Committed to Truth

Committed to Truth

As he stood before Pontius Pilate, Jesus of Nazareth faced a question which has echoed throughout the centuries: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). That moment in history, recorded by John the Apostle under the direction of the Holy Spirit, was no isolated dialogue from the annals of history. It represented no mere debate between a pagan governor of an outlying Roman province and a Jewish rabbi. Rather, the exchange between Jesus and Pilate provided a window into the clash of worldviews that existed then, and continues to exist, between those who are followers of Jesus Christ (who is the very embodiment of “Truth” (John 14:6)) and those who reject Christ (i.e., those who suppress truth they already know about God in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)).

The Culture’s Discomfort with Truth

In our twenty-first century postmodern context, one can read the question Pilate posed to Jesus and hardly blink. The reason for this is that though it was asked in a premodern setting, Pilate’s question had a decidedly postmodern tone. The question fits with our times, our culture, and our mores as much as it fit with those of ancient Judea. Pilate’s question feeds into discussions that routinely take place in modern institutions of higher learning, where some version of this same question is regularly being asked by God-hating academics. Pilate’s question feeds into apostate denominations and so-called “ministers” who have given in to the fear of man by softening the otherwise hard-edged truths of Scripture and the Gospel. And Pilate’s question feeds into countless comments made on the airwaves, around water coolers, on soccer fields, at coffee shops, and around kitchen tables, along the lines of “well, that’s your truth” and “to me, God is . . .” and “that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.”

In sum, the so-called “wise” of the world teach that there is no such thing as objective truth. But the purported “extinction of the idea that any particular thing can be known for sure”[1] does not merely represent an unfortunate state of affairs. Rather, such misconceptions of the reality of truth have real-world and eternally-significant consequences. When truth is relative, undefinable, and ultimately lost, the result is that ideas that are not true can wrongly be categorized as “truth.” Wrong becomes right. Down becomes up. Black becomes white. Sin is no longer considered “sin.” Any notion of God, His holiness, His standards, His justice, and His wrath are washed out. And then, “when truth dies, all of its subspecies, such as ethics, perish with it. If truth can’t be known, then the concept of moral truth becomes incoherent. Ethics become relative, right and wrong matters of individual opinion.”[2] It is only into this environment that the sins so widely embraced in our modern context – e.g., no-fault divorce, sexual promiscuity and immorality, pornography, acceptance and celebration of homosexual practices and lifestyle, abortion, euthanasia, to name just a few – even have the possibility of taking root and growing. This is the sad state of affairs in the world in which we live, and the age in which we live. It is akin to the period of the Judges in Israel, i.e., where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

So what are we, as Christians, to do in such a context? How are we, as people of the Book, as people of truth, to navigate a world that so wantonly embraces error? First and foremost, we must affirm that there is such a thing as objective truth, which necessarily is definable, limiting, and exclusive. Further, we must know the truth. “We must know the world and life the way God sees it, the way it really is. We must know it so clearly and strongly that even while we’re listening to these alluring lies we can brand them as lies and know that they are wrong.”[3]

The Importance of Defining Truth

We now return to Pilate’s question to Jesus: “What is truth?” Generally speaking, “truth means that the facts conform to reality; truth identifies things as they are.”[4] Moreover, as applied to God, truth is “that perfection of His being by virtue of which He fully answers to the idea of the Godhead, is perfectly reliable in His revelation, and sees things as they really are.”[5]

All that is true in this world is true only because it emanates from God, the foundation of all truth.

If the world’s relativistic bent is wrong (which it is), and using the definitions provided above, what do we know to be right (and true)? What we can know objectively is that the God revealed in the Bible “is the true God, and . . . all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.”[6] That the God of the Bible is the true God is declared both in the Old Testament[7] and in the New Testament.[8] Indeed, this was directly affirmed by Jesus Himself, in His high priestly prayer, when He said “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). “We might ask what it means to be the true God as opposed to other beings who are not God. It must mean that God in his own being or character is the one who fully conforms to the idea of what God should be: namely, a being who is infinitely perfect in power, in wisdom, in goodness, in lordship over time and space.”[9]

The God revealed in Scripture is not only the one true God (which He is), He is the source of all truth. All that is true in this world is true only because it emanates from God, the foundation of all truth. As Henry Clarence Thiessen notes “His knowledge, declarations, and representations eternally conform to reality.”[10] This has daily practical significance to us, since “[t]he conviction that the senses do not deceive, that consciousness is trustworthy, that things are what they appear to be, and that existence is not merely a dream, rests ultimately upon the truth of God.”[11]

To summarize, truth, “in the biblical sense, is ultimately associated with the triune God Himself as a perfection of His being. By His singular mercy truth is communicated in a finite though adequate measure to rational creatures, angelic and human, so they can distinguish between truth and error, veracity and mendacity, straightforwardness and deceptiveness. God is always on the side of what is true and right.”[12] Answering the question Pilate posed to Jesus, then, there is such a thing as “truth,” and it is manifested supremely and perfectly in the God revealed in Scripture.

Truth and Scripture

By affirming that God is the one true God, truthful in character, and the source of all truth, a corollary statement that must correspondingly be affirmed is that every thought that emanates from His perfect and limitless mind must also be true. “To say that God knows all things and that his knowledge is perfect is to say that he is never mistaken in his perception or understanding of the world: all that he knows and thinks is true and is true and is a correct understanding of the nature of reality . . . If we think the same thing God thinks about anything in the universe, we are thinking truthfully about it.”[13]

By extension and by logical inference, since God’s knowledge is perfect and true, every word that utters from His mouth (anthropomorphically speaking) must also be true. Stated differently, every word God speaks about Himself and His relationship with His creation perfectly corresponds with reality, and is absolutely true. Since He is a God of truth, He cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Numbers 23:19). Indeed, it is impossible for Him to do so (Hebrews 6:18), as it would violate His character. In light of His infinite wisdom and limitless knowledge, and in light of His unstained, perfect character, every one of God’s words is true (Proverbs 30:5) and pure (Psalm 12:6).

It is through God’s Word, the Scriptures, that we can come to a true knowledge of God and His interactions with and relationship to the world He has created.

Importantly, “God’s words are not simply true in the sense that they conform to some standard of truthfulness outside of God. Rather, they are truth itself; they are the final standard and definition of truth.”[14] This is comparable to when we say that God is not just “loving” (which He is), but that He is love (1 John 4:8). Jesus Himself acknowledged the all-encompassing nature of the truth of God’s Word when in His high priestly prayer, He said: “your word is truth” (John 17:17).

What this means is that the Bible, which is the “word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13), is completely true. “God’s words are ‘truth’ in the sense that they are the final standard by which truthfulness is to be judged: whatever conforms to God’s own words is also true, and what fails to conform to his words is not true.”[15] It is through God’s Word, the Scriptures, that we can come to a true knowledge of God and His interactions with and relationship to the world He has created. “In fact, as we begin to think true thoughts about God and creation, thoughts that we learn from Scripture and from allowing Scripture to guide us in our observation and interpretation of the natural world, we begin to think God’s own thoughts after him!”[16]

Truth and Pastoral Ministry

Pastors, as shepherds of Christ’s flock, are called to be acutely aware of, while appreciating, how having a right view and estimation of truth is of vital importance to fulfilling their ministry.

First and foremost, the church itself is referred to by God as a “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). While the world is predictably drifting further and further away from the truths of Christ, the Gospel, and Scripture, the church is called to remain steadfast in her commitment to and witness for the truth – specifically, truths about God and truths about Christ and His saving Gospel, as revealed in His Word. The church is to be a steadfast beacon of truth in the midst of the crashing waves of relativism, falsehood, and lies, even while the world and its systems are calling on ministers of the gospel to compromise. As undershepherds of Christ’s church, it is the role of the pastor to faithfully adhere to and proclaim the truth by preaching the Word, whether its truths are considered “in season” or “out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2), to equip and train saints in the truth (Ephesians 4:12), to defend the truth (1 Peter 3:15), and to stand for truth, having “fastened on the belt of truth” (Ephesians 6:14). Even if this means unpopularity, or being branded a “fundamentalist,” or ultimately, persecution, pastors of Christ’s flock must be resolved in their stance for the truth, no matter the cost.

Second, but of no lesser importance, pastors are to be men who seek to present their people “mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28), with Christ progressively being more fully formed in them (Galatians 4:19). This means instructing their people to imitate their Creator, who as mentioned above is the God of truth. This also means instructing their people not to lie (Colossians 3:9-10), to abhor falsehood (Proverbs 12:22; 13:5) to speak the truth to those who are around them (Ephesians 4:25), to speak truth from their heart (Psalm 15:2), and “by the open statement of the truth [to] commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2). Pastors also are to warn their people against following the lying example of the enemy, who is known as the father of lies (John 8:44), and who is leading “all liars” (Revelation 21:8) into a lake of fire which never ceases to burn.

The faith we adhere to contains black and white truths centered on a bloody cross.

As Christians, we are all called to be people of the truth. For those of us who are pastors, we are called to be exemplary in our pursuit of truth (as ultimately revealed by God in His inerrant Word), and our commitment to living in light of the truth, while spurring our people on to do the same. This includes not only being doctrinally accurate (which we are required to be) in terms of beliefs, but in practice, being consistent mouthpieces and heralds of truth.

Truth and Theology

According to the so-called “wisdom” of the postmodern world in which we live, there is no such thing as objective truth. Instead, like beauty, “truth” is in the eye of the beholder. “Today we’ve lost the confidence that statements of fact can ever be anything more than just opinions; we no longer know that anything is certain beyond our subjective preferences. The word truth now means ‘true for me’ and nothing more. We have entered an era of dogmatic skepticism.”[17] Ironically, in today’s relativistic and “tolerant” society, the one thing that no one has any tolerance for are black and white statements of truth.[18]

In a world that views truth through the blurry lens of the noetic effects of the Fall, and in a world that “lives by an illusion,”[19] there is no time more critical than now for Christians of all walks of life, and all stages of spiritual development, to be more theologically grounded and equipped. The faith we adhere to contains black and white truths centered on a bloody cross. In our pluralistic, relativistic culture, we need to be prepared to gird ourselves up sound doctrine, as we stand up to and square off with those who mock our Savior, who corrupt the Gospel, who demean Scripture, and who caricature committed members of the body of Christ. The study of theology is important for all followers of Christ in our current postmodern context, as such study provides us with both the spiritual and intellectual fortitude needed to withstand the anti-Christian currents of the culture.

[1] Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 21.

[2] Beckwith and Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, 20.

[3] Ray C. Stedman, Secrets of the Spirit (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1975), 147-48.

[4] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 192.

[5] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), 69.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 195.

[7] Jeremiah 10:10 (“But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King”).

[8] 1 Thessalonians 1:9 (“ . . . how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God . . .”); 1 John 5:20 (“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

[9] Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 195.

[10] Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949), 87.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Roger Nicole, “The Biblcal Concept of Truth,” Scripture and Truth, eds. D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 296.

[13] Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 196.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid. D.A. Carson summarizes this concept helpfully when he says: “the objective character of Scripture as truth given by God comes before and validates my subjective experience of its truth. A person may willfully shut his eyes and deny that the sun is shining, and in doing so he is truly in darkness, both physical and intellectual; but once he opens his eyes, the sun’s brightness will transform his outlook. Though it is at that moment that his darkness is dispelled, the sun has never ceased objectively to be the sun and to radiate forth its brilliance.”  D.A. Carson, “The Problem of Historical Relativity,” Scripture and Truth, eds. D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, 183.

[17] Beckwith and Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, 20.

[18] This concept is covered extensively in D.A. Carson’s aptly-titled The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012).

[19] James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive & Readable Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 580.

Jesse Randolph serves as the Equipping Pastor at Mission Bible Church, in Orange County, CA. He holds an M.Div. from The Master’s Seminary, and is pursuing his Th.M. (Theology) from the same institution. His writing has been featured on various blogging platforms including For the Church, the Center for Biblical Studies, The Master’s Seminary blog, and IFCA International.
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