Sermon: Life Question 2 - What is Truth?

The Bible is God's message of love to the world. The Bible doesn't just contain truth, it is truth.

Sermon series: Life Questions

  1. Does God Exist? - Acts 17
  2. What is Truth? - John 8, 18
  3. Who Am I? - Psalm 8, Hebrews 2
  4. Why Am I Here? - Ecclesiastes
  5. What Happens When I Die? - 1 Corinthians 15
  6. Are All Religions Equal? - Acts 17
Scriptures: John 8:32; 18:37-38

Introduction

During the trial of Jesus, Governor Pilate interrogated Jesus about His kingdom. In His response, Jesus affirmed the spiritual nature of His kingdom and told Pilate, "Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." To which Pilate cynically answered, "What is truth?" [John 18:37-8] And that same ambivalence pervades our culture today. It is even common today for some to flatly deny the truth exists. But the denial of truth never extinguishes truth.

"When England closed its Libyan Embassy, Muammar Qaddafi became so angry that he ordered England to be removed from all maps in Libya. If you buy a map in that country today, that area will be represented by a new arm of the North Sea bordered by Scotland and Wales." [Stories for preachers and Teachers CD, V.1.01]

Today we will survey current thought about truth and conclude with the Biblical claims of truth. A study of truth presents several unique problems.

1. The problem of defining truth. A survey of common definitions reveals the commonly accepted variables of meaning. Consider the following definitions:

Dictionary.com -The actual state of matter in conformity with reality.

Wikipedia - To be in accord with fact or reality.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary - Fidelity, Constancy, fact, actuality.

For this study we will define truth as, "An understanding of the facts that corresponds to reality."

2. The problem of inconsistency in the approach to determining truth in the physical realm as opposed to the meta-physical. Why do we demand concrete truth in the physical realm but deny absolute truth in the spiritual realm?

We want truth in the physical realm to be concrete and fixed. There is no room for broad-mindedness in the chemical laboratory. Water is composed of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. The slightest deviation from that formula is forbidden. The same holds true in biology, athletics, and mechanics.

But we want truth in the meta-physical realm to be fluid, non-factual, morally neutral, and open to interpretation. We hold this position because spiritual realities make moral judgments about right and wrong.

3. The problem of a lack of consensus on the basis of truth.

Much of this discussion is based on philosophical questions. What makes something true? How do we know what we know [epistemology]? Does this proposition satisfy the theory of correspondence [a statement or proposition is true if it coincides with reality]?

In contrast to those thoughts, we find one of the most quoted saying of Jesus. Our Lord said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." [John 8:32]

Last week we examined the question, "Does God exist?" If we believe that God exists then we should ask, "Has He spoken?" While this message is just a survey of prevailing thought about the source of truth, we affirm that the Bible is God's message of love to the world. The Bible doesn't just contain truth, it is truth. Consider these views of truth.

I. The secular approach: Truth is perspective

Some have suggested that perspective is truth. The basis for their approach is personal opinion. We can all be like the men and women in a study about their weight.

"There is a vast difference between truth, and the perception of truth. In a survey of American health, it was learned that 40 percent of overweight men thought they looked fine and "felt they were at about the right weight." In contrast, 29 percent of women who were not overweight "felt they needed to lose pounds to achieve a healthy body weight." Both groups were operating under the perception of truth rather than truth itself. Such thinking leads to erroneous behavior. " [Prevention, Oct. 1993, 54]

This approach is contingent on two variables.

A. Consensus

This is the idea that the majority opinion of a cultural group determines the truthfulness of something. Incidentally, this notion paved the way for Hitler. The majority can trample the minority even if something is not actually true.

B. Relativism and situational ethics

The idea of relativism has been summarized by the popular phrase, "Truth for me." But what happens when "your truth" is in conflict with "my truth?" Those that embrace relativism lack an objective standard by which to determine the truth. Truth to them is simply an issue of expedience. In short, the secularist believes that truth changes. But I say, try this with your bank and see how broadminded they are!

It is this approach to truth that has led to the notion that every view, concept or idea should be tolerated and respected - even it is patently wrong. Beside that, the secularist attacks those that make exclusive claims like Christianity.

It is not uncommon to read of the attacks by secularists in the media. USA Today [10-19-09] recently published an article by Tom Krattenmaker about the dangers of Christianity invading the sports arena. He wrote:

"Jesus' representatives in sports aren't just practicing faith. This exclusiveness sometimes morphs into a form of chauvinism. Tim Tebow...should be seen...as one who promotes a form of belief that makes unwelcome judgments about everyone else's religion."

That evaluation is simply an uninformed perspective.

II. The spiritual approach: Truth is tradition

The basis for this approach is religious mysticism. Our world is full of religions. Each of them claims to possess the truth. And our so-called tolerant society tells us that they are all right. In short, the argument goes like this, "All religions are basically teaching the same thing." But we need to ask if that statement is true.

Can we or should we challenge religious beliefs? Yes! For that matter, we, as Christians, welcome those challenges. When comparing the truthfulness of all religious claims, there are only two options:

  1. Both claims are false.
  2. One is truth and one is false.

Just consider the comparisons between any monotheistic system of belief [Judaism, Christianity, and Islam] and any polytheistic system of belief [Hinduism, Shintoism, Animalism]. They may both be false, but they can't both be true.

III. The scientific approach: Truth is facts

The basis for this approach is verifiable empirical data. Many view science as an infallible god. Christians, in fact, fear questioning the findings of science less we be viewed as uninformed. But we must be careful here because science has some inherent weaknesses when it comes to declaring truth.

A. We must guard against assuming that the scientist is unbiased and neutral in dealing with the data. Scientists, despite their claim to the contrary, are equally influenced by professional biases, political correctness, atheistic and evolutionary worldviews, and blind spots in their thinking. This doesn't make the scientist evil; it makes him/her human.

B. While the scientific approach can discover certain facts about our world, it cannot make any moral judgments in regard to those facts. Further, scientific "truth" does not necessarily affect human behavior. Have you ever heard a drug addict say, "I was reading a math book gave up my drugs?" Or, "I was reading a biology book and decided to stop lying."

C. There are limits to the collection of data. Thus, science cannot know everything, especially regarding the meta-physical or spiritual arena.

For example consider today's discussion of global warming. This is a theory that is accepted by the larger scientific community as fact. But what if the data moves away from the theory? What is a scientist to do with his/her truth/facts? The hottest year recorded was 1998. But the last eleven years in a row have been cooler than that year. So what should happen next for the scientist? He should re-evaluate this theory and adjust for any variance in the data.

IV. The Scriptural approach: Truth is a person

Ultimately, we are asking, "Has God spoken?" And, if so, what has He said?" As Christians, we believe that God has spoken and that He has revealed Himself through His word - the Bible.

Consider these biblical truth claims. Although this is not an exhaustive list of truth claims, it is foundational to our understanding the source of truth.

A. Objective truth exists - John 8:32

This is also called propositional truth. We believe that just as we can boldly assert mathematical truth, we can affirm spiritual truth. Further, this truth exists independent of one's acceptance of it.

B. The absence of truth creates bondage - John 8:32

We might call this spiritual bondage.

C. The application of truth liberates - John 8:32

Truth only liberates if you believe it and apply it to your life.

D. God's Word is truth - John 17:17

  1. God has spoken.
  2. God desires to communicate with us.
  3. God's communication is consistent with His nature.
  4. God breathed is Word into existence - 2 Timothy 3:16

E. Jesus embodies truth - John 14:6

Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" - John 14:6 [See Hebrews 1:1-3]

Conclusion

"Lew Wallace, governor of New Mexico, was writing a book against Jesus Christ and in the process was converted to Christianity. He told a friend how it happened."

"I had always been an agnostic and denied Christianity," Wallace said. "Robert C. Ingersoll, a famous agnostic, was one of my most intimate friends. He once said, ‘See here, Wallace, you are a learned man and a thinker. Why don't you gather material and write a book to prove the falsity concerning Jesus Christ, that no such man has ever lived, much less the author of the teachings found in the New Testament? Such a book would make you famous. It would be a masterpiece, and a way of putting an end to the foolishness about the so-called Christ.'"

"Wallace went home and told his wife about the project. She was a member of the Methodist Church and did not like the idea. But Wallace began to collect material from libraries all over the world that covered the period in which Jesus Christ should have lived. He did that for several years and then began writing. He was four chapters into the book, he says, when it became clear to him that Jesus Christ was just as real a personality as Socrates, Plato, or Caesar. "The conviction became a certainty. I knew that Jesus Christ had lived because of the facts connected with the period in which he lived."

So he asked himself candidly, "If he was a real person, was he not then also the Son of God and the Savior of the world?" Gradually Wallace realized that since Jesus Christ was a real person, he probably was the one he claimed to be."

"I fell on my knees to pray for the first time in my life, and I asked God to reveal himself to me, forgive my sins, and help me to become a follower of Christ. Toward morning the light broke into my soul. I went into my bedroom, woke my wife, and told her that I had received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior."

"'O Lew,' she said, 'I have prayed for this ever since you told me of your purpose to write this book, that you would find him while you wrote it!' "

"Wallace went on to write a famous book. Every time I watch the epic film Ben Hur, based on that book, I wonder at how it was written by a man who wanted to disprove that Jesus ever existed and instead became convinced that he was the greatest man who ever lived." [David Holdaway, The Life of Jesus, Sovereign World Publishers, 1997]

Jerry Gifford is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Franklin, Kentucky. Jerry holds degrees from Western Kentucky University and Liberty Baptist Seminary. He and his wife, Tammie, have two sons, Daniel and David. He is passionate about his family, spiritual renewal, discipleship, preaching, basketball, and water sports.