting death of a young man, this one only thirteen years old and unarmed. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon thing at all where each weekend brings reports of dozens of shootings resulting in death or injury. But this one arrested my attention because of what witnesses heard the shooter of the child say as he fled to a waiting car and sped off. He triumphantly exclaimed"I got a me shorty! I got me a shorty!"
Yes, I want to be free from that! I want to be as far away as possible from the depraved mind and attitude displayed by that heartless shooter! And while certainly not everyone who rejects Jesus, the truth, will take their belief in the lie to that extreme, they do create the moral confusion that sometimes leads to such. And there is plenty of ugly this side of the extreme even if one does not go nearly that far. There is hate and arrogance; selfishness and cruelty. There is using others for oneís own desires with a lack of concern as to whether others are harmed or not. Once we accept the notion that truth is relative, or whatever you want it to be, or unknowable, then there is no firm foundation left.
On the other hand, and in stark contrast, we look at one who iscontinuing in Jesusí word and truly His disciple, therefore knowing the truth and being made free by that truth. Jesus taught us to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." And right along with that to "love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:30-31). What wonderful freedom the whole world would experience if it would reject Satanís lie and practice the truth of the Son of God! Do not plead that the truth is unknowable. Whatever the world chooses to do, and knowing that its track record is abysmal, let us determine that as individuals we shall be free as we honor God each day and urge others to do likewise. As children of truth, we know that freedom and victory are ours in the grace of Jesus Christ forevermore. "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36).
Walking in Truth
So then, in a world full of deceit and half-truths where so often advantage over others is sought using deception, what is a disciple to do? Will honesty and integrity be detrimental to our success? The answer to that question may well depend upon by what criteria do we measure success.
Earlier we noted that Jesus talked of His disciples"continuing in (His) word". Truth in the teachings of Godís Scripture is not only something to be believed, but also something to be done. There are many phrases used by the inspired writers of the New Testament to Christians that encourage them to think in terms not only of knowing what the truth is, and believing it, but also practicing it. Peter, for example, wrote of how Christians had purified their souls "in obedience to the truth" (1 Peter 1:22). The truth was something they obeyed, not just believed. Paul asked the Galatian disciples, who were in danger of falling from grace, who had hindered them from "obeying the truth" (Galatians 5:7). He also issued a divine warning of judgment on those who "do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness" (Romans 2:8). John wrote of his joy at hearing of his children "walking in truth" (3 John 4) and repeatedly uses that phrase in his epistles. He also wrote, "Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him." (1 John 3:18-19). This, again, affirms that our deeds and the truth go hand in hand. Jesus referred to freedom for those who continue in the truth. John talks of assurance that comes when love goes beyond word or tongue to deeds and truth.
If one measures success by the assurance and freedom he has as he lives out his life here and now, then, yes, Godís truth will make us successful if we know it, believe it and practice it. There is peace and strength in this approach to life, even in a world full of lies and misdirection. This assurance is a good way to measure success, but it is not the best way. This is because this life and this realm are not the only ones we ought to be thinking about. There is more. Much more. Infinitely more.
There is also the life to come. Men and women who are godly are truth seekers and truth practitioners. Godliness looks to God for truth. The Scriptures say that we should have nothing to do with"worldly fables" but instead "On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (1 Timothy 4:7,8). The profit we find in godliness does not end when our life here is over. We do find profit in it now, but not only now. Godliness also holds promise for eternity. In short, there can be no greater success story than one where the success holds wonderful promise beyond this life and this realm. That will be glory!
In Spirit and in Truth
I would like to briefly discuss another aspect of truth and its relationship with Christianity. We usually think of truth as being the opposite of the lie. But there is another, slightly different definition of the word"truth" as used by Jesus that is not contrasted with the lie but rather with the shadow.
If I am walking down the street and the sun is shining, I cast a shadow. Its size and shape mimic my own to some degree. It is a lot shorter than I really am at midday. It is a lot taller than I am when the sun is low on the horizon. If you were standing around the corner from me, and the sun was at my back as I was walking toward the corner, you would likely see my shadow before you saw me. But you would not think that the shadow was me. Not in truth. It is just the shadow. The real me (or, thetrue me) is still around the corner.
Truth, in this instance, is not so much a contrast with something false as it is with something without substance. The shadow has no substance. When Jesus was talking with a Samaritan woman at a well, He used the word "truth" in this way. He made a contrast between the spiritual shadow of the old with the new spiritual reality that He was bringing to the world.
Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:21-24).
Now, Jesus was definitely not saying that the time had finally come to worship God correctly and sincerely. That had always been so. God has never accepted anything less than that. When Jesus said"But an hour is coming, and now is" He was announcing the arrival of something new, and that new thing, He said, is worshipping God "in spirit and in truth".
The New Testament of Jesus Christ refers to the Law of Moses as a covenant that was being replaced by His own covenant. Jesus is mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 12:24) and this new covenant makes the old one obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). In fact, the regulations of the Old Covenant served as mere copies, orshadows, of the New Covenant. Using the priesthood as an example, the Scriptures insist that those priests under the Law of Moses "serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, "SEE," He says, "THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN." But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8:5,6).
Other Scriptures affirm the same thing as well.
For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1).
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day -- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17).
So, as Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman, He affirmed that Jerusalem had been the correct place to worship under the Old Law. But now, the hour had arrived when the shadow of the old would give way to the new spiritual reality of His new covenant. It would now be pleasing to God to worship Him in spirit and in truth, and no longer by the shadow. The substance belongs to Christ. The Old had fulfilled its purpose. It had led us to Christ, but it had only been the shadow of the New. The faithful of the Old Testament had worshiped God in the shadow of Who was coming.
But now Jesus has arrived, the substance that had cast the shadow, so we now worship in spirit and in truth, and no longer in the shadow.
Truth is knowable. It is also livable, and in fact must be lived before it does much good at all. We cast it aside at our own peril, whether as an individual or as a society. Jesus emphasized the importance of truth, and so His disciples must do the same if we are truly His disciples.
Jesus is described this way in the last Book of the Bible;He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens (Revelation 3:7).
Characteristics of Jesus as described here are holiness, truth and absolute authority and power. There is no reason to let the world, though sometimes it seems so powerful, lead us down the path of ruin as it feeds us lies about how wise we are to follow its lead. Paul writes,"Öand with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Every day we see the results of the moral confusion caused by an entirely inappropriate perspective on the value of truth, and especially absolute moral and spiritual truth. But the One who has the key of David and who opens and no one can shut, and who shuts and no one can open, has promised us a truth-based freedom. The truth is that He will be the One we will be wanting to follow. The truth is that we simply have no other place to go. The truth is, as Peter once responded to Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Chapman, Colin.The Case For Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1981.
Lewis, C.S.Mere Christianity. New York, New York: The MacMillan Company. 1972.
Strobel, Lee.The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House. 2000
Willard, Dallas.A Place For Truth. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. 2010
By Jon W. Quinn From Expository Files 21.11; November 2014