Category Archives: What Is Truth?

The Question Defined

The Question

Outside the walls of the Roman judgment hall you could have probably heard the angry crowd mulling. The early morning light fell through the windows and illuminated two forms, two men facing each other, one considering the fate of the Other. Here in the approaching daylight, a question was asked that would echo against the walls of the room and down the corridors of time:

John 18:38: “Pilate saith unto him, ‘What is truth?'”

This week, we’ll spend our time examining this question. Obviously, there are many philosophical rabbit trails that can be wandered in the answering of this question. Sometimes you can climb so high on the ladder of philosophical debate that when you reach the top you’ve managed nothing more than a game of semantics and a brand new set of questions. (Titus 3:9) In the spirit of Progressive Devotions we’re going to limit our study to the existential aspect of this question, focusing on the practical impact of the question and the application of the answer.

The Questioner

The question, despite its importance, posed here takes on an almost sarcastic tone, with Pilate essentially implying the question, “Is this worth risking your life over?” In his commentary, Wesley paints this as Pilate taking pity on Jesus, considering him a weak and helpless man. Interestingly enough, it was this same Jesus who in John 2 had driven the money changers from the temple in righteous fury. But all Pilate knew was this man who stood before him, having been betrayed by His own people, speaking about truth.

What stands out in this scene and particularly about Pilate’s question to Jesus is that he did not stay for an answer. He posed this monumental question, the answer to which could change the very course of the world, but did not have either the desire or patience for a response. Ironic, considering the One he questioned would be the most fit to answer the question. But instead, Pilate turned away and continued doing what he’d always done–addressing the crowd. The man, who did not know the meaning of truth, addresses the crowd.

The Questioned

One of the important things we’ve learned in our lessons on Bible study is to examine the context of a verse to better understand it. Let’s take a look at the conversation before Pilate’s weighty question is posed:

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
(Joh 18:36-37)

It is vital to understand what Jesus is saying here. He is pronouncing Himself a messenger of truth, and He even goes to so far as to say that everyone who is “of” the truth–literally “out of” or “of the same composition as” in the Greek–will hear His voice. We’ll spend more time on this Thursday, but Jesus here hints at the exclusivity of truth; in this simple statement He is making some very powerful claims.

Tomorrow we’re going to consider the question a bit more in depth, but understand that the answer is thoroughly wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus made this crystal clear just a few chapters back in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” If you’re willing to consider the question, you must be willing to consider the Man. If you turn away from the Man as Pilate did, concerned more for the “pressing” need of the masses, you will never find the answer to the question.

The Question Examined

Noise. If you’ve ever walked through Times Square, you’ve heard it and you’ve seen it. Sounds, movement, billboards and flashing lights all cry out for your attention, every sign proclaiming itself greater than every other sign. In much the same way, the cacophony of voices a pilgrim must face in the pursuit of truth in today’s world is maddening. Everywhere we turn there is someone making a claim, some outrageous, some believable. Is finding the truth today like finding a needle in a haystack?

Yesterday, we spent time introducing ourselves to the question posed by Pilate. Today, we’ll begin to take that question apart and look at it piece by piece. Let’s start by discussing the origin of truth.

The Origin of Truth

No one can deny the existence of truth. Perhaps I should rephrase that. No reasonable person can deny that people for thousands of years have believed in the idea of truth. They may deny that truth exists just as they may declare God dead, but they cannot deny that billions of people for thousands of years have believed that there is such a thing as true and false.

Well, this brings about a very important question, the answer to which will lead us in the right direction, like sniffing for clues. Where did this concept of truth come from? Why do so many people believe in “truth”? Probably the most obvious is that, simply put, this concept matches reality. If my leg is attached to my body, it is a true statement to say that my leg is attached to my body. If it’s not, and I say it is, that’s a false statement. The two cannot exist at the same time, and I am able to distinguish the one from the other. This is a rudimentary explanation, but this simple idea of true and false is very much alive and well in our practical everyday lives.

The concept of an absolute truth is obviously a much debated one, and as we mentioned yesterday, we could elaborate in a thousand different directions. We’ll talk more about the exclusivity of truth on Thursday, but today we’re going to narrow our focus on some Scriptures that address the foundations of truth. Let’s take a look at Ephesians 4:21:

If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: Eph.4:21

We’re going to spend a lot more time looking at the context of this verse tomorrow to understand its application, but the immediate meaning of this verse is evident. Truth, or verity, is found wholly in Jesus; or as some translations phrase it: “He is truth.” What makes this particularly amazing is that John 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” If you read on to verse 14, you find out that the “Word” mentioned here was actually Christ Himself.

Study the word logos, usually translated word, in the Greek, and you’ll find that it can often mean “matter” as in “what it’s all about.” (e.g. what’s the matter with him?) Imagine that! John 1 tells us that Jesus Christ is a physical manifestation of what God is all about, and Ephesians 4 tells us that Jesus is truth. Are you starting to get an idea of what’s in the envelope, Professor Mustard?

The Role of Faith

One of the greatest dilemmas I’ve faced in my Christian growth is finding the appropriate role of faith and reason in life. Immanuel Kant, the 18th century philosopher, tried to resolve the coexistence of these two by essentially stating that a man cannot know God through reason, he must rely totally on faith. It sounds subtle enough, but the dangerous result of that thinking, however, is a faith not grounded in anything–an unreasonable faith. Remember that the God of Isaiah 1:18 is inviting us to “reason together”, a Hebrew word that literally means to weigh the evidence, of His forgiveness and salvation. Faith and reason must go hand in hand if we are to understand truth–faith in the reasonable Word of God.

Martin Luther, the great reformer, called reason “the devil’s greatest whore”, but what he failed to realize was that “sanctified reason” (as Jonathan Edwards calls it) is vital for the worship of our God to be complete. Jesus Himself gave us the command to love God with our heart, soul AND mind. Our spiritual journey requires a step of faith and a willing mind. Hebrews 11:1, the great Biblical definition of faith, partners the substance of things hoped for (a logical longing) and the things not seen (belief).

The Honey of Truth

Mary Oliver, Pulitzer prize-winning poet, scratched these words in the margin of one of her notebooks: “the sugar of vanity, the honey of truth”. How profound! There is substance to truth that does not exist anywhere else. Discovering the truth, whether it is startling or pleasing, is a powerful experience; no matter how many times people make the statement “ignorance is bliss”, there is a craving within every human being for truth. And that is why this is such an important study.

This question of truth, as highbrow and theoretical as it might seem in this study, will absolutely change the course of your life. C.S. Lewis said that when you’re a boat at sea, there are three things you need to find out: why you’re out there, how to keep from sinking and how to keep from bumping into other boats. In order to know why you’re out here, you have to believe that there is truth and that it can be found. If you don’t believe that, why go on? That’s why the Christian message cuts through to the heart of such staunch atheists (Lewis, McDowell, Chesterton, Muggeridge), because it gives purpose and meaning–HE gives purpose and meaning.

So again we come face to face with this Jesus, whom the Scriptures hail as Truth and as God. Will you reject the very thought of Him? Or will you respond as Peter responded in John 6:68: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life.”

The Question Explored Further

Norman Rockwell was a master of his art–the art of illustration. If you’ve ever seen any of his works you know that he had this amazing ability to communicate the character of a person in a picture. Whether it’s the young girl staring at herself in the mirror or the umpires checking for rain, you don’t have to meet the people in the artwork to understand them. The very picture itself communicates so much about them.

A Self Portrait of God

In much the same way, truth is a picture of God. Yesterday we talked about how Jesus Christ is really God’s living Word, or what God is really all about. When we read the Scriptures to learn about the truth laid out in them, what you’re really doing is studying a picture of God. Josh McDowell, renowned Christian author, in his book Right and Wrong clearly defines this idea. Every command in the Bible is really a lens through which we can see God. For instance, when God tells us in Exodus 20 not to kill, we look through that lens and understand that God values life.

It’s Who You Know

Just last week I had the privilege of hearing Josh McDowell speak, and one of the themes of his message was relationships. He spoke about how that one of the greatest testimonies about God’s love that we can give to someone is a loving relationship. He shared the results of a survey he had just completed. The results were startling. Most teens who are involved in violent crimes are not from single parent homes, they are from homes where their father was abusive or neglectful. What does this have to do with truth?

Quite a lot, especially if you consider that the truth is a revelation of who God is.

Let’s let Paul make the connection:

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 1.Cor.13:3

Love is the hinge pin for this whole issue of truth. The beauty of Christianity is that the truth it puts forth values others. The truth we are given in Scripture tells us that love reigns supreme. At times professing Christians have not held true to this dogma, but that doesn’t change the importance of the teaching. Jesus Christ Himself, the One who embodies Divine Truth, said that loving God and loving others were the most important commandments.

This brings several important implications with it. First, we must realize that all of our journeying for truth must be driven by love for God and love for others. Christians are often known by their propensity to fight, which isn’t really what our hallmark should be; Jesus said that it should be love. (John 13:35) Remember, the truth is a portrait of God, and our search for truth is really just a quest to know God better; it’s about the relationships.

Secondly, realize that God’s truth results in a better world. Any ‘truth’ outside of God’s truth becomes self-centered and by it’s very nature, greedy. Even the desire to help others only springs from the need for “personal satisfaction” and is ultimately selfish.

Do You Really Want To Know?

And that brings us to the most vital question we will consider during this study. And that is, “Do you really want to know the truth?” So many people are running around, claiming that they’re following hard after truth; but the reality is that if they caught it, what would they do with it? If you found out that the truth meant you had limitations on your sexuality, would you accept it? If the truth meant you had to give up something that gave you pleasure, would you do it?

The greatest question to answer is also the most applicable one. In this Information Age, where knowledge is power and truth is the grand prize, would you be willing to accept the truth of God’s Word? I’ll end with a quote from G.K. Chesterton:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”

The Answer Considered

We ended yesterday’s study with the question “do you really want to know the truth?” We’re going to pick right back up where we left off. The question is important because it forces you to be honest about how serious this pursuit is for you. And if you’ve answered that question by simply shrugging it off and saying truth doesn’t matter, think again.

The Weight of Truth

In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul warns us that in the end times those who do not believe the truth, but rather find pleasure in unrighteousness, will be damned. Verse 11 even makes the shocking statement that God would send them strong delusions because they did not love the truth. The truth is often difficult to face. Many people in our world hate God because facing God means facing truth. They must procure a reason for their fear, for their weakness. He does not settle for lies or convenient phrases, but for TRUTH – truth so pure and so stark that self is never comfortable. And the real truth is that we are utterly without hope. So our hatred is abated because while His demand for truth burns like fire, His offer of grace gives us our only hope.

Being without truth is very much like being without hope–the two are related. Imagine the following scene:

You walk into a clothing store and ask the clerk the price of a new outfit.

“Five dollars.” He says without hesitation.

You consider that a bargain, so you bring it to the counter and hand him a five dollar bill. He stands there, as if waiting.

“What is it?” You asked, puzzled.

“You still need fifty more dollars to pay for the outfit.” He replies without blinking.

“You just told me it was five dollars!” He doesn’t flinch. “I’m not getting it then, I’m putting it back.”

“Why?” He says, “It’s only a dollar fifty.”

It would be a hopeless situation for you to be able to purchase anything from that store, because you could never really be sure how much something costs. And it is so very like that in our world today. People in desperate need for purpose and meaning can’t find any because the foundation of truth has been torn down. It’s Satan’s most brilliant attack: instead of attacking the truth with lies, he’s attacking truth by taking away the meaning of truth. He must have learned his lesson when he tried to destroy Christians by killing them; the only real progress he made was when tried to destroy the meaning of the word Christian.

Nothing But The Truth

People today don’t like the idea of absolute truth. Absolute truth is a curse word in most universities and has long been banished from art galleries. Taboos are taboo. Even the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary stopped calling ain’t “incorrect” in their 10th Edition–it’s now just “less common”. I’m afraid that we’re going to have to embrace a new (2000 years new) alternative movement–and our motto will be Jesus’ words in John 14:6:

“I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6

Our movement will be based on the fact that if Jesus is right in this claim all other’s are invalid. Now again, we are driven by love, as we said in lesson 3 that a relationship is at the core of our Christian experience; but as was once said: “Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth.”

We’ll say it another way which may be familiar to some. If Jesus made this statement and had no power, He would be a liar of the worst sort, because His words have influenced many to believe Him. Jesus could have also been a madman, making a claim to sole passage to the Heavenly Father but not really understanding all he spoke. But if you look at who He is as revealed in Scripture, you’ll find that He is truly God. And that means that what He says is true.

Semper Fidelis

A God who dictates truth and whose Word is the final authority for life and godliness (2Pet.1:3) may sound frightening. But consider this. God is also good, and He has demonstrated this time and time again across the pages of the Bible. It reminds me of a conversation taken from Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia about Aslan, the great lion who represents God:

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The Old Testament is filled with “fear not’s” of God was reminding His people that though He was holy and mighty, He was also concerned with their welfare.

“And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” Duet.31:8

And what’s probably the most amazing thing about God being our absolute truth is that He is also unchanging. Though our world changes at a phenomenal rate–inflation at 4% a year, rent at $25 a year, hard drives in bits of 8–there is one who holds truth in His immutable Hand. And it is that truth that gives us comfort in time of trouble, help in time of need, vision in time of darkness and hope in time of despair. Semper Fidelis–always faithful.

The Answer Applied

Truth in Plain Clothes

In John 13:17, after Jesus had finished explaining to his disciples the role of servant leadership, He punctuates this lesson with an important principle about truth–simple yet profound:

“If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” John 13:17

In this succinct statement, Jesus summarizes one of the most important aspects of truth. Knowing the truth does not bring joy to life; in fact, knowing the truth of God without obeying it and without a relationship with Him is probably one of the most miserable positions a man could find himself in. It was the first sin that man fell into; Satan offered Eve the ability to know both good and evil apart from God, and she gave in.

It’s interesting to notice what happened after she and Adam ate the fruit. First, they knew they were naked. Shame was introduced into man’s nature. Second, they hid from God. The natural reaction to shame is hiding; and isn’t it interesting that God called them? Of all the things God could have done in His omnipotence and His omniscience, He called them. He knew where they were, but this was not primarily about punishing or being punished, it was about revealing a broken relationship. They wanted to know truth apart from God and God’s first reaction was not to destroy or ridicule them, it was to call them. God is often portrayed like Zeus, hurling thunderbolts at evildoers when in reality, He has always intended for truth and love to go hand in hand.

Truth Amid Error

This of course bring up a very difficult and valid objection. Is there no place for the defense of truth? How can we defend the truth of God’s Word in an age that runs so contrary to any truth, let alone religious truth?

The first and greatest way is sincerity. The word ‘sincere’ is actually derived from the Latin phrase: sine cera which means ‘without wax’. Ancient merchants would hide cracks in cheap pottery with a colored wax; to counter this, sellers of quality pots would stamp sine cera or ‘without wax’ on the pottery to ensure the buyer that it was “authentic” and not doctored in any way. The best testimony we can give to the truth is that the truth has changed our life. The most difficult question I’ve ever been asked is, “If God’s Word is true, why do so many Christians who claim to love it not believe it?”

Think about the gospel story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery. It’s fascinating that Jesus’ statement in verse 7, “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone” would break down even the most hardened Pharisee; but they were convicted because they knew that the truth they were willing to kill to protect wasn’t a reality in their own lives. The best way to stand against falsehood in the world around you is to saturate yourself in God’s truth. Let it control your life. Demonstrate the importance of that truth in your priorities. There’s no better testimony than the testimony of honest life.

What Is Truth?

And we find ourselves back to the original question: “What is truth?”

Eve sought the answer apart from the relationship. The crowds have little patience for the answer, because the materialistic need for bread and circuses seems so strong. Pilate did not stay long enough to hear the answer, because the crowds were waiting.

The only real and lasting answer can be found through the person of Christ in a true and holy relationship with God, the maker of all truth.

“And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, eve as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” John 17:13-17