Deeper Study Box 4: Truth: A Biblical 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 Gospel:

- 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 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.

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