The above question was asked by Pontius Pilate the procurator for Rome as he interrogated Jesus Christ. Whether the question was asked sincerely or cynically, one thing is certain: it is a valid question that each of us should ask. Many today have been influenced by postmodernism which proclaims truth to be a relative rather than absolute, ever changing ideological illusion that constantly reinvents itself according to political and cultural rhetoric. In fact, one source says, 70 percent of Americans now believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Such is the tragic legacy of our time. In sharp contrast to this postmodern perspective Jesus said, You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32). Truth is that which conforms to reality. Some things are simply so. Such is the case in the physical realm as well as the spiritual. For instance, water freezes at 32 degrees and boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Such is true whether it is recognized or not. In the spiritual realm, the most fundamental truth of all is the fact that God is (Heb. 11:6). Evidence of His existence is seen all around us (Psa. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). One may choose to ignore His existence, but He still exists, as does His truth, in spite of any one s denial. In the next few weeks we will explore the question, What is truth?
In the New Testament, the term truth comes from a word whose original root indicated that which is not concealed. It is truth s revelation and comprehension that concerns us as we answer the question, What is truth? There are several concepts relating to truth that must be observed. First, the word true refers to that which is genuine. Nothing can be counterfeit or phony and qualify as truth. Second, that which is true is consistent. Truth is harmonious, i.e., there can be no discrepancies in truth. And third, truth conforms to a standard. In other words, truth is the criterion of measurement; the rule by which all tests are conceived. Truth is the pattern of execution. Consideration of what truth is brings us to the source of that genuine, consistent standard. As pointed out last week, evidence of God s existence is all around us (Psa. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). As Creator He defined truth in the physical realm as well as the spiritual. Jehovah is a God of truth (Isa. 65:16), and as such, all which proceeds from Him is true whether it be the immutable laws of nature or the expression of His will in Scripture. It cannot be otherwise, for it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18). And so Jesus prayed to the Father concerning His disciples, Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).
Jesus affirmed that God s word is truth (John 17:17). There is an objective, definitive body of truth that has been revealed by God, without which it is impossible to know how to please God. The apostle Paul speaks of this truth stating, How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I wrote before in a few words, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:3-5). The word mystery in this passage simply refers to that which had not yet been revealed. Now that it has been revealed it is no longer a mystery. Notice that the Holy Spirit revealed God s word to certain individuals: apostles and prophets. Through these inspired men God s revelation was made known to the world as they wrote by inspiration the truth of God. Notice further Paul says, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ. We can read the Bible and understand it! The Scriptures are a series of inspired documents (2 Tim. 3:16) to be studied, understood and applied to our lives. Give diligence to present yourself approved unto God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
Paul writes, All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). The word inspiration in this verse is from a Greek word meaning God breathed, and describes the nature of all Scripture being God s word. God literally spoke through men as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4). Jesus promised the apostles the Holy Spirit would come and guide you into all truth (John 16:13), a promise God did fulfill so that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. Only a complete revelation could make God s man complete, so God revealed all truth. Jude says we should earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). When the term faith is preceded by the definite article (the ) it is used in the objective sense and refers to a definitive body of truth. Jude says this body of truth was once for all delivered. The phrase once for all comes from the Greek word hapax. The same word is used in reference to Christ s death on the cross in Hebrews 9:28 and 10:10. Just as Christ died once, so was God s word revealed once for all time. There are no latter day revelations.
As previously shown, the truth of God s word (John 17:17) has been completely revealed (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) in such a way that when we read it we can understand it (Eph. 3:3-5). But this truth is of no value to the human spirit if it remains locked away within the pages of a closed book. The fact is, God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). The problem is not all men have that same desire. Some are simply not interested in spiritual matters or the truth of God, for they are foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2:14). On the other hand, others have some interest in the truth of God s word, but have allowed bias, prejudice or personal agenda to cause them to be always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7). In a frightening passage Paul speaks of those who are deceived because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved (2 Thess. 2:10). Because of their lack of love of the truth they believe the lie and did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (vv. 11, 12). The lie often contains enough truth to make it believable while allowing what man wants to do. But true lovers of truth are concerned about God s will not their own, and will never exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:25).
As Jesus stood before Pilate on the night of His arrest He was asked if He was a king, to which He replied that the very reason for His coming into this world was to bear witness to the veracity of His Kingship. He then said, Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice (John 18:37). The expression of the truth refers to all who have accepted the evidence and believe that Jesus is King. Although His kingdom is not of this world (v. 36), He is, nevertheless, King, and as such, ruler of a far greater kingdom than that subject to Caesar. One thing the Romans understood when the king speaks everyone obeys. This is exactly the point. The phrase hears My voice implies more than mere aural awareness. It implies obedience. Jesus uses the same phrase as He describes the shepherd whose sheep hear his voice and follow him (John 10:3, 4). When King Jesus speaks His subjects obey. Jesus came into this world to bear witness to the truth. But knowing and understanding the truth is of no value unless that truth is applied in obedience. Jesus said, And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32). But freedom from sin comes only in obedience to that truth. As the Hebrews writer put it, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9).
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father, Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17). The word sanctify means to set apart and is used by Christ to refer to the separation of His disciples from the world and its behavior. His disciples understand God s word, believe God s word, love God s word and obey God s word. It is in this way that they are sanctified or set apart from the world. Peter says we purify our souls in obeying the truth (1 Peter 1:22). In contrast, Paul says those who obey not the truth have nothing awaiting them but indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish (Rom. 2:8, 9). Furthermore, John says, If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:6). He who says, I know Him, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:4). Notice how the Lord s teaching and that of His apostles are in perfect harmony. Obedience to the truth of God s word is imperative. In fact, our salvation depends upon it. As Paul put, But God be thanked that though you were servants of sin, yet you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:17, 18).
As previously pointed out, we are sanctified (set apart) by the truth of God s word (John 17:17). But how does the word accomplish this? The apostle Paul says that Christ gave Himself for the church, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). The act of sanctifying and the act of cleansing are the same: by the washing of water with the word. The washing of water is a clear reference to baptism as the word of God commands it (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; etc.). Both sanctification (to separate unto God) and cleansing (to remove sin and guilt) take place in baptism, the only washing of water spoken of in God s word of truth. The ultimate purpose of this washing of water (baptism) is that the church be without spot or wrinkle or any such thing and that it should be holy and without blemish. Notice it is Christ that sanctifies and cleanses us with the washing of water by the word. Such is the efficacy of baptism. It is not a mere symbol without cleansing power, for Paul knows only of a baptism that actually sanctifies and actually cleanses. Baptism is truly a washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5).
The most influential book in the history of the world is the Bible. In the next few weeks I want to consider some important truths concerning the Bible, the first of which is its origin. The Bible is literally the word of God. It could not have been written by man, for it took some forty different individuals who lived during the course of many centuries to record both the Old and New Testaments. Yet within this volume there are no mistakes and no contradictions. Jesus said, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). God has given us His word of instruction for our lives in the Bible. Some today reject the Bible completely, while others see it as a good book but do not accept it as being literally the word of God. Oh, they may accept it as containing certain principles that are divine, but they consider the text itself to have come from the mind of man, not God. But Paul commended the Thessalonians saying, when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13). While it is true that God employed men to record His word, ultimately the source of the divine document is God Himself. No other explanation is feasible, as we shall see.