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“What is Truth?”  Truth Project #1

Mar.25/12 Jn 18:33-38; 2Thess 2:9-13

CLIMB OUT OF THE CURRENT

Which would you rather – ‘go with the flow’ or ‘swim against the current’?
    The warmer summer-like temperatures turn one’s thoughts to waterfront fun - kayaks, canoes, boats and the like. Canoing on a lake can be a lot of fun, but you’ve got to paddle in order to go anywhere. If you plan instead to go downstream on a river, by contrast, there may be swifter portions where you hardly have to paddle at all; you can just float along and be carried by the current.
    Questions about absolute truth are unpopular today because people may enjoy being swept along with the cultural ‘current’. We absorb almost unconsciously from our parents little clues about what they view as most important in life. We learn all sorts of things from our peers in school, in the schoolyard, and on the bus about the variety of things they enjoy and long for. Advertising, TV programs, and movies are additional sources by which culture grooms us in its values - who’s ‘hot’ and who’s not; the great American Dream, and the merits of striving for fame and fortune. I mean, how did people manage to find purpose in life before there was “American Idol”?!
    Drifting along with the current can be practically effortless. A pollywog suspended in a river could be motionless and hardly realize it’s being swept rapidly along, surrounded by all that water. But suppose you’re drifting down a river that has rapids up ahead. Or worse, suppose you find out you’re just upstream from Niagara Falls! Suddenly the philosophy of ‘go with the flow’ has put you in certain peril. The bottom’s about to fall out from underneath you at any moment.
    Now, imagine a large flat rock poking out above the surface of the river. On this rock an older frog has pulled himself out and is sunning on the top of the rock, along with his friend the turtle. The water is rushing by in torrents on either side of them, but that doesn’t affect them a bit; they are basking in a different current, the warmth of the solar wind. The distant roar of the falls hardly registers in their consciousness because they’re safe and secure.
    Truth has to do with what conforms to reality, the way things actually ARE. The witness of the Bible is that God is the ultimate reality, what’s most important, what’s ‘really real’. Only God can give us true ‘grounding’ or basis of meaning, for life and for eternity.
    Some of us have been reading chronologically through the Bible-in-a-year daily plan. This week we read Deuteronomy 32, which records a song God gave Moses to teach to the Israelites as a witness for Him against them (Dt 31:19,21). In it several times God is referred to as the “Rock” in contrast to the inferior gods of their enemies. At 120 years of age, the mature and experienced prophet sings: “I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he....Jeshurun grew fat and kicked...He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior...You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth...For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede.” (Deut 32:3f,15,18,31) These are the words of Moses whom Scripture says was unlike any other prophet, one “whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deut 34:10). Moses learned to trust God as his source of ultimate truth, what was ‘really real’.
    The New Testament likewise echoes this conviction that truth has its being in God, particularly in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. [SLIDE 13] Jn 1:17, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” In Jn 14:6 Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Paul went so far as to say in Colossians 2(2f) [SLIDE 44], “that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
    Leon Joseph Suenens wrote, “No generation can claim to have plumbed to the depths the unfathomable riches of Christ.The Holy Spirit has promised to lead us step by step into the fullness of truth.”

HOW DO WE KNOW?

So, the truth may very well be in God, but if He just kept everything shrouded in mystery, that would be little use to us poor mortals. We could hardly be blamed for our ignorance. But God has chosen to reveal ultimate truth to us. Now, Del Tackett starts The Truth Project with what he calls ‘Veritology’ (the study of truth), but he doesn’t say much about what is really a prior subject - epistemology, how we can KNOW anything. For example, some religions might say life is just an illusion: you may THINK you’re sitting on a solid chair watching a pastor, but really your senses aren’t trustworthy; you’re trapped inside your soul, you can’t really get out past your neurons and nerves to actually confirm what seems to be there (recall the movie The Matrix with all those people held in pods by the machines, living their imaginary lives while encased in slime). How can we really know anything for sure at all?
    In a few sessions Dr Tackett will talk about the reliability of Scripture - a principal vehicle by which we can actually know God’s truth; it’s required his act of ‘special revelation’. Let’s just assume Scripture’s dependability for now - it is backed up, after all, by prophets and apostles who died maintaining what they wrote was true. While truth resides in Jesus who said “I am the truth”, it’s not locked up there: Jesus came to in order to communicate, to make known, God’s truth. Jesus prayed in John 17(6,8) the night He was betrayed, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world....I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.” John wrote(1:18), “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Has ‘explained’ God, shown Him to us. Jesus on trial before the governor Pilate testified [SLIDE 10], “In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (Jn 18:37)
    After Christ’s death and resurrection, this ministry of ‘making God known’ was continued by the Holy Spirit. He’s the One who communicates God’s truth to us now. Jesus promised in John 14(16f) and 16(13) [SLIDE 16], “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth...when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” That is, the things they weren’t yet ready to hear - much of which we find in the apostles’ letters to the church. Paul gives us some insight into this Spirit-speaking in 1Cor 2(7,10,12f), “No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began...God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God...We have...received...the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” There you have a description of the process of the inspiration of Scripture in a nutshell. It’s true because it was revealed, unpacked to the apostles, by the Spirit of truth.
    St Thomas Aquinas said, “Every truth without exception – and whoever may utter it – is from the Holy Ghost.”
    So the truth is foundational for our understanding of what truly IS, what’s really real, the unchangeable non-negotiables we have to build our life around. Is this making too big a thing of truth? Hardly; we’re told having an adequate understanding of the truth is linked to being saved. 1Tim 2:3, God our Saviour “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” In 2Thess 2(13) Paul tells his ‘brothers loved by the Lord” that “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit AND through belief in the TRUTH.” So, an appreciation for the doctrine of truth is not something just for scholastics or intellectuals: it’s vital to being saved! Warped ideas and thinking need to be repented of and replaced with God’s truth in order for us to operate like Christians. My webcam just won’t run on a computer with a Linux operating system because the only drivers that have been created for it are written for Windows. We need God’s truth inside for God’s will and programming to work.
    What’s the starting-point of that truth? Hear Paul remind the Corinthians of what’s ‘ultra-important’ to base their lives on, what’s “really real” (1Cor 15:1-5): “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.[think “ROCK”!] By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance [what’s basic, the groundwork, most essential]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” Then he goes on to describe other real-life appearances of the Risen Jesus, including to himself. So these historical facts are the heart of the gospel, the Good News, the truth-core of Christianity.

BATTLE FOR THE MIND

But someone is running interference, trying to block people from hearing and perceiving God’s truth. Back at the very beginning, in Genesis 3(1,4) the serpent sidled up to Eve and hissed, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” And, “You will not surely die...” The adversary does everything he can to undermine God’s revealed truth. Jesus tells his opponents in John 8(44), “You belong to your father, the devil...He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
    There is a spiritual battle going on in which the powers of darkness try to prevent people from hearing the truth about Jesus. In fact, our own fallen nature, our sinful selfish desires actively ‘filter out’ the claims of Christianity that could potentially spoil our fun. The OT prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah noted about their society at that time, “No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity.They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil...Truth is nowhere to be found...” “Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.” (Is 59:4,15; Jer 7:28)
    I understand that, before the provincial election, the winning party made several promises about new capital developments for hospitals that may be retracted in the upcoming budget due to financial austerity measures. Unfortunately when it comes to campaign promises we almost expect politicians to be untruthful, or to have to backtrack on their word.
    Coming to the NT, Paul in Romans 1(18,25) and 2(8) describes how people REJECT the truth for various reasons [SLIDE 22]: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness...They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator...For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” What are the factors here prompting folks to rebel against truth? Godlessness, wickedness, wanting to serve created things (back then - golden idols; nowadays, that may take the form of greed for the latest gadget or shinier vehicle or finer living-space), and “self-seeking”. That last phrase sums up our current psychological mantra, Abraham Maslow’s ‘self-actualization’ - but we’ll get to that in a later session, “What is Man?”
    And, towards the end of Paul’s ministry, he writes to his protege Timothy warning of coming eras when even churchgoers would get tired of Biblical teaching and turn to fictions. Does this describe any churches these days? 2Timothy 4(3f) [SLIDE 21], “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” When Christian teaching conflicts with their desires, they turn away - to their great peril.
    It may seem like fun - for a time. But what’s the end result of letting our ‘wants’ run roughshod over God’s truth? [SLIDE 31] Eph 4:22, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires...” And Hebrews 3:13 warns of being “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Corrupted - hardened - that’s not what God wants for us! His truth is designed for our good when we live by it.
    Jesus’ truth-claims demand that we take sides. It is polarizing because some reject it. [SLIDE 24] The issue is whether we listen to Jesus; are we on the side of truth? Some are on the side of the Spirit of truth; others align themselves with the ‘spirit of lies’ or falsehood. 1Jn 4:6, “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”
    This matter of listening to the truth is at the heart of the COSMIC BATTLE [SLIDE 32] - Truth vs Lie, Reality vs Illusion. People must decide whether they are ‘children of God’ or ‘sons/daughters of the devil’.
    As Dr Del Tackett puts it [SLIDE 36], “How does today’s world answer Pilate’s question: ‘What is Truth?’ This question could well be the most important question that we and our culture must answer.”
    Opposition to God’s truth doesn’t change the fact of the matter. British statesman Sir Winston Churchill wrote, “Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it; ignorance may deride it; malice may distort it; but there it is.”

“DON’T BE INSANE!!!”

When I visit patients in the hospital, sometimes I encounter ones that are experiencing an altered state of reality. An elderly woman with dementia may ramble on about her husband coming to pick her up when in fact he’s been dead a couple of decades. Or, a man racked with pain on morphine may swear he sees bugs crawling all over the walls. What do you say? For them, that’s reality; but if a person continues in that state, we’d say they’re suffering from a form of insanity, not being ‘sane’ - in one’s right mind.
    Dr Tackett notes that even as believing Christians who fail on occasion, we suffer from what he calls “Common Insanity” - losing touch with reality [SLIDE 43]. When we succumb to temptation, that’s as if we believe Satan’s lie is real (though faith tells us it’s not real, God’s truth is what’s actually real). Our actions reflect waht we believe to be really real. Or as Bruxy Cavey put it, are we living as ‘functional atheists’ - claiming to believe the Bible, but actually living a life of greed, lust, pride, or bitterness?
    The ‘haunting question’ this week’s video lesson ends with is this [SLIDE 47]: “Do you REALLY believe that what you believe is REALLY REAL?”

THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE

A wonderful effect of the truth is its liberating aspect, making us free from sin’s bondage. In John 8(31f) Jesus told those followers who believed in Him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
    Throughout this series I hope to use short clips to supplement what’s included in the DVD lesson. Today I’d like to close with a 3 ½ minute segment by Dr Os Guinness explaining why truth is so crucial for faith, for freedom, and for our humanity - who we are as people... [VIDEO]
Let’s pray.