Alan Marshall Ė August 2002
If you remember nothing else from reading this essay, remember the title. It really says it all! You may at first think it is a little arrogant, but I don't want to give you that impression. This essay is not a claim by me to be an authoritative source of truth, but rather to be a passionate seeker of truth. I have always been an inquiring soul, and I seek the Lord for answers, even if it sometimes takes me the better part of a lifetime. The source of truth is, of course, Jesus the "Word" (John 1:1). He came to us "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). He is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). He left us his Spirit to lead us "into all truth" (John 16:13). His great commission to the church (Matt 28:16-20) is a key text for this essay, as it involves teaching, it involves obeying, and it involves making disciples.
The Armour of God
"Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace"
6:10-17 is another significant passage that I will use to help set the tone
for this essay. In his picture, Paul starts with the "belt of truth". In the
current age characterised by individualism and subjectivity, truth is precious,
and we must be hungry for it. We must also apply it to our lives, as the "breastplate
of righteousness" implies, and our feet must be ready to share it. I don't know
of any church which would disagree with these statements in principle. The question
for us to consider is what happens in practice, and that is the purpose of this
A Personal Journey
When I was a teenager, I joined the local Anglican church. I had become a christian years before, but had never been encouraged to read the bible for myself. I was hungry to know more, and ate everything I was given. I look back fondly on long Friday night bible studies, followed by even longer card games. Over the course of a year, we devoured most of the epistles at a steady rate of one chapter per week, debating each verse until we had explored every meaning we could think of, and until every ambiguity was resolved to the best of our ability. We feasted on the Word, savouring every morsel. It was a wonderful grounding in the faith, but was it enough?
Of the ten in that study group of thirty years ago, four have fallen from the faith. They are living in unbelief, with one in the worst kind of vice. I suppose most readers, who have been christians for some time, have also seen friends give up their faith. This demonstrates that it is not enough just to know the truth. We also need to live it out. Indeed if we donít live it out, then we donít truly know it (1 John 1:6).
As much as I loved that little church, it was fairly ineffective in reaching the community with the gospel. We knew the truth, we were attempting to live it, but we were not spreading it. As time went by, I began to grow dissatisfied with this model of christianity. For me, something was missing. It took a personal crisis to lead me to look elsewhere, and I started attending what I would call a "small p" pentecostal church that had prayed for me while I had been unwell. I enjoyed the ministry to both head and heart. Being able to express my emotions, and feeling Godís love through the love shown to me, I recovered. Tendencies to legalism melted away, and I learned to recognise the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
This church was much bolder its outreach and many were saved. However, there were deficiencies. The emphasis on outreach was so constant that few people were really growing in their knowledge and understanding of Godís word. And while this congregation was relatively sober, other congregations in the network were given to excess.
I donít want to list their faults, but I will mention one. The prosperity doctrine was, and still is, rampant. If you one who subscribes to prosperity teaching, I donít want to offend you. Another essay on this site deals with that issue, and you may like to look at that first. Those who share my distress over that teaching, will wonder with me "How is it that a church that claims to be filled with and directed by the Spirit of God can get it so wrong?"
So you see I am not out to exalt one church and undermine another. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and the sooner they humbly and publicly admit that, the sooner the process of separating truth from error can begin, and the sooner Jesusí prayer for unity can be fulfilled (John 17:20-23).
The essay is simply about the subject of truth. My purpose is not to examine the detail of Godís truth, as I do in my other essays. My appeal is that we should all seek to know the truth, to live the truth, and to spread the truth, and that we take hold of the promises in Godís word relating to each.
Knowing the Truth
"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
Knowing the truth requires an understanding of how God speaks to us. The surest and most important word is, of course, Jesus himself, followed by the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20). Jesusí words are the rock on which we build our lives (Matt 7:24). Evangelicals like myself should take care that we know Jesusí words to at least the same degree as we are familiar with Paul. Knowing the truth clearly also involves a work of the Spirit (John 16:12-15, 1 John 2:20). It even involves being able to hear God through the natural order of things (Rom 2:14-15).
While I am concerned primarily in this essay about knowing that which is unseen, I should perhaps take the opportunity to say that our knowledge of the seen is also Godís truth. The testimony of his creation is not opposed to his revealed word, but rather compliments it. As Galileo once said: "God is known by nature in his works, and by doctrine in his revealed Word". Galileo was condemned by the church of the time (which incidentally must dispel any notion of infallibility), yet it was he who understood Godís creation aright.
Knowing the truth requires an individual, or a church, to step outside their comfort zone. If you insist on forcing every scripture, and every experience, into a theological framework that has been handed down to you, then you will be deaf to the Spiritís correction and will remain, at least partially, in error. I am not saying these errors are serious enough for salvation to be questioned, though it is possible that for some it may be that serious. As we shall see below, salvation is more about whom you know than what you know. However I am saying that unless you are certain that your denomination has a monopoly on the truth, you should be asking God questions and trusting him to respond.
Knowing the truth also requires taking time to listen to God, to ponder his words and works. This was the reason for God instituting the Sabbath, and we ignore the spirit of the commandment at a cost. I am not fussing about one particular day or another, and Jesus was certainly busy in ministry on the Sabbath. But there were times where Jesus would withdraw to a quiet place to be alone and pray. He was never to busy for God, and that is how I summarise the principle of the Sabbath commandment:
"You shall not be too busy for God!"
We live in a secular culture where there are increasing demands on our time. We must recognise the strategy of the enemy in this, a strategy to weaken us as our capacity to absorb and retain truth is diminished, and God is slowly squeezed out of our lives.
I greatly admire the reformers, and Luther in particular. In the providence of God, his insights coincided with a great leap forward in personal communications technology, namely the printing press. You have probably obtained this essay using a technology of equal or greater significance, namely computers and the internet! There has never before been such great opportunity for seekers of the truth to exchange their insights. Nearly 500 years have passed since Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of Wittenburg cathedral. The Catholic church which he sort to reform has undergone considerable change. Christians of all persuasions have traditions that need to be reviewed. New questions are being raised. The writings of the early church are accessible like never before. I would not be surprised if the new millennium ushers in a period of change not unlike the reformation. If the Lord pleases, I will join this debate and hopefully contribute, so watch this space!
Living the Truth
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
This is the challenging part, isnít it! Sometimes the challenge can seem too great, and we end up in the kind of discouragement that Paul discusses in Romans 7. Of course, he provides the antidote to that discouragement in Romans 8, focussing on the power of Christís death (8:3) and resurrection (8:11).
To live for Christ effectively, we must always come back to these two central truths. The crucified Christ deals with our sin, and provides us with open access to the Father. The resurrected Christ imparts new life, a process of reconstruction that is well under way in this life, but only completed in the next.
Of course the Holy Spirit is the direct agent of this, but we must remember that it is not through any mysterious or magical power of his own, but through the power of the death and resurrection of Christ on our behalf, that he changes us.
At its simplest, living the truth is just choosing to do it, choosing to apply it. God does the rest. Jesus said:
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock Ö..But everyone who hears these words and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand." (Matthew 7:24,26)
Living the truth is not meant to be hard work. It is about enjoying a relationship with God. It is about knowing the warmth and security of his love:
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. (1 John 4:16-18)
This love should be something that others notice. It is a vital ingredient in spreading the gospel.
Spreading the Truth
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring the good news. (Isaiah 52:7, Romans 10:15)
Without question something happened at Pentecost which transformed the disciples, and enabled them to fulfill their masterís commission. Most would agree that we see a different Peter to the one who denied knowing Jesus only a few weeks before. If we are serious about spreading the truth we need to tap into the same source of power as Peter did. I consider myself a fairly orthodox evangelical, yet I cannot deny that there is a baptism of the Holy Spirit, because Jesus experienced it (Luke 3:21-23). It marked the beginning of his ministry and the transition of a godly but mild-mannered carpenter (Luke 2:52) into a man of great authority and power.
Now I am not suggesting we all need to become pentecostals in order to preach the gospel. We are not to seek after the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to use it! Jesus received this baptism, or anointing, of the Holy Spirit at the time of his baptism in water by John. In Acts 2:38-39 we read this promise is for "your children and all who are far off". This obviously extends beyond the apostolic age and applies to all baptised believers. We donít need to be able to speak in tongues. Jesus didnít. What we need is an assurance of Godís love for us in Christ, boldness to share that love with others, and a desire to see God move in power. This is how the believers prayed in Acts 4:29-31. I donít think it matters whether you are a pentecostal church or a traditional one. If you want to reach out to your community, make your preparations, pray as a team for boldness and then just do it! I guarantee you that God will supply you with as much of his Spirit as you need!
Knowing, living and spreading the truth are inseparably linked. We canít live the truth unless we first know it, and we canít fully appreciate it until we live it. We cannot spread the truth unless we both know it and live it, for if we donít know it then we are spreading error, and if we donít live it we will lack confidence and credibility.
The need to do all three well is a challenge for us both as individuals and as churches. The goal is that we might truly know Jesus, that we all might "reach unity in the faith" (Eph 4:13), and bring in the final harvest!
"Know the truth, live the truth, spread the truth." This is my mission statement. You may like to make it yours.
All quotations of the scriptures, unless otherwise stated, are from the New International Version (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, USA), 1984.
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