“What is truth?” That is the question every human being will at one time or another have to face, and answer. Those who choose to face it in this lifetime, and who come to God for the answer, will be set free by the truth, and eventually gain everlasting life. Those who do not choose to come to grips with this question, and those who go to the wrong source for the answer, will remain in bondage. And one day they will stand face to face with The Answer, Jesus Christ, who will righteously judge them. How each of us relates to truth determines not only our everlasting destiny, but also the quality of our life now.
About 2000 years ago, a high-ranking Roman government official had the opportunity to stand face to face with the only man in history who could perfectly answer this critical question. That official was Pilate, and before him stood Jesus of Nazareth.
John 18:37 and 38
(37) “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
(38) “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.
Pilate asked his question rhetorically, perhaps even throwing up his hands. We know that because it says he went out without waiting for Jesus to answer. Too bad, because “The Answer” was looking at him. Millions of people today are asking that same question, and doing so with the same attitude Pilate had. But you can ask it, stay in the presence of Jesus Christ, and allow the risen Lord to answer it for you.
In the last sentence of verse 37, the KJV reads: “…Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice,” but I think the NIV more clearly communicates the gist of what Jesus said. The fact you can be on the side of truth means there is also another side, the side of error, or untruth. I want to be on the side of truth, don’t you? The question is: How do we get there—and stay there day after day?
The Postmodern Assault on Truth
The fact is: “Truth Matters.” Interestingly, that pithy phrase is true whether “matters” is a verb or a noun. As a verb, to “matter” is “to be of importance,” so truth matters. In fact, it is of the utmost importance. To “matter” means to “make a difference,” as between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error, light and darkness, health and sickness. As a noun, “matter” is “something of consequence,” and also “the substance or substances of which any physical object consists,” so the components of truth also “matter.”
In the verses we will consider, the Greek word translated “truth” is aletheia, which means “reality” or “the revealed essence of a matter.” Notice that the root of “reality” is r-e-a-l. I don’t know about you, but I want to “get real,” because REAL-ity is always my friend. Capital “T” Truth comes only from God, and the goal of each Christian should be to make His Truth our truth, our reality.
Today, the very concept of truth itself is under assault from what is called “postmodernism.” “Pre-modernism” was the worldview held by most thinking people up until about the mid-1800s, and it was an openness to outside reality, such as historical facts, logical ideas, the laws of nature, divine revelation, and moral principles. Then “modernists,” giddy with the promise of science, claimed that the only truth was that which was testable by scientific rationalism.
Now the cultural mainstream embraces “postmodernism,” a worldview that tries to do without truth altogether. Postmodernists hold that there is no such thing as absolute truth, which, ironically, is itself an absolute! They say that truth is relative, and we each construct our own beliefs, so that what is true for you may not be true for me. The rejection of truth means that attempts by one to persuade another are acts of oppression. Evangelism is considered an infringement upon another’s “right” to his own truth. One of the most destructive beliefs of postmodernism is that words do not have fixed meanings, so we can make up our own meanings for them. That idea has even crept into the Church.
The Two Sides of Truth
So what is the answer to Pilate’s question? Let us allow the Word of God to show us that there are two sides to the coin of truth. Then we will see the various ways we can choose to value this coin.
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
God is the only source of absolute truth, and the written Word of God is the only standard by which to discern truth from error. But God also gave us His Word so that we can take it into our hearts and live it in relationship to others.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
In the two verses above, we see that truth is both doctrinal and practical, propositional and relational. The point of The Book is to know and love The Man and become like him. Only then will anyone experience what 1 Timothy 6:19 calls “…the life that is truly life.” As the following verses show, the choice is between freedom and slavery:
John 8:31 and 32
(31) To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.
(32) Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
If experientially knowing the truth makes one free, then, conversely, believing error about spiritual matters puts one in bondage (and maybe bandage). That brings up the practical relevance of truth itself. When it comes to the quality of our lives, it is vital to believe truth and not error about anything that relates to God, Jesus Christ, or any topic set forth in the Word of God.
“THE” truth means that there is only one, and this phrase appears about 165 times in Scripture. The Word of God is truth and, relative to any particular verse, it means there is only one right meaning—the meaning the Author originally intended. It is God’s burning desire that we know and embrace the truth to the end that the truth holds us.
1 Timothy 2:3 and 4
(3) This is good, and pleases God our Savior,
(4) who wants all men to be saved and to come to [unto] a knowledge [epignosis = a thorough knowledge acquired by participation] of the truth.
The will of God is that all men come all the way unto a thorough, practically applied knowledge of the truth, i.e., His Word, so that they are free, whole, and fruitful. If that is God’s will, then the will of His antithesis, the Devil, is that they never hear the truth and are thus enslaved, unhealthy, and fruitless. We must fight him using the whole armor of God, as set forth in Ephesians 6:10–17. It is significant that in verse 14 the belt of truth is the foundation of the whole armor, and in verse 17 the Word of God is the sword of the spirit we are to wield.
Responses to the Truth
Having established that God wants us to come unto a knowledge of the truth, let us now let the Word show us the different ways people respond to the truth, which, by the way, are just like they responded to Jesus himself: some embrace truth, some are indifferent to it, and some try to destroy it. We will first see “what it is not,” and then what it is—God wants us to belong to the truth.
2 Timothy 3:6 and 7
(6) They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires,
(7) always learning but never able to acknowledge [epiginosko] the truth.
Titus 1:13 and 14
(13) This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith
(14) and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.
2 Thessalonians 2:10
and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
Did you note the ascending degree of antipathy to the truth in those five passages? Truth is not acknowledged, then rejected, refused, distorted, and even suppressed. Make no mistake about it, “This is war!” and the Enemy is employing many willfully wicked people in his assault on truth. Yes, it is a “World War,” but in terms of the weapons being used, it is also a “Word War.” What can we do to win it day by day?
2 Timothy 2:15-18a
(15) Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
(16) Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.
(17) Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
(18a) who have wandered away from the truth….
What we see here is that even those who come to the truth can stray off course if they do not walk circumspectly, that is, honestly and accountably before God and their brethren. To me, “wandering away” implies a lack of focus, a carelessness about staying on the path of truth. And deviating off course can happen almost imperceptibly, one degree at a time. That is why we each need mature Christians in our lives, true friends who will tell us if they see us heading off course.
Internalizing the Truth
Okay, how about you? How do you desire to relate to the truth? One thing to understand is that when we come into this world, truth is external to us. God’s goal for us is to internalize it, as David said in Psalm 51:6: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” We can do that only by seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching the truth such that it gets down into our hearts and comes out by showing up in our behavior. The reason we want to know The Book is to be like The Man.
1 John 1:5-2:5
(5) This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
(6) If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
(7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
(8) If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
(10) If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
(1) My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. [cp. Ps. 119:11] But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
(2) He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
(3) We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.
(4) The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
(5) But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:
God’s goal for us is that the truth lives in us to the degree that we belong to the truth, that is that we have so educated our consciences that we are, in essence, slaves to truth. Knowing whether or not we have come to that place is not subjective—the Word says we are to look at our actions. We know we belong to the truth when we obey God. In that vein, consider the following verses:
1 John 3:18-22
(18) Dear children, let us not love [only] with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
(19) This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence
(20) whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
(21) Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God
(22) and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.
In closing, let us look at the only two places in Scripture where the noun “truth” is made into a verb, and where I think the translators could have handled it better, and more idiomatically.
Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
In the Greek text, “telling…the truth” is the verb form of the noun “truth.” In Greek culture, this was a way of referring to “speaking the truth,” but by not using the verb “speaking” with the noun “truth” as its object, the emphasis was placed on truth, rather than on speaking. We might think of it as “truthing it,” that is, living the truth, or being true, rather than just speaking the truth. When you are true to truth, you will make enemies, and they will be those who respond adversely to truth, as we saw, especially those who suppress the truth.
The other use of “truthing it” is in the context of those with leadership equipping ministries in the Body of Christ, functioning as they should so as to help each believer exercise his personal ministry. Rather than being deceived by the systematic lies of those who oppose the truth, we are to do what the following verses say:
Ephesians 4:15 and 16
(15) Instead, speaking the truth [truthing it] in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
(16) From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
As members in particular of the Body of Christ, each of us is called to put on the mind of Christ, to internalize the Word of God, to hide the truth in our hearts and live accordingly so that our lives glorify our Lord. Only when we hold fast to the truth can we do so. Go to the Word and get a vision of how important you are to God, and of how important it is for you to be a warrior for truth. In Jeremiah 8:18–9:2, God was lamenting the pitiful state of His people, Israel, who had turned from Him to worthless idols and were being crushed. He then said:
Jeremiah 9:3 (NKJV)
“And like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies. They are not valiant for the truth on the earth. For they proceed from evil to evil, And they do not know Me,” says the LORD.
In the Word War raging on earth today, too many dear Christians have swallowed, and are regurgitating, lies about God and His Word that are hindering them from knowing Him like they could. My dear brother or sister, your heavenly Father has called you to be a Word Warrior. You can be valiant for the truth. You can belong to the truth.