Knowing the Truth

By Dave

As I've circulated through the Body of Christ and encountered such incredible diversity, I've often wondered how so many people who all claim to know the truth can be so divided over relatively unimportant doctrinal issues. Part of the answer is that doctrinal issues aren't unimportant, but I'll get to that a bit later. In many instances, differing ideas have lead to split churches, lost friendships, misunderstanding, and a wake of hurt, betrayal, confusion, and mistrust. While we profess to be the family of God, joined together by the bonds of unconditional love, the stark reality is that much of the modern church world is fraught with division.

I'm certain that those outside the Church also see this conflict, and I have met many individuals who have used this very issue as their excuse for not embracing the incredible unconditional love of our Lord. Typically, they say something like, "How can what you Christians say be the truth when you can't even agree among yourselves?"

For a while, when asked, "How do you know that what you're saying is the truth?" I gave the "stock" answers - "The Bible says..., so that's the truth". This answer, however, doesn't go very far with those that don't accept the Scriptures as authoritative. As I grew in my understanding of the Scriptures, I was more able to respond by quoting different passages, but again, for those who reject the authority of the Scriptures, these responses fall well short of convincing. I even had one gentleman say to me, "I believe in God and commune with Him every day, but I won't discuss Him with anyone who holds to the Bible, because I reject the Bible as divinely inspired and Jesus as the only way to God." In his eyes, and in the world view of many, truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

The issue gets even more complicated when those that are at odds with one another about what is true accept the authority of Scripture and are each basing their opposing positions on Biblical text. It was actually a zealous American missionary that the Lord used to expose the seriousness of this issue in the church and to start me on my quest for a Scripturally viable answer to the question, "How can I be sure that what I understand is the truth?"

This gentleman came to our door one day to share with us some material from a web site that he applauds for upholding the "truth of God's word". Of course, I'm always in favor of knowing more of God's Truth! In the course of our conversation, however, he told me that he was grateful for this site's unbending commitment to the "word of God", and how they were "uphoding truth" and exposing the "wolves in sheep's clothing" and the "false prophets". I began to hear alarm bells in my spirit, but asked what he meant. He went on to name several well known Christian ministers that are, from his standpoint and the position of this web site, destined to face the judgment of God for leading the flock of God astray through their perversions of "God's word". Among others, "Bob" (not his real name) mentioned one well respected Christian author that has dedicated his life to paraphrasing the Bible in modern English, and called this committed servant of God the "spawn of satan" who would forever "burn in hell" for corrupting the "pure word of God." We shared with "Bob" that we have a copy of this paraphrase and refer to it regularly in the course of our Bible study, knowing that it was never intended to be a literal translation, but a work that would make the fundamental principles of the Bible more understandable to those who have difficulty wading through King James English.

His response was unbelievable. He was furious! His face turned red, the veins in his neck popped out in anger, and he spewed out the words, "I can't believe it! How can you be so deceived? You're going to perish with the rest of them!" I tried to share with this "ambassador of Christ" that the original Scriptures weren't written in King James English, but in the modern languages of the common people. I also tried to help Him see that the Scriptures he is fighting so hard to uphold are very clear about God's feelings towards those who point fingers, sow division in the Body, accuse, and stand in judgment of others, but he is so blinded by his zeal and convinced in his thinking, that I don't think he was able to hear (As a side note, this is nothing new. The apostle Paul, while he was still Saul of Tarsus, operated in much the same way - persecuting those who didn't live up to the religious expectations of the Pharisees).

While both my friend Bob and I agree with 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, etc., he was livid with us for accepting a "perversion of the 'word of God'." What has become apparent to me is that Bob thinks the "word of God" is a book - and maybe only a certain translation of it, at that (As an aside, many people today believe that the Bible - the book itself - is the word of God. For more on that subject, click here).

His outburst, however, prompted me to seek the Lord. Bob was so obviously filled with a violent anger towards those who teach anything other than his interpretation of "the truth", that I left our encounter quite distraught. I began to ask the Lord, "How can people believe they know the truth and be so full of hatred and judgement towards their brothers in Christ? How can we say we have discovered the truth while we are still so blinded by our own deception?"

The Lord began to answer through John 14:6 - "I am the way, the truth, and the life..." That simple statement helped me understand. Jesus told us that the truth is a Person, not information, not correct doctrine, not the "right" interpretation of the Scriptures, not human logic, not our traditions, not knowing the right facts.

As I thought about that, it began to make sense. I've known my wife for almost 30 years, but I still can't second guess the way she thinks, nor do I know everything about her, what decisions she'd make, her priorities, etc.. In other words, my "doctrine" concerning my wife, is still incomplete, though I probably know her better than I know any other person alive. I know her, but when I try to share with others who she is, and what she's all about, I inaccurately represent her. In a very real sense, because I'm still believing things about her that aren't correct, I'm deceived!

The Lord has strengthened my conviction that He (as opposed to correct doctrine) is the Truth through some other passages - also in the book of John. Beginning at verse 31 of Chapter 8, Jesus begins to teach the Jews concerning the truth and the word. He says, "If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." The response of the Jews demonstrates that they didn't understand what He was really talking about. Their first misunderstanding was in thinking that he was speaking of their bondage as socio-political, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone!" they claimed (John 8:33). Jesus had to tell them that He was talking about their bondage to sin, not about enforced slavery by another group of people. An internal, not an external condition.

Their second deception was that because of who they were as Abraham's offspring, they couldn't be in bondage. Ironically, Abraham's descendants spent 400 years in bondage to Pharaoh! In the same way, the modern western Christian can believe that he/she cannot possibly be in bondage because there is no external pressure to do something against their will and because we "know who we are" as Christians (Abraham's descendants). But Jesus had more to say on the subject. He said that it was "knowing the truth," not knowing our heritage, that makes us free.

The traditional interpretation of this statement in many circles has been that since the Bible is His word and His word is truth (John 17:17), we must study the Bible to truly be His disciples, and as we learn the information in it, we will become free from sin. And well we should study the Bible!!! But is it really the knowledge of correct information that sets us free?

John 8:36 began to pull things together for me; "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." In this statement Jesus says "...if the Son makes you free...". As I ruminated on this phrase, I began to wonder if Jesus may be revealing something deeper than our traditional interpretation. Our first inclination is to believe that truth is correct doctrine. But when Jesus talks about true freedom, it isn't our correct doctrine that He refers to as setting us free, it is the Son - a Person!. I began to see that when He said, "you shall know the truth...", in verse 32, He was referring to Himself, not just the information about Him. John 14:6 reiterates this - "I am the truth...".

There are other passages in which the Scriptures reveal the same principle. In John 5:39-40 Jesus told the Pharisees, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life: and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." He differentiated between knowing doctrine and knowing Him!

In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father...". He then goes on to list several things that Christians do in His name (prophesy, casting out of demons, and working many wonders) which will not result in His acceptance! He will say to those who think they are doing the will of the Father, "...I never knew you, depart from Me...". Here, He differentiates between doing good things - while calling Him "Lord" and demonstrating spiritual power in His name - and knowing Him.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that "... the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6)." He told the Romans that we should "...serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6)." He compared all his wisdom, knowledge, training, ancestry and obedience to manure when speaking of knowing Jesus to the Philippians (Philippians 3:3-8). Many of our translations have softened the Greek word "skubalon" (used only in this passage) to read "rubbish", but the Greek word literally means "that which went into, and was then cast out of, a dog" - "excrement". Paul chose one of the strongest and most offensive illustrations of his day when he differentiated between knowing about Him and knowing Him.

And this is how we can know the truth and still be so clueless as to the majesty, glory, holiness, mercy, and passionate love of our Savior. It's how the Lord makes room for each of us to have our own personal revelation, experiences, convictions, and understanding, while still being valuable, necessary, and unique individuals within the Body of Christ.

It's also why I said earlier that the accuracy of our doctrine is relatively unimportant. In relation to knowing the Person of Jesus Christ - personally, like I know my wife - correct doctrine doesn't mean that much, because none of us can understand an infinite God. We're all deceived! I can have a passionate, intimate, life-changing, daily life with Him, just like I had a life changing, intimate, passionate relationship with my wife before I really understood much about her. And I find that the more time I spend with her, the more I love her, the more my "doctrine" about her changes, and the more I begin to understand who she really is.

If we could only learn to rest in His presence and find His heart instead of arguing over the meaning of His words, maybe we'd finally come together. Maybe, out of our passion for our matchless Savior, and the humility that comes from our awareness that we are still largely ignorant of Who He really is, we would learn to love one another in spite of our doctrinal differences, and maybe by this the world would know that we are His disciples (John 13:35).