I have a number of books on my shelves with ‘truth’ in the title: No place for truth; Scripture and truth; Thy Word is truth; The Word of truth; Truth under Attack.
These remind me that the life of a Christian, and especially a Christian minister, is based on truth and dedicated to living and preaching the truth.
What Paul called ‘the truth of the gospel’ or simply ‘the truth’ (Galatians 2:14; 5:7) is fundamental to my existence as a believer and pastor. But do I realise just how fundamental? It is perilously easy to slip into the modern mindset: truth that you believe is not necessarily the truth that I believe.
Mathematicians and aeronautical engineers tend not to think like this professionally, because 2 plus 2 must make 4 (most days!), and the wing of a plane cannot be messed around with too much.
But in the areas of morality (how we live) and metaphysics (what we believe about ultimate things) more or less anything goes these days. So ‘true truth’ was the phrase Francis Schaeffer coined, to remind us that some things really are true always, everywhere and for everyone.
Truth is unavoidable. It is reality, and it is what we speak when we are accurately describing reality. It is what is ‘out there’ as God created it, and it does not change.
As I heard someone say recently, reality, like a brick wall, is what you hit when you’re wrong. You may career through life blissfully careless of ultimate reality, but in the end you cannot avoid it. There are limits to every personal rebellion.
Truth is the same for believers and unbelievers. To change the metaphor, we are on a level playing-field in terms of truth. What is true inside the church is true outside it and vice versa. By grace, those inside have been enabled to see this, but there are not two different truths.
Truth is ultimately God himself. Everything God has said and made is true, in the sense of being what is real and genuine. Behind all created reality, however, is the Creator himself. ‘I am … the truth’, said the Word who became flesh (John 14:6). It is God into whom everyone will ‘crash’ when this life ends.
Human beings are not ignorant of the truth; they suppress it (Romans 1:18). The truth they suppress is what God has revealed of himself in his creation. Truth is not some cold, impersonal equation or formula; not a theological dissertation or abstract philosophy; it is the triune God in all his glory and goodness.
Truth is powerful. It exposes lies: ‘Let God be true though everyone were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged”’ (Romans 3:4). Whatever people say, God and his Word will prove to be true.
Lies are of the devil (John 8:44). To lie is to spin a false version of reality. To believe ‘the lie’ is to be damned. God hates lies and so should every Christian. Truth, at every level, exposes lies, which is why so many people are afraid of it.
And truth sets you free. In John 8:31 Jesus tells his disciples that the result of abiding in his Word, thus truly being his disciples, will be that they will know the truth, and the truth will set them free.
In verse 36 he says, ‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’. The Son, the truth, liberates. People with some forms of mental illness are said to have ‘lost touch with reality’. Spiritually, this is true of the human race. Christ releases us from this bondage to delusion.
Truth is to be proclaimed. Before Pilate, Jesus confessed, ‘For this purpose was I born and for this purpose I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth’ (John 18:37).
No Christian preacher dare distort or conceal any part of the truth. ‘We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:2). Truth is to be unveiled.
Exhorting his fellow puritans to a purer church, Roger Williams in 1644 urged: ‘Having bought truth so dear, we must not sell it cheap, not the least grain of it for the whole world; no, not for the saving of souls, though our own most precious’.
It were better, he says, to go through all manner of afflictions for love of the truth and the Son of God, who came to bear witness to it. Even the intention to save a soul is not worth a lie; only the truth can save.
Truth also demands a response. We confess the truth, in the sense of bearing witness to it. We also confess in the sense of responding to it; that is, acknowledging that we are wrong and God is right. In such a confession, we align ourselves with reality.
Confession is allowing the truth to shape our desires instead of allowing our desires to shape the ‘truth’ we would rather believe. Such confession is repentance; it is the rebellious soul meeting an unyielding absolute.
Confession has been described as an act of immense daring; it is bearing witness against oneself. But it is the only option when the truth confronts us. Mercifully, behind that truth, that unyielding absolute, is a gracious God.
The glory of the gospel is that he who is Truth is calling you to himself, to love the truth and be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10); to delight, as he does, in truth in the inward parts (Psalm 51:6).