4-4 Truth: A Biblical Analysis
The crucial issue in all our reflections so far is that of truth. To
be true to our maker, true to our Lord, true to ourselves, true to the
new man that was created in us at baptism. 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
- 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
- English does not have a verb “to truth,” but Paul uses such a 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.
- The opposition between God's truth and our human sin is brought
out in Neh. 9:33 RV: "You have dealt truly, but we have done
- 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
- “Truth is perished” is paralleled with Judah being impenitent
and not receiving correction (Jer. 7:28).
- To not do God’s commands in practice is to have no truth in us (1
Jn. 2:4,5 cp. 3:5). Time and again, the Proverbs speak of truth
as the antithesis of various types of sin- e.g. “My mouth
shall speak truth… wickedness is an abomination to my lips”
(Prov. 8:7; 14:8).
- To commit violence to others' persons is to live a lie (Hos. 12:1).
Truth is not therefore merely a set of doctrines; it refers to an obedient
life. The LXX uses the phrase 'to do truth', which John uses, in passages
like 2 Chron. 31:20 (about Hezekiah's obedience to commandments), or
in Gen. 47:29; Is. 26:10 to describe simply doing and living what is
right. The fact truth must be done indicates it is not
merely correct academic interpretation of doctrine.
Jeremiah especially uses “truth” to refer to repentance. 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. Jer. 7:28 speaks of how “truth is perished”
in the context of lamenting how Israel had not responded to the
call for repentance. In passing, note that 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 knowledge of the truth” in Heb. 10:26 refers
in the context to the knowledge of forgiveness and salvation; it’s
parallel to the “knowledge of salvation” (Lk. 1:77). The “truth”
is the ultimate, surpassing reality- that we are saved, by grace,
and can look forward to that great salvation being revealed at the
last day. As an aside, it seems to me that for all our dysfunction,
there's a desire in us to repent, to know the truth and let the
truth come out. Psychologically, it's reflected in the way that
we all have of telling clumsy lies at times, wanting to be found
out as it were... because there's something in us which wants to
be truthful, needs to come to confession and repentance. It's why
the Catholic church's idea of voluntary sessions of confession is
John’s greatest joy was that his converts ‘walked in truth’, they ‘walked
after [the Father’s] commandments’ (2 Jn. 4,6). They walked in life honest
to themselves and to the Father. Walking or living ‘in truth’ is thus
put for living a life pleasing to God. It surely doesn’t mean that we
simply live our lives holding on to the same intellectual understanding
of doctrines which we had at our baptism. We ‘keep’ the commandments by
‘doing’ them (1 Jn. 2:3 cp. 5:2), not by merely holding to a true theoretical
definition of them. There is so much more to walking in truth than this.
We rightly emphasize the need for true doctrine; but the issue of this
in practice is that true doctrine leads to a true life, a life true to
God, to our brethren, to ourselves. John parallels walking in the light
with walking in the truth (1 Jn. 1:7; 2 Jn. 4); and yet Jn. 3 defines
the true light as ultimately the light of the crucified Christ. To live
life self-analytically in the shadow of the cross, of Him as He was there,
is the only way to walk in truth. This is the true life; to merely hold
certain interpretations of Scripture in intellectual purity is not all
there is to ‘walking in truth’ or ‘in the light’. This kind of truth sets
us free (Jn. 8:31,32). Discerning the correctness of sound exposition
will not of itself bring any freedom. But living a life that we know broadly
corresponds to the image of the crucified Jesus will give a freedom unknown
in any other sphere of human experience.
The commandment to love, as Christ loved us, is made new " as it
is made true" (1 Jn. 2:8) both in the person of Jesus, and in all
who are truly in Him. This means that the principles we receive in theory
are to become 'truth' in us as they were in the Lord; they are to become
applied in the very person and fabric of our beings, and not remain merely
part of our shadow selves. It is truth that makes us pure (1 Pet. 1:22,23),
good deeds are produced by truth (1 Jn. 3:18). No amount of correct theory
can make us pure; surely the reference is to the life of transparency
to God, of 'truth' in the sense that there is no divide between our inner
convictions and our actual lives. Then will come true in us the connection
which John perceives between truth and love (1 Jn. 3:19).
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.Jer. 5:1 says that “if ye can find a man…that seeketh the truth…I
will pardon it”. To seek truth is therefore to repent. Those moments of
realization of our sinfulness, of accurately perceiving the gap between
the personas we act out and the real, Christ-self within us- in those
moments, we have come to truth. And this is the repentance that leads
to true, authentic pardon.
It does at times appear impossible to live a truthful life in a world
that is so essentially untruthful and self-deceptive. In Greek thought,
and especially that of Plato, there was the idea that all on earth was
untrue, but there was another, Heavenly world of truth and beauty. John's
letters especially bring out that this is a wrong view. We, here
and now on earth, can live in truth. To " walk in truth" means
living a life according to the principles of Jesus, who was the truth
to us, here in this dirty world of ours. Paul could say that Timothy had
fully known his “purpose” (2 Tim. 3:10). The Greek prothesis
is the same used in the New Testament about the shewbread- the bread openly
on display before God. Paul is saying that his essential and real self
was transparent, openly shown to both God and man. To say ‘You’ve fully
known how open and transparent I am’ is really quite something. Who Paul
showed himself to be was who he really was.
We must become like a child to enter the Kingdom. I’ve thought a lot
about what characteristic is unique to a child- and concluded that it
is perhaps simply that a child is natural. Even when others around the
child aren’t acting naturally, the child does. He or she dares to show
him or herself to others as really is, with no attempt to hide any weakness.
This characteristic, the Lord says, is essential if we are to enter the
realm of God’s rulership, both now and eternally. We simply have to give
priority to ‘being ourselves’.
One thing that works against truthfulness is the neuroses that come from
fear, the fearful tensions that arise between our real self and the false
self. Fear and truth are opposed. This isn’t merely psychotherapeutic
babble. Consider God’s words about this in Is. 57:11: “Of whom hast thou
been afraid or feared, that thou has lied, and hast not remembered me?”.
The life of brave faith, the life that is lived in the overcoming of fears,
the fearless breaking out of our comfort zones… this is the true life,
the life in which we have no need to lie nor believe in lies. But of course
it’s hard, because we think that the truth, the reality, is what we see
around us; whereas faith is believing in what is not seen. Yet actually
what is not seen is the reality, and what is seen is
very often a lie. And the true life is a life of faith in those things
which are not yet visibly seen.
The Truth Of Christ
The perfect unity within the Lord Jesus, between the person He portrayed
and who He really was, is reflected in much New Testament language concerning
Him. Thus " life" in 1 Jn. 1:1,2 is personified as Jesus; He
was the life (Jn. 11:25; 14:6; 1 Jn. 5:20). The person whom people knew,
saw and touched in first century Palestine was the essence of the eternal
life, the life God lives, and the life we by grace will eternally live.
He wasn't acting human; He was human, genuinely human, and yet that human
life which He lived was the ultimate and inner life of the Spirit.
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. Back in 1964, Emil Brunner wrote a book, whose title
speaks for itself: Truth As Encounter. Truth is essentially
a person- the Lord Jesus. Truth is an experience, a way of life,
a total assurance of forgiveness and salvation, a validation of
the new man created within us, in a way so deep, and so strongly
felt, that all else appears as falsehood compared to that surpassing
Worship In Spirit And Truth
"But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers
shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the
Father seek to be his worshippers" (Jn. 4:23) was spoken by
the Lord early in His ministry. Even at that stage ["and now
is..."], there were some worshipping in spirit and in truth.
If the Lord is referring to the disciples, and if the "truth"
in Jn. 4:24 is to be understood in theological / doctrinal terms,
then "the truth" which they at that time possessed was
very far less than what we might think today. The disciples at that
time had many misbeliefs and misunderstandings; they believed in
demons, were unclear about important aspects of the Lord's work,
death and resurrection, and believed in ghosts. But they worshipped
in spirit and in truth.
However, I suspect that "spirit and in truth" doesn't
refer to 'A spiritual attitude PLUS theological purity' (which none
of us have anyway). That was how I once read the phrase. But "truth"
would seem to me to refer more to truthfulness, and to reality as
opposed to shadow- e.g. Jesus as the true light, the true bread
refers not to His intellectual purity but to the way in which He
was the fulfillment of the things of "the true tabernacle"
as Hebrews puts it, and thus His truth / reality stood over against
the shadows. In the context, the Lord is making a point to the Samaritan
woman about where geographically God's house and place of worship
should be- Zion or Gerizim. And as He often does, the Lord takes
the question onto another level. 'The place of worship doesn't matter,
the worship must be in spirit and in truth', i.e. the presence of
God in the temple was to be ended, the Mosaic worship system with
its need for geographical place and focus was about to end, and
worship was to be internal, in the heart. And some, the Lord noticed,
had already perceived that.
So the context of Jn. 4:24 wasn't about the need for doctrinal
/ theological / intellectual truth. In Jn. 4:18 the Lord commends
the woman because she "spoke truthfully / truly" about
her marital state. As the Father was seeking "spirit and truth"
worshippers, it was apparent to the disciples that the Lord Jesus
was "seeking" this woman for God (Jn. 4:27). And so He
goes on to encourage her to worship God in spirit and truth[fulness];
her humble recognition of failure was the "truth" required
for worship. She had the spirit of David, who worshipped with 'truth
in the inward parts' after recognizing his sin with Bathsheba. Notice
how David says that God 'desires truth in the inward parts' (Ps.
51:6), and the Lord seems to be alluding to that when He says that
God desires worship in spirit [inward parts] and truth. The context
of sexual failure is the same for both the Samaritan woman, and
David. If my reading of the allusions to David and Ps. 51 is correct,
then the Lord wasn't talking at all about "truth" in the
sense of pure theology. Rather was He referring to the "truth"
of confession of sin and worship with a humble heart. It is the
desperately repentant person who will fall down and worship God
(Mt. 18:26 s.w.); this is the "spirit and truth" worshipper.
And such a spirit is ultimately "the truth" which we are
to finally arrive at.