Just before giving in to the pressure of the crowd and ordering the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, Pilate asked one of the most tragic questions of the Bible:
37 Pilate therefore 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 bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him” (John 18:37-38).
Because Pilate’s question is a response to the words of our Lord, it is even more disturbing. When Pilate asked Jesus if He were a king, Jesus said He was. He could not answer otherwise because of His nature. Jesus was “the truth” (see John 14:6), and He could not answer Pilate’s question untruthfully. But Jesus went on to indicate that His claims, while true, would not be accepted by those who were not “of the truth.” Those who were “of the truth” would hear His voice and receive Him as their King.
Pilate’s response is distressing. He was serving as the judge who was to pass judgment on our Lord. Was Jesus a dangerous revolutionary who intended to overthrow Roman rule and establish His own kingdom? Judgment must be according to truth:
16 “‘These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates’” (Zechariah 8:16).
How sad to hear the judge himself disdain the truth. Worse yet, although he discerned Jesus’ innocence as the truth, he allowed the mob to crucify our Lord. His judgment was most surely not according to truth.
Pilate’s words show that he was not “of the truth.” Notice he does not ask, “What is the truth?” Asking this question would have indicated a desire to know the truth and to act accordingly. Instead, his question, “What is truth?” indicates his cynicism. Pilate seems to doubt that one can know the truth or even that truth exists. Truth for Pilate was whatever one wished to believe is true. Jesus believed He was a King; the scribes and Pharisees claimed He was a fraud and a traitor, a menace both to Judaism and to Rome. Pilate doubted that the truth could be known or that it really matters.
One wishes Pilate’s view of “truth” was only his own, or at least limited to the people of his day and culture. Sadly, we must acknowledge that it is also the viewpoint of our own age. Recently I have been reading on the subject of “truth,” and my findings are far from encouraging. David Wells has authored an excellent book, No Place For Truth subtitled, Whatever Happened To Evangelical Theology. Another excellent work is Michael Scott Horton’s Made In America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelicalism,97 from which I have cited several distressing quotations. Horton reminds us that the secular world has come to trust more in science than in the Scriptures when discerning truth, but that science can never fulfill the task of answering the deepest questions for which men need to learn the truth:
Sir John Eccles, a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer in brain research, observes that science, in trying to answer questions beyond its competence, becomes reduced to superstition. ‘Science,’ he says, ‘cannot explain the existence of each of us as a unique self, nor can it answer such fundamental questions as: Who am I? Why am I here? How did I come to be at a certain place and time? What happens after death? These are all mysteries beyond science.’ With the Enlightenment, science displaced Christianity as the intellectual authority, but when science failed to provide ultimate answers itself, relativism replaced science.98
Relativism has now replaced the absolutism which was rooted in confidence concerning our ability to know the truth from the Scriptures. This relativism is especially evident in the realm of education:
‘The purpose of education’ nowadays, says Bloom, ‘is not to make scholars, but to provide them with a moral virtue: openness. There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of,’ according to Bloom: ‘almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.’ Students ‘have causes without content. Reason has been replaced by mindless commitment, consciousness-raising and trashy sentimentality.’ Can we not say the same of contemporary evangelical subculture?99
‘On the portal of the university,’ writes Bloom, ‘is written in many ways, and in many tongues, “There is no truth—at least here.’” In a culture of narcissism, ‘truth has given way to credibility, fact to statements that sound authoritative without conveying any authoritative information.’100
E. D. Hirsch, Jr. refers to current public education as ‘cafeteria-style education.’ There is no longer a generally accepted core of knowledge or belief. In skimming current catalogues for evangelical seminaries and colleges, one discovers a striking similarity to ‘cafeteria-style education.’ If evangelicals cannot come up with a common core of convictions, and defend them, how can we criticize the world for the same? Remember Marty’s remark about evangelicals who ‘pick and choose truths as if on a cafeteria line.’101
It is not surprising that the secular world has reached a point of despair in knowing the truth, or even whether there is such a thing as universal, unchanging truth. But Horton points out the tragic truth that even evangelicalism has succumbed to cultural pressures and now views truth in the same relativistic way as the secular world:
Francis A. Schaeffer noted, ‘T. H. Huxley spoke as a prophet . . . when he said there would come a day when faith would be separated from all fact, and faith would go on triumphant forever.’ After all, this is what Immanuel Kant proposed and Soren Kierkegaard acted out—the famous leap of faith. ‘This is where,’ Schaeffer cautioned, ‘not only the liberal theologians are, but also the evangelical, orthodox theologians who begin to tone down on the truth, the propositional truth of Scripture, which God has given us.’102
The majority of evangelical college and seminary students—more than half, according to James Davison Hunter—believe that ‘the Bible is the inspired Word of God, not mistaken in its teachings, but is not always to be taken literally in its statements concerning matters of science, historical reporting, etc.’ Furthermore, ‘One cannot speak of ultimate truth per se, only ultimate truth for each believer. In other words, most of the students at evangelical institutions have already accepted the relativism of their culture, and with that, the liberal and neo-orthodox concession that faith in Christ is a spiritual matter, not dependent on external, objective facts of history.103
The Reformation occurred because a few good men were firmly convicted that the Word of God is the truth, and that the views of individuals, of cultures, and even the church cannot and must not profess or practice any “truth” other than that which can be defended from the Scriptures. The weak-kneed, emasculated preaching so typical of our own time was also the norm in the days just before the Reformation. Horton’s paraphrasing of Luther and Calvin, and his reference to Calvin’s assessment of the preaching of his day, are amusing:
Martin Luther and John Calvin, paraphrased, put it in these words: ‘The Bible itself isn’t ambiguous about these subjects we’re addressing—the church is!’ Reluctant to be vulnerable to the dangerous teaching of Scripture, the church refused to take theological stands—until the Reformation left it with no option. In fact, on the eve of the Reformation, there were twelve theological schools of thought competing for control at the University of Paris. Calvin said, ‘Seldom did a minister mount the pulpit to teach.… Nay, what one sermon was there from which old wives might not carry off more whimsies than they could devise at their own fireside in a month?’104
We need another Reformation. We need a renewed commitment to the truth as found in the Scriptures and as summarized in theological and doctrinal propositions. Truth finds its origin in God, its incarnation in Jesus Christ, and its present manifestation in the written Word of God, the Bible. Our lesson will consider the fact that truth comes only from God, because God is truth and the source of all truth.
I have always thought the fundamental issue underlying the fall of man in the Garden of Eden was authority. Authority does play a significant role in the fall, and both creation (1 Corinthians 11:7-10) and the fall (1 Timothy 2:9-15) do serve as the basis for God’s principles of authority in the New Testament. God’s “chain of command” was clearly reversed in the fall, for the creature (the serpent) led the woman, and the woman led the man. Nevertheless, I now see that the foundational issue in the fall of man in the Garden of Eden (for Eve at least)105 was the issue of truth. Who spoke the truth, God or Satan? Who was to be believed? Who was to be obeyed? The answers to these questions depend upon who was thought to be speaking the truth.
How incredible that Eve would believe a serpent and not God! In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, the account of creation is given with the repeated expressions, “And God said, . . .” followed by, “and it was so” (or similar words):
9 Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so (Genesis 1:9).
Satan took the form of a serpent, a created being. He began by questioning God’s command regarding the eating of the fruit of the trees of the garden. He distorted the command, and in so doing implied that God was withholding much that was desirable. By inference, He raised a question concerning the goodness of God. “How could God be good and withhold so much that is good?” Finally, he virtually calls God a liar by assuring Eve, “You shall surely not die!” (Genesis 3:4). And so Eve must choose who to believe—who is telling the truth. Eve made the wrong choice. God is the source of truth; Satan is the source of lies and deception.
We find at the very beginning of the Bible a lesson to be learned. God is true, and He always speaks the truth. Satan is a liar, who can be relied upon to lie. Satan is the great deceiver, who from the Garden of Eden onward has been seeking to lead men and women astray, turning them away from the truth, and deceiving them into believing his lies.
In the Old Testament, God seldom spoke to men audibly and personally. When He did speak, time proved that His promises were true and reliable. Abraham and Sarah did have a child in their old age, just as God had said (Genesis 12:1-3; 13:16; 15:1-6; 17:1-8; 18:9-15; 21:1-5). Israel did spend 400 years in Egyptian bondage, just as God had indicated to Abram (Genesis 15:13-14; Exodus 12:40-41).
Shortly after their passing through the Red Sea, God gave the nation Israel the Law. This Law was revealed to men as God’s truth. Man’s response to this truth was a matter of life and death (see Deuteronomy 30:15, 19). When God revealed His glory to Moses, He proclaimed that He was the abundant source of truth:
6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6).
Thus, when the Law was given through Moses, it was given as truth from God, and this is the way godly Jews viewed it:
142 Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Thy law is truth. 151 Thou art near, O Lord, And all Thy commandments are truth. 160 The sum of Thy word is truth, And every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting (Psalm 119:142, 151,160).
13 “As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Thy truth” (Daniel 9:13).
God’s Law is His truth, revealed to His people. The prophets were sent from God, not just to give further revelation concerning future events, but to interpret the Law and to show men how the Law was to be applied. Satan, the great deceiver, also had his spokesmen, the false prophets, who sought to turn God’s people away from the truth by perverting God’s Word. Moses warned the Israelites about such false prophets. Indeed, he indicated that the response of the Israelites to false prophets was a test of their love for God:
1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
It was assumed that some false prophets would have the ability to perform false signs and wonders. One might conclude from this that the prophet must be a spokesman sent from God, but Moses indicates this is not necessarily so. Not only must a prophet be able to fulfill the things which he promises, his revelation must conform to the Law which God had already revealed. Prophets may indeed give new revelation, but it must always conform to the old, that which God had already revealed. In fact, the Law provides the broad outline for God’s program in history, and the later prophets simply filled in further details. If a prophet’s word contradicted the Law, he was a false prophet and must be put to death. No prophet who turns men from loving and serving God is a true prophet, and no true Israelite dare fail to see that a false prophet be put to death. Those who truly love God with all their heart and soul will hate falsehood, and all those who proclaim it in an effort to lead the people of God astray from Him. Love for God means a hatred of evil (see Romans 12:9).
A little later in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses has more to say about prophets. God had revealed truth through Moses, the great prophet through whom the Law was given, but God was to reveal even greater things though the Messiah, a prophet like Moses, who was yet to come:
14 “For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do so. 15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 And you may say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:14-22).
Listen is a key word in this passage. The pagans listen to their false prophets, and they are led astray. The people of God are not to listen to false messengers. And how are God’s people to know the difference between the false and the true? In verses 21-22, Moses says the test of a prophet is whether his words come true. Those whose prophecies do not come true are false prophets. If a prophet’s words come true, this does not prove he is a true prophet, for his words must also prove consistent with the revelation of God’s truth in the Law (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
The central person of this passage is our Lord Jesus Christ. His coming is foretold by likening Him to Moses, His predecessor. Just as Moses was the one through whom God revealed His Law and through whom He established His (Mosaic) Covenant, God will speak through the Messiah, who will introduce and implement the New Covenant. He is the One who is even greater than Moses. When He appears, raised up by God, people are to listen to Him.
This Deuteronomy 18 passage is fascinating. Moses reminds the Israelites of what their father had requested at the base of Mount Sinai. They were not only afraid to see the glory of God (as manifested in the great fire, 18:16), they were even afraid to hear God, lest they die. God’s words were indeed powerful and awesome to this people! They requested that they not hear God speak and that Moses be their intercessor. Let Moses speak to God face to face and then tell them what he had heard. I am amazed that God commended the people for making this request (see 18:17) and then proceeds to tell of the coming of one like Moses, who will speak in His name and to whom men are to listen (Deuteronomy 18:15, 19).
The broader context of Deuteronomy helps explain the prophecy of verses 15-19. In Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Moses is referring back to the events described in Exodus 20:18-19, the things in Israel’s history of which Moses reminded the second generation of Israelites in Deuteronomy 5:23-27. But in both of these earlier texts, nothing is said of a “prophet like Moses,” whom God will raise up. And yet Moses indicates that God had spoken of Him at that time (Deuteronomy 18:16-19). Here is yet another example of progressive revelation, even within the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Moses’ words in chapter 18 shed much light on what we read in Deuteronomy 5:29, and later, in chapter 30, verses 1-6. It is the Lord Jesus Christ, the “prophet like Moses,” who will “circumcise the hearts” of God’s people, and who will give them a heart to fear Him and obey His commandments. This we shall now see fulfilled as we pass over the rest of the Old Testament and focus our attention on the coming of Jesus as the promised Messiah in the New Testament.
As we approach the formal presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, let us bear in mind several specifics concerning Messiah, which Moses and other Old Testament prophets indicated would describe the One whom God was to raise up as a “prophet like Moses.”
(1) He was to be a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15).
(2) He was to be a prophet like Moses (18:15)
(3) Raised up by God from among you (Deuteronomy 18:15).
(4) He would be a mediator between men and God, speaking to men of God of what he heard when in the presence of God (18:16-18).
(5) He would give the people of God a new heart, to love and obey God (Deuteronomy 5:29; 29:4; 30:1-6).
(6) He would not abolish the Law, but rather would write the Law on men’s hearts (5:29; 29:4; 30:1-6; Jeremiah 31:31-34).
(7) He would introduce and implement a covenant with God (Exodus 34:10ff.; Jeremiah 31:31-34).
(8) Men would recognize Him by the fact that what He said would come true—by signs and wonders accomplished by His hand (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)
(9) He was One to whom men must listen (18:15, 19).
The Lord Jesus perfectly fulfilled all of these prophetic requirements. Consider some of the parallels which the New Testament draws between the Lord Jesus Christ and Moses:
(1) Moses was divinely delivered from death in his infancy, as was the Lord Jesus (Exodus 2:1-10; Matthew 2:1-15).
(2) Both were brought forth from Egypt (Exodus 12-14; Matthew 2:13-15).
(3) Moses also went up on a mountain and received the Law and then taught the people its meaning (Exodus 18:19-20); Jesus also went up on a mountain and taught the meaning of the Law (Matthew 5-7).
(4) Through Moses, God gave the Israelites bread to eat; Jesus spoke of both bread and water, which would give eternal life, and performed the sign of feeding the 5,000 (Exodus 15-17; John 4:1-14; 6:1-14).106 When Moses came down from the mountain, his face glowed with the glory of God (Exodus 34:29-35); when Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration, His entire body was glowing with the glory of God (Matthew 17:2). On the mount of transfiguration, who should appear there, with Jesus, but Moses and Elijah? (Matthew 17:3).
Consider in somewhat greater detail other ways in which the Lord Jesus clearly fulfilled the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18. Moses told the people that when the prophet like him appeared, He would be raised up by God. The accounts of the miraculous virgin birth of our Lord make it clear that Jesus was raised up by God. The apostle John wants us to know that Jesus is the truth, who was sent from God:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6 There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. 9 There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ “ 16 For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (John 1:1-18).
Jesus is the Word of God, the Word who existed with God from eternity past, and who then was sent to men by God. He is the Creator of all things. He is the source of life. He is the “light.” I take it that “light” is a symbol for truth. John the Baptist was not the “light,” but a witness to the fact that Jesus Christ was the “light” of the world. Men did not receive Jesus as the truth because His “light” (His truth) revealed their character. Sinners love the darkness (error, falsehood), because they suppose it conceals their sin. Though He made the world, the world does not recognize Him because men are evil and despise the light of the truth, which reveals our sin. It was the Lord Jesus, John testifies, who personified “grace and truth.” Though no man has seen God at any time, God appeared in human flesh, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is He who explains or reveals the Father to men.
When Jesus went out of His way to pass through Samaria (John 4:3-4), He met a Samaritan woman at the well where He stopped to rest and refresh Himself. He spoke to her about “living water,” but she really did not understand nor grasp who He was. And then Jesus spoke these words:
16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” 19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet” (John 4:16-19).
What made this woman look differently at Jesus? Why did she now perceive that He was a prophet? It was because Jesus had told her something which He, as a stranger, could not possibly know. He knew the truth about her, the whole ugly, sordid truth. Prophets spoke the truth, and Jesus spoke the truth about her. Jesus, she rightly reasoned, was a prophet. And so He was, the Prophet.
A little later in His conversation with this “woman at the well” Jesus spoke about truth:
23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
Jesus told this woman that God was seeking “true worshipers.” True worshipers must worship the Father “in spirit and in truth.” God is Spirit, and He is truth. God requires that men’s worship be compatible with His nature. Thus, men must worship God in the Holy Spirit and in accordance with truth. And since Jesus is the Son of God, since He is divine, He, as God, is also the truth:
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).
No one can come to the Father—for salvation or for worship—except through Jesus Christ, who is the Truth of God Incarnate.
As Moses spoke to the Israelites, communicating to them what he had heard from God while in His presence, our Lord Jesus is the only One who has been with God, in His presence, and He speaks to men for God of what He has heard from the Father:
25 And so they were saying to Him, “Who are You?” Jesus said to them, “What have I been saying to you from the beginning? 26 I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.” 27 They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 Jesus therefore said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” 30 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. 31 Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s offspring; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” 39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41 You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 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. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:25-47).
Central to the message of these verses is the concept of truth. Jesus is a child of His Father. He is, by nature, truth, and thus He speaks only truth. His opponents have the devil as their father. The devil is a liar, and no truth abides in him, so they are predisposed to lies and not the truth. They oppose Jesus because He speaks the truth, and they disdain the truth. Jesus’ works accredit His words, which are the words of His Father and words completely consistent with the Law. He did not come to set the Law aside or to annul the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
As Moses gave men commands from God, so the Lord Jesus gives commandments as well:
34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12; compare Matthew 28:20).
Jesus told His disciples that after He departed from them He would come to them through His Spirit, the Spirit whom He identified as the “Spirit of truth” (see John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). By means of His Word and His Spirit, men will be converted and brought to maturity in Christ.
The New Testament writers, without hesitation, declare Jesus to be the source of truth; thus the gospel is the truth, the truth to which men must listen or neglect, to their eternal peril:
25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth (Acts 26:25).
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).
25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:25).
7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation (Romans 2:7-8).
11 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit (Romans 9:1).
8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers (Romans 15:8).
10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia (2 Corinthians 11:10).
5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you (Galatians 2:5).
13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13).
21 If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21).
5 Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth (Colossians 1:5-6).
12 In order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. 13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:12-13).
God is the source of all truth. His Son, Jesus Christ, Personified the truth. What does this have to do with us? Moses told us long ago:
15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).
God did raise up a prophet, like Moses. This “prophet” is the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. The implications of this are clear and simple: we are to listen to him. And if we do not listen, we shall reap the consequences which God will require of us.
When the Lord Jesus was transfigured, God clearly stated to the three disciples who witnessed this event what it meant for them:
2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:1-5, emphasis mine).
When Jesus was preparing His disciples for His absence, He gave them a commandment concerning His Word:
31 Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31).
15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21).
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. (John 14:23).
10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. (John 15:10).
The writer to the Hebrews stresses the importance of heeding the Word of God, along with Peter and John:
1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:1-3a).
1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:1-4, emphasis mine).
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:16-19, emphasis mine).
6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:6).
We are to listen to God as He has spoken through His Son and continues to speak through His Word, the Bible. We are to listen because God has instructed us to listen. But we should also listen because we realize that God’s Word, His truth, is vitally important to every aspect of our daily Christian walk. Consider some of the ways the truth of God’s Word impacts our daily lives.
(1) The truth of God’s Word is the message which we must believe to be saved (See Psalm 31:5; 57:3; 61:7; 69:13; Proverbs 16:6;107 Colossians 1:5-6; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 10:26; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22).
(2) The truth of God’s Word is the basis for our faith (see Romans 10:8; Hebrews 11).
(3) The truth of God’s Word (of the gospel) is the message we proclaim to lost sinners in order that they might be saved (Romans 1:16; Galatians 2:5; Ephesians 1:13; 1 Peter 1:22-25).
(4) The truth of God’s Word is also the basis for the condemnation of those unbelievers who reject the truth of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:12-13).
(5) The truth of God’s Word is essential to our sanctification (John 17:17; Ephesians 4:14-24; 2 Peter 1:4).
Abiding in God’s Word is essential to discipleship, and it results in knowing the truth, which sets us free. We must elaborate on this vitally important principle. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The truth will make us free; it tells us how we may be free from the power of sin and the penalty of death. But how do we “know the truth”? Allow me to point out a rather obvious but often neglected fact: John 8:32 begins with the word “and,” which indicates to us that John 8:32 is a continuation and conclusion to John 8:31. Let us look at these verses together:
31 Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
How do we know the truth? By abiding in the Word of our Lord, by abiding in the words of Scripture. In so doing, we are truly His disciples, and we are free. Peter says virtually the same thing:
4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:4).
And Paul says virtually the same thing:
17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:17-24, emphasis mine).
(1) The truth of God’s Word describes life as it really is (see Proverbs 20:14).
(2) The truth of God’s Word is the content which edifies the saints (Zechariah 8:16; Ephesians 4:15, 24-25).
(3) The truth of God’s Word is the basis for worship and praise (John 4:23-24; 1 Corinthians 5:8).
(4) The truth of God’s Word is the source of wisdom (Psalm 119:98-100, 130).
(5) The truth of God’s Word is the primary means by which God guides us (Psalm 25:5, 10; 26:3; 43:3; 86:11; 119:105).
(6) The truth of God’s Word is a primary weapon in the spiritual warfare (Psalm 40:10-11; 2 Corinthians 6:7; Ephesians 6:14).
(7) Truth is what God desires to find in us (Psalm 51:6).
(8) The Christian life is called “the way of truth” (2 Peter 2:2). We are to “walk in the truth” (2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:3-4).
(9) We are not to lie; we are to speak the truth (Ephesians 4:15).
(10) The Holy Spirit, who indwells us, is the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), and lying or deceiving the saints is “lying to the Holy Spirit”—a most serious offense (Acts 5:1-11).
(11) Arrogance is called “lying against the truth”—it is not living according to reality (James 3:14).
(12) Godliness is closely associated with a knowledge of the truth (Titus 1:1-2).
(13) The truth is the one basis for the unity of all believers—”one faith” (Ephesians 4:5).
(14) Knowing the truth frees us from legalistic prohibitions and enables us to enjoy life more fully (1 Timothy 4:3).
(15) The church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:5).
With this, we can see that the truth of God’s Word is our lifeline; it is vital to our salvation and to our daily walk. It is the bread of life to those who will eat of it.
Finally, let us consider several important characteristics of the truth and their implications for us.
2 For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117:2).
35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
Truth does not go out of fashion, it does not change with time. Dispensationalists in particular must be careful not to think of the Old Testament, including the Law, as something obsolete, no longer applicable. The New Testament writers make a great deal of use of the Old Testament, including the Law (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 9:8-11; 10:1-13; 14:34; Romans 15:4). It was Paul who told Timothy that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable . . .” (2 Timothy 3:16). God’s truth is never out of date. It is as applicable to us in the twentieth century as it was to men centuries ago.
17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17).
Some would have us think that when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the role of women in the church, he was speaking only to those saints in that culture at that time and place. This is not what Paul indicates in chapter 4, verse 17. He tells the Corinthians his teaching conforms to his practice, and that this is consistent no matter where he goes.108
Having traveled a bit over the years with the opportunity to observe a few churches in Europe, Asia, and Africa, it was not at all surprising to see New Testament teaching, principles, and practices everywhere I visited. Truth is universal; it is applicable anywhere, at any time, and in any group of people. When I hear teaching or methods which work only in certain places and among certain people, I know I am not dealing with truth, but with a passing fad. A book which will not sell on the streets of India, but only in places like North Dallas, is a book which contains human ideas. The Bible works everywhere, any time, and among any people, because the Bible is truth. We spend too much time and money on books which do not deal enough in truth.109
The only absolute truth comes from God and is conveyed through the Bible, the Word of God.
We are told, “All truth is God’s truth.” There is a sense in which this is true. There is no truth which is contrary to God or for which God is not the author. Having acknowledged this, the only truth I know for certain to be truth is the truth God has revealed in the Bible. All other “truths” are apparent truths, and I must conclude that because they are not found in the Bible, they are not essential to “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3; see also 2 Timothy 3:16-17). These truths are therefore secondary and subordinate to biblical truths. Why then do so many Christian leaders speak of “integrating certain secular theories with biblical revelation”? Especially popular is the concept of “integrating psychology and theology.” I will have no part of such talk. Who would dare to call psychological theories “truth”? And who would dare to speak of these theories as though they were on a par with Scripture? It is time to subordinate all non-biblical truth to God’s truth, the Word of God.
The Bible calls upon us to integrate theology (God’s truth) and morality. There is a very close link between truth and morality. Immorality blinds us to the truth. Truth binds us to morality. Truth and righteousness are closely intertwined. Those truths which do not have practical, moral implications are somewhat suspect, for God did not reveal His truth to fill our notebooks, or even our minds, but to transform our lives (see Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:17-24).
10 For Thy lovingkindness is great to the heavens, And Thy truth to the clouds (Psalm 57:10).
4 For Thy lovingkindness is great above the heavens; And Thy truth reaches to the skies (Psalm 108:4).
This means the pursuit of truth is never ending. It means that we will never know all the truth in this life. We only scratch the surface of the vast ocean of truth, which is yet unknown and unrevealed. But let us know that the truths we need to know have been revealed, and beware of all else. These are the truths we should seek to learn and to implement.
29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29).
We are to seek to learn that which God has clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly revealed in His Word, and not to become side-tracked by speculative and theoretical pursuits:
5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:5-7).
7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).
4 And will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:4).
14 Not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth (Titus 1:14).
When we stray from Christ, we stray from the truth.
21 If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21).
1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Colossians 2:1-8).
Here is one significant difference between Christianity and polytheistic or pluralistic cultures. Other religious systems have no problem with incompatibility of truth. They will often embrace different “gods” and allow the individual to embrace whatever truth system he or she prefers. Biblical truth, God’s truth, is exclusive. It is incompatible with any alleged truth which contradicts Scripture. Christians may be labeled “intolerant” for such a conviction, but there is not more than one truth system.
If God’s Word is truth, then truth can be put into words and should originate from the Word. We dare not learn our truth existentially, apart from the written Word of God. And we dare not disdain doctrine nor theology. Truth is a system; it is not just a compilation of random facts.
Consider this illustration from a contemporary event. Recently, the O.J. Simpson case has been aired daily. People really want to know the truth; they want to know what happened. The police have gathered a great quantity of evidence, some of which will be accepted by the judge and some of which will be rejected. But all of these pieces of evidence do not explain what happened to these two human beings. The prosecution will present its case, which they will represent as the “truth” to the jury. The defense will take the same evidence and give an entirely different explanation, an entirely different attempt to explain the truth of what happened. Ideally, one side or the other conveys the truth. Practically speaking, neither side will have the full truth. The task of the jury is to determine, as best they can, what the truth is.
The Bible is like this. It is not just a listing of facts about God and men. There are a number of propositional statements, but these must be harmonized, put together, so that we gain an overall sense of what the Bible teaches. The truth of Scripture therefore results in some kind of doctrine. There are different doctrinal positions (each of which likes to think it is the closest approximation of the truth), and we may differ with the conclusions of others. But you cannot think or speak of truth apart from doctrine.
We sometimes hear someone say, “We don’t worship doctrine, we worship Jesus.” Which Jesus do you worship? Remember, you must worship God “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). The discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well was over doctrinal differences, and Jesus made it clear that this woman’s doctrine (the Samaritan’s doctrine) was wrong. Paul says that one may come, preaching “another Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:4). Doctrine describes and defines the “Jesus of the Bible” so that we may worship in Spirit and in truth. You cannot have truth apart from doctrine. To disdain doctrine is not only foolish, it is dangerous.
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:14).
6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following (1 Timothy 4:6).
1 Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against (1 Timothy 6:1).
3 If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness (1 Timothy 6:3).
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Timothy 4:3).
9 Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9).
1 But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).
7 In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified (Titus 2:7).
10 Not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect (Titus 2:10).
The truth of God, revealed in Christ and in the written Word of God, the Bible, should be a priority in our lives. Let us seek, by His grace, to be people of the Word, people who love truth and who search the Scriptures to find it. And let us be those who incarnate the truth, putting it into practice in our daily lives, to His glory.
97 Michael Scott Horton, Made In America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991).
98 Horton, pp. 143-144.
99 Horton, p. 145.
100 Horton, p. 148.
101 Horton, pp. 146-147.
102 Horton, pp. 141-142.
103 Horton, p. 151, citing James Davison Hunter, Evangelicals: The Coming Generation (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987), p. 25.
104 Horton, pp. 148-149.
105 It is necessary to make a distinction here between Adam and Eve. Eve was deceived, while Adam was not (1 Timothy 2:14). Eve was deceived into believing that Satan told the truth, rather than God. Adam, on the other hand, was not deceived. His appears to be a more willful disobedience, in that he believed God but disobeyed anyway.
106 When the people witnessed the sign of Jesus feeding the 5,000, they understood it signified that Jesus was indeed “the prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14). Surely they are thinking of “the prophet” of Deuteronomy 18:15-18.
107 Is this text not speaking of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah who is to come, in whom lovingkindness and truth are joined? And thus it is in Him that our sins are atoned for.
108 Some quick-thinking person may turn to 1 Corinthians 9, verses 19-23. Let me remind you Paul is speaking there of his personal practice with respect to Christian liberties. But when it comes to apostolic teaching and conduct, Paul is consistent.
109 I do not wish to be understood as saying we should only read the Bible, although most of us could spend much more time doing so. I am saying the books we buy and read should deal with biblical terms, biblical truths, and even biblical texts. A book on Christian marriage with only two or three Bible references is hardly a book on Christian marriage. Where can we learn the truth about marriage if not from the Bible?