Knowing Truth

There is a battle being fought in our culture concerning truth. It is not over the existence of truth. The battle is about the nature of truth and how one comes to know it. Are there truths that are true for everyone, or is truth something that is determined by a group or individual? Are there some truths that are absolute, or is truth always evolving?

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32)

Jesus makes a claim in John 8:32 that truth contains the power to set people free. Truth sets us free from sin, but the power truth holds does not stop there. Truth was behind the fight for abolition and the Civil Rights Movement. Truth only possesses power if it comes from a source greater than ourselves. If truth is only something we determine as an individual or a group, then its power is limited or even non-existent. If truth is whatever I determine it to be, then the people in charge have no reason to yield to it. There is no reason to end slavery or treat people equally. It is not unusual for a person in power to take advantage of someone beneath them. The disadvantaged can appeal to truth to fight the injustice, but this only works if truth is true for all people. Truth is often a friend of the oppressed. If we rob truth of its power, then this will lead to more injustice and oppression. Truth must come from a source greater than ourselves, but how do we come to know it?

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

A principle is set forth in James 1:17 that gifts flow down from above. The same is true of truth. Karl Barth states, “the knowledge of God’s goodness depends again on the fact that the path leads from above downwards” (CD I.1, p. 419). This is not only true of spiritual knowledge, but it is true of other knowledge as well. In order to learn, a student must submit to a teacher. If a person wants to learn a skill or trade, then they become an apprentice and submit themselves to a professional. We need someone to guide us in our search for truth.

“So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (Acts 8:30-31)

Even authorities have authorities over them. Scientists and scholars publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals. A craftsman must answer to his guild. A judges judgement is evaluated by other courts and judges. It is essential that we apply this principle to our study of the Scriptures. Often, a person will place a lot of emphasis on personal Bible study. Personal Bible study is great, but it is the beginning of our study, not the end. We take what we have learned, and we submit it to the community of believers. This is why group Bible study is essential. We submit ourselves to the church, both past, and present. If we come to an understanding of a passage that no one in our congregation holds and no one throughout church history has ever held, then it is very likely we are wrong in our understanding, and we should return to the text again.

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” (Luke 10:25-26)

At the beginning of the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus has a discussion with a teacher of the law regarding what one must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks “What is written in the Law?” We might say, “What does the Bible say?” What is interesting is that Jesus does not stop there. He asks a second question, “How do you read it?” We might say, “How do you interpret it?” Jesus understands that people interpret the Bible differently. Not everyone reads the Bible and sees the same thing. Human beings are prone to error. We make mistakes. We can easily recognize the shortcomings of others, but we often miss our faults. Our search for the truth must be done in humility. We must recognize our limits.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’” (John 14:6-7)

The clearest revelation of truth is Jesus. He is truth. He reveals God to us because he is God. Any search for truth should begin by first submitting to Jesus. If we do not submit to Jesus first, then our perception of truth in all other fields may be skewed. God is the source of all truth, and so we should begin with the source no matter if we are studying physics, algebra, or whatever else. Jesus also reveals the way to truth (Phil. 2:5-8). A humble person is going to be more likely to find truth, than a proud person. If we do not possess the right attitude or spirit in seeking truth, then we will be less likely to discover it. This does not mean an unbeliever will be unable to discover truth. It simply means that the path they take may contain more obstacles.

Truth is something we must continually seek. If we ever think we have arrived, then we deceive ourselves. Truth is a journey. In order to stay on the right path, we must submit ourselves to Scripture and the ways of Jesus. This means we must constantly meditate on the word of God and live out the practices of Jesus (e.g. prayer, fasting, helping others, giving to the poor, etc.). There is more than one way to learn. If we submit to God’s word but do not submit to his ways, then we are deceived, and we have missed the truth (1 John 4:20).

We live in a world that is uncertain about what is true and what is not. As Christians, we have a personal relationship with Truth. We wear the name of truth. We have been called to live out truth by following in the footsteps of Jesus.  We have been commissioned to proclaim truth to the ends of the earth. The only way we can do this is by submitting ourselves to Jesus. He is truth. In a confusing world, people should be able to look to us and to see certainty and truth. They won’t see this if we are giving ourselves to a political party, to our favorite cause, or to the latest trend. They will only see it as we reflect the Light of the world. Truth can be seen in us if we are willing to dedicate our lives to the Source of all truth.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.