Deeper Study Box 4
"The Truth": A Biblical Definition And Analysis
We all seek for someone with whom we can be completely honest and
vulnerable, who will relate to us with mercy, integrity, confidentiality
and loving understanding. Every time we think we have found such
a person and they fail us, we are driven further into ourselves.
In this lies the sin of gossiping, breaking promised confidences
and betrayal; and as a community we need to urgently give a long
hard look at ourselves to see if the way we treat each other is
leading us closer to the Father and each other, or deeper into ourselves.
Because of our repeated bad experiences with people, we drift so
easily into surface-level, false relationships. We talk about safe
subjects, not disclosing the really private parts of our hearts.
Failures aren’t shared, frustrations aren’t aired. Hurts are covered
up. We sacrifice truth on the altar of peace-keeping and pleasant
sociality. And it leads us to the lives of quiet desperation and
loneliness-in-the-crowd which so many experience. Yet we in Christ
have “the truth”. And seek to live it. What does this mean?
The phrase “the truth” is used in Scripture as a summary of the
Godly life; for truth telling, and being truthful with oneself and
God, is the epitome of the life which God intends. I want to demonstrate
this; for all too often it has been assumed that because we know
and believe true propositions about the Gospel, therefore we are
somehow automatically ‘of the truth’. The following passages make
clear enough that “the truth” refers not so much to intellectual
purity of understanding as to a righteous way of life. If someone
understands a matter of Biblical interpretation differently to how
we do, e.g. over matters of prophecy, this doesn’t mean they have
‘left the truth’. Yet if we [e.g.] lie, then we have ‘left the truth’
despite holding a correct understanding of the doctrines of the
- Sinners turn away from truth (2 Tim. 4:4; Tit. 1:14). They
are bereft of the truth (1 Tim. 6:5). God has revealed the truth,
indeed has sent his Son to live it and to proclaim it, but sinful
people have refused to listen.
- English does not have a verb “to truth,” but Paul uses such
a Greek verb when he urges the Ephesians that “ ‘truthing’
in love” they should grow in Christ in all things (Eph 4:15).
We might understand this as “speaking the truth in love,” but
more probably we should see truth as a quality of action as well
as of speech. Paul wants his converts to live the truth as well
as to speak it. Real spiritual growth is only possible by a way
of life that ‘truths it’.
- Paul calls on the Corinthians to keep the feast “with the unleavened
bread of sincerity and truth,” which he contrasts with “malice
and evil” (1 Cor. 5:8). Truth is set up against evil- not against
wrong interpretations of Bible passages.
- In Ps. 15:2 working righteousness paralleled with speaking
the truth in our hearts.
- Ps. 69:13; 117:2 use “truth” to refer to God’s mercy
and salvation. To shew mercy and salvation to others is to be
‘truthful’ in the Biblical sense.
- In Jer. 5:1 any who “seek the truth” will be forgiven- i.e.
seek repentance and forgiveness. This is what truth is about in
this sense. It is not simply those who search for correct understanding
of Bible verses who will be forgiven.
- In Jer. 9:3, to be “valiant for the truth” is not to lie and
deceive our brethren; it’s not referring to being cantankerous
with others about their interpretation of Scripture. It’s a tragedy
that such individuals are held up by some as “valiant for the
truth”- but that’s just not Jeremiah’s context at all.
The True Life
Yet “the truth” is clearly related to the Gospel. It does, of course,
matter crucially what we believe. Paul can speak of “the word of
the truth of the gospel” (Col. 1:5) and again of “the truth of the
gospel” (Gal. 2:5). He refers to “the word of truth, the gospel
of our salvation” (Eph. 1:13). It’s quite Biblical that we refer
to our faith as “the truth”. But truth is clearly a way of describing
or summing up the way of life which the doctrines of the truth should
elicit in us. Thus “the new man...is created in righteousness and
holiness of truth” (Eph. 4:24). We obey the truth in unfeigned love
of our brethren (1 Pet. 1:22), not just by intellectual assent at
a baptismal interview; we ‘do the truth’ in loving our brother (1
Jn. 1:6); if truth is in us then we walk in it (3 Jn. 3). We are
to walk uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel (Gal. 2:14);
the truth is an upright walk. The truthfulness of the doctrines
we believe is intended to issue in a truthful way of life. Thus
Eph. 4:17-21 says that living a vain, greedy life is being disobedient
to the truth which is in Jesus. And 2 Thess. 2:12 teaches that to
not believe the truth is to take pleasure in unrighteousness. There
is a moral link between any falsehood and an unspiritual life. And
so repentance is an acknowledgment of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25). A
person can learn the theory of God’s truth but never come to acknowledge
it- i.e. to repent and life the life of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7),
i.e. being transparent before God and brutally honest with oneself.
The Truth Of Christ
In Jn. 18:37 Jesus told Pilate in the context of His upcoming death
that He had come into this world to bear witness to the truth- the
cross was the supreme witness and exhibition of the truth. There
was no doctrine preached there, but rather the way of life which
those doctrines ultimately lead to. Gal. 3:1 remonstrates with the
Galatians as to how they could not obey the truth when the crucified
Christ had been so clearly displayed to them; clearly Paul saw obedience
to the truth as obedience to the implications of the cross. There
is a powerful parallel in Gal. 4:16: I am your enemy because I tell
you the truth... you are enemies of the cross of Christ. Thus the
parallel is made between the cross and the truth. We are sanctified
by the truth (Jn. 17:19); but our sanctification is through cleansing
in the Lord’s blood. The same word is used of our sanctification
through that blood (Heb. 9:13; 10:29; 13:12). Perhaps this is why
Dan. 8:11,12 seems to describe the altar as “the truth”. The cross
of Jesus is the ultimate truth. There we see humanity for what we
really are; there we see the real effect of sin. Yet above all,
there we see the glorious reality of the fact that a Man with our
nature overcame sin, and through His sacrifice we really can be
forgiven the untruth of all our sin; and thus have a real, concrete,
definite hope of the life eternal.
Jesus told the truth to this world in the sense that He was sinless
(Jn. 8:47). Likewise in Jn. 17:19 He says that He sanctifies Himself,
so that “the truth”, i.e. His perfect life and death, might sanctify
us. This was His telling of truth to men. By continuing in the word
of Jesus we will know the truth (Jn. 8:31,32)- not so much that
we will attain greater doctrinal knowledge, but that our lives will
reflect our knowledge of Jesus who is “the truth”. The truth sets
us free; the Son sets us free (Jn. 8:32, 36). “The truth” is therefore
a title for Jesus. Mere academic knowledge alone cannot set anyone
free from sin; but the living presence and example and spirit of
life of another Man can, and does. And so in Jn. 14:6 the
way, truth and life are all parallel- truth is a way of life; “truth
is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21 RV). The spirit of life in Christ sets us
free from sin (Rom. 8:2); but Gal. 5:1 simply says that “Christ”
has set us free [the same Greek phrase] from sin. The Man Christ
Jesus is His “spirit of life”; the man and His way of life were
in perfect congruence. They always were; for in Him the word was
made flesh. There was ‘truth’ in His very person, in that the principles
of the God of Truth were perfectly and totally lived out in His
person and being.
So what can all this mean in practice? We all talk to ourselves.
There’s a steady stream of self-talk going on within us, whether
or not we quietly mouth the words to ourselves at times. Some people
have a stream of self-talk going on that denigrates their self-worth
day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
Others have thoughts of anger and bad imaginations against the evil
which they imagine others are doing. Yet others have thoughts of
utter vanity, of grandeur, of lust, of various fantasies...and these
all influence our words, actions and ambitions in the very end.
From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. So “guard your
heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23). This is why
we are told to speak the truth in our hearts. David definitely
has in mind our self-talk. Our self-talk has a high likelihood of
being untrue, fantasy, imagination. Be aware, keenly aware, of the
private conversations you’re having with yourself. Ensure that all
you are saying to yourself, even if it’s not about spiritual things,
is at least truthful. This is where this great theme of truth starts
and ends. Ideally, our self-talk should be of Jesus, of the Father,
of the things of His Kingdom. Of anything that is just, true, of
good report... Yet our self-talk is closely linked to what Scripture
would call the devil- the constant fountain of wrong suggestions
and unspiritual perspectives that seem to bubble up so constantly
within us. The devil- the Biblical one- is “the father of lies”
(Jn. 8:44). And untruthfulness seems to begin within our own self-talk.
I would even go so far as to almost define the devil as our own
self-talk. And it’s likened to a roaring, dangerous lion; a cunning
snake. And it’s there within each of us. The control of self-talk
is vital. And the Biblical guidance is to make sure it is truthful;
for lack of truthfulness is the root of all sin. Sin is normally
committed by believers not as an act of conscious rebellion, but
rather through a complex process of self-justification; which on
repentance we recognize was the mere sophistry of our own self-talk.
This is why truthfulness is the epitome of the spiritual life. To
deny ever being untruthful is to deny ever sinning. We all have
this problem. It’s why the assertion of Jesus that He was “the truth”
was tantamount to saying that He was sinless. Only thus is He thereby
the way to eternal life.