Truth is a Person

This is an edited article I originally wrote and posted July 15, 2015

“What is truth?”

This was Pontius Pilate’s question to Jesus.

Don’t we all encounter this question in our lives? In a world where everyone alternately claims to have the truth or that there is no such thing as truth, does it exist and can we really know what it is?

That’s a question I’ve been asked before. With so many conflicting opinions and beliefs, is there any objective way to know and define truth?

Some believe that truth is everything. Everything is truth, everyone is “right.”

Although every religion claims to have the “truth,” each embraces teachings that contradict every other religion’s beliefs. When opinions clash, philosophies disagree, and beliefs part ways, everything and everyone cannot be completely “right.”

Others have decided that truth is nothing. Nothing is truth. Truth cannot be known. It is an exercise in futility to try to seek it out.

A Man entered this world 2,000 years ago Who claimed to BE Truth. Jesus Christ said, “I am the Way, THE TRUTH, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6).

This was a watershed moment in the history of mankind.

But even as believers who are indwelt by THE TRUTH, we often find ourselves confused about truth. One look at the many different sects, denominations, and doctrines within the broad spectrum of Christianity itself would seem to contradict the assertion that
truth can be known. Many little groups, sects, or cults within the church claim they have all truth and all the others are wrong. We speak of truth as if it was a personal possession—something we have mastered and now own with exclusivism.

I am from a conservative background. Growing up, my family was heavily influenced by the teachings of one man and his ministry. Speaking from my side of the aisle, I am familiar with many of the movements within the conservative Christian community and the groups that spawned from them, and I’ve realized that many of us (myself included) have been lured by the mindset that one group, or one denomination, or one teacher, or even one movement for that matter, held all the truth.

Whether we’re being offered the Christian life in a package, doctrine in a box, or theology in a catechism, it’s all the same thing. Someone, some group, some theological or lifestyle persuasion, or some church has ALL truth (or at least more of it than anyone else),
and if you want to get a piece of it, listen to him/it/them. Take it all. Join the club. Because the more you take the more “right” you are and the more truth you have.

But truth is not the private, patented property of any man or any creed.

Truth is a Person.

It is the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world, the Word, Who is full of grace and truth (see John 1:14-18). The “truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).

Truth is absolute and immutable. It does not change, just as Jesus does not change, but is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What we know about it has been manifested to us through Christ, Who is our wisdom, our righteousness, our
sanctification, and our redemption (see 1 Corinthians 1:30). And He has chosen to reveal Himself in His Word, which is truth (see John 17:17), all Scripture pointing to Christ, Who is Ultimate Truth.

In my daily Bible reading one morning, I was in the book of 1st Corinthians and noticed, in the first four chapters, that Paul was addressing similar issues and attitudes in the Corinthian church that we struggle with today as he rebuked them for their petty sectarianism: “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not
carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:4).

He repeatedly emphasized that spiritual things are spiritually discerned; that every believer has the mind of Christ. Truth, wisdom, righteousness—these things did not belong to any one man (or church). Paul instructed them, “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

Christ is ours. Truth lives within us. Our desire should be to know Him intimately.  The more we learn of Him, the more we learn of Truth. His Word is a tool to that end. It can give us knowledge and direction (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and the Holy Spirit has been given to us to illuminate it for us (John 14:26). It is our responsibility to carefully study and rightly divide it (2 Timothy 2:15), to examine all things carefully, and hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21; see also Proverbs 23:23).

Is there such a thing as absolute Truth?

Absolutely.

Is it the sole, private property of any one man, group, or church?

Absolutely not.

Truth can be known and obeyed.  Pilate foolishly failed to wait for an answer to his own question.  He wasn’t truly seeking truth.  But it is there, and those who seek will find.

But even as we pursue truth, we need the wisdom and humility to see that none of us has perfect knowledge, perfect understanding, perfect doctrine (ouch! I so wish I did!), and certainly not perfect obedience. The Word is perfect. Our interpretation of it is never going to be completely perfect in everything. No one and no church among us has “got it all.” We have Christ, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. In that sense, as believers we share all there is to share. We will always have to grow, be challenged, be stretched, and therefore be open to correction.

There are two practical points to this: first, we must pursue knowledge and truth in the context of pursuing intimate fellowship and a rich relationship with Christ. Richard
Wurmbrand has said that Christ is the Truth, Scripture is the truth about the Truth, and theology is the truth about the truth about the Truth. Unfortunately, it’s possible to pursue theology and the study of the Word without actively pursuing Christ Himself. The result—if it even leads to the discovery of truth—will be truth without love.

Second, we need a humble open-mindedness to accept correction and instruction from other believers. Christ has placed His children within the community of the church. We need
one another. If we foolishly believe we (or our church) have arrived at all truth, we will not be open to the perspective and insight of other fellow believers. We will lose opportunities to
grow and be stretched and challenged.

The search for truth and a following after it is a life-long pursuit. No doctrine-in-a-box stuff can replace a growing relationship with the One all biblical doctrine points to. Joining
the “perfect” group or church denomination will not cause us to “possess” more truth than
anyone else. Learning from Christian teachers cannot replace learning at the feet of Christ. And we should never use neatly-packaged Christian-life-in-a-box teachings to relieve us of the
responsibility we each have personally before God to study His Word, get to know His Son, and grow in what pleases Him.

Because Truth is not a creed, a catechism, a membership, or a lifestyle list of do’s and don’ts.

Truth is a Person.

Santa and the Gospel

Naughty or nice?”

“Have you been good this year?”

“Will Santa be bringing you all the gifts on your list or will you be getting a lump of coal for Christmas?”

As the holidays near, last-minute shoppers crowd department stores, multi-colored lights merrily twinkle along the houses in the neighborhoods, the gaiety and bright colors of Christmas parade floats fill the streets, and the sweet and spicy smell of gingerbread cookies wafts through kitchens. In the hustle and bustle of it all, adults stop to ask children if they’ve been good this year, and are ready for a visit from Santa.

This iconic character of prodigious proportions who sports a bright red suit, a big white beard, and a jolly smile has, in one way or another, been a fond part of Christmas traditions throughout the western world for centuries. The evolution of the plump philanthropist who sits in the mall next to a lavishly-decorated evergreen tree each Christmas season with lines of children waiting to take their picture with him, is an interesting one.

The story begins over 1,600 years ago.

In the 4th century, a kind bishop of Myra (in present-day Turkey) named Nicholas, gave up his santa-claus-2984222_1920inheritance of wealth to minister to the poor and the sick. Legend says he once helped three daughters of a poor man who were in great trouble because they did not have dowries for marriage. Their father was going to sell them into slavery. But one night the bishop dropped a bag of gold down the family’s chimney and it landed in a stocking, which was discovered in the morning. The first daughter had her dowry! This happened twice again on future nights, so that both the second and third daughters received money for their dowries.

They were saved!

For all his kind works he was named a saint, and after his death, legends and tall tales continued to grow about him, while a feast day held on December 6 (the day of his death) was instituted.

And then came the Reformation.

With the Reformation came many changes, not only in the church, but in politics and society as well. Special days commemorating “saints” of the church were in many cases abolished.  

So holiday traditions changed with the times, but they never disappeared altogether. There was always someone to deliver the Christmas gifts: In England and parts of Northern Europe it was “Father Christmas,” or “Old Man Christmas.” In France it was “Pere Noel.” In parts of Austria and Germany it was “Christkind,” a baby with wings, symbolizing Jesus. And in the early history of the U.S. it was “Kris Kringle” (from “Christkind”). (See this article for a map of “Father Christmas” and his—or her!—name in every European country.)

When Dutch settlers in the U.S. combined “Kris Kringle” with the legends of St. Nicholas, “Sinterklaas” was born.

A.k.a “Santa Claus.”

santa-31665_1280

Tradition building on tradition, gathering up new bits and pieces as it wound its way along, Santa Claus eventually came to be the jolly holiday icon who makes his home at the North Pole, flying over the houses at night to deliver his gifts in a sled pulled by eight reindeer.

There are many ways in which this symbolic figure embodies the spirit of the season: he is kind, generous, benevolent, and always looking to do good. He brings happiness wherever he goes.

But there’s one major difference between the kindness and generosity of Santa, and the Christ for whom this holiday is celebrated.

Santa comes to give gifts to nice people. Christ came to give Himself for the wicked. Santa blesses the good. Christ blesses the sinner. Santa’s benevolence is based on the merit of the receiver of the gift. Christ’s benevolence is based on the merit of the Giver of the gift.

Christ came to earth as a baby, grew up and fulfilled His ministry, was hung on a cross to die, and then rose again three days later. He didn’t come handing out gifts to “deserving” people; He gives the gift of eternal life to the very undeserving miscreants whose sins nailed Him to the cross. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

The blessing of the gospel is not for the “righteous.” It’s not for the “good.” In fact, Christ said, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (see Mark 2:17).

When the rich young ruler came to Christ, asking Him what he could do to earn eternal life, Jesus told Him that there is none good but God (see Luke 18:18-27). But the young man thought that he was quite a good person, so he told Jesus he’d kept all the commandments, thinking Christ would commend him.

Jesus then posed a “test” for him in order to reveal the man’s sinful, covetous heart to himself. He had not kept all the commandments as he had foolishly boasted. His love of money took precedence over his love for God, which was in direct violation of the First and Second of the Ten Commandments.

Now the man was confronted with his sin. He had fallen short. He had missed the mark of God’s perfection, just as it says in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Would he now submit himself to the righteousness of Christ, admitting his sinful state and trusting in the goodness of God alone?

No. He turned away from Christ. He was grieved, pricked, convicted. But unrepentant. His lack of faith was clearly evidenced in his lack of obedience. Had he come to Christ already under conviction of his sin, troubled and trembling before a holy God, casting himself on His mercy, would the outcome not have been much different?

That’s always been the trouble, hasn’t it? Man pushes Christ and His righteousness away because he’s already “good enough”—at least “good enough” to “help” God out with his salvation. In fact, like the Pharisees, he believes he can come to God on the basis of his own righteousness. But Christ had to tell them, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind…If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (see John 9:39-41).

Christ doesn’t find anyone who isn’t lost. He doesn’t heal anyone who isn’t sick. He doesn’t save anyone who doesn’t “need” a Savior. He doesn’t make righteous anyone who is already “righteous.” And since we know that in God’s eyes there is no one who is good—we’re all lost, sick, and unrighteous (see Romans 3)—then only those who recognize their true state and transfer their trust from themselves to Christ can be saved.

The qualification for salvation is that you must be a sinner (and acknowledge it!): the “righteous” need not apply.

You must be lost before you can be found!

* * * * *

With a merry “Ho, ho, ho!,” Santa will be making his gift-giving rounds to good people soon. Meanwhile, Christ stands ready to give the greatest gift—eternal life—to repentant sinners whose very righteousness isn’t worth so much as a lump of coal—nor deserving of anything more.

How about you? Have you received Christ’s righteousness? Do you know the true Gift of Christmas?

Whether your family’s holiday traditions include Santa or not, don’t forget the Gift-giver whose acts of generosity are not contingent on your own goodness.

And Merry Christmas!

–Cliff and Tabitha Alloway

God’s Placement

Note: This is a guest post from my husband, Cliff.  It was originally posted on September 22, 2013

The exact placement of the sun and earth reveals that if the earth were too close or far away from the sun, life would be impossible. The temperatures would either be too frigid or too hot for any life to exist. The margin for error is too small for this to have been left to chance.

But what does this teach about God?

It reflects a God that leaves nothing to chance. He is far too smart for that. He, being all-wise, knew the exact parameters needed for life to exist on the earth, therefore our solar system is ordered in excruciating exactness.  This also reveals a thoughtful God who lovingly cares for and protects His creation.

 With this in view, spiritually God also thoughtfully places the believer and arranges his life so that he or she can grow to the fullest. Nothing has been left to chance. Despite the devil’s numerous attempts to pollute the Bible, He kept His word pure and holy, and it exclaims that God has given “…all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue,” II Peter 1:3.
Seeing this, life for a believer does not have to be intermittent and feeble, for the things necessary for spiritual vitality are not too far away for us. His word is not only in heaven, but is with us.
He has even placed us in Christ, I Corinthians 1:2. In Christ there can be no better protection from the effects of sin and its power. As sin never overpowered Christ, then so we that walk with Him will not be overcome by its power and thereby sin, Galatians 5:16. The sinning serpent bruised Christ’s heel, but Christ crushed his head, Genesis 3:15.
Our Lord is all-powerful. There is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:39. He bore the punishment, that we might not have to. Because you are in Him, He is your Protection. We overcome because He overcame.

As God knows all, is all-powerful, Loving, and Sovereign, He can and does work all things for good to them that love Him, Romans 8:28. Here again, the Father leaves nothing to chance for His children. He wisely and lovingly orders our lives. Perhaps relationships which we thought were good, He removes, for they would turn our hearts from Him.  We also experience His physical protection.  When you would take a step off the scaffold (and break bones!), He intervenes by having you look down and stop before you crumple in a heap.
On the other hand, the chastisement God bestows upon us turns us back to Him, Hebrews 12:11.
In short, the placement of the believer is perfect in God’s will. Without these things, the Christian life would be utterly impossible.
  

Christians Don’t Have to Run

Wherefore it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a Chief Corner Stone, elect, precious, and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.

1 Peter 2:6

Note: This was originally published on my previous blog July 16, 2013

Peter wrote these words to suffering, persecuted believers of the early Church, at a time when Christians were hunted down by both religious leaders and government officials, and tortured and killed. He reminded them in his letter that their inheritance was safely preserved in heaven for them (1 Peter 1:3-5), that they were a chosen people with special privileges, and that their confidence in the Lord was well-founded and sure (2:4-10). He loosely quoted this Scripture from the writings of the prophet Isaiah:

Isa 28:16 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

After reading that verse (in Isaiah) in its context one morning while studying 1 Peter 2:6, I sat stumped for a few moments. It seemed worlds away from that of 1 Peter 2. Two different time periods, two different contexts, two different audiences. How did it fit and what did it mean? And to make it more confusing, Peter’s quotation was not taken from Isaiah word for word: “confounded,” and “make haste,” seemed to be very different.

But slowly the pieces of the puzzle came together.

Looking into the Isaiah passage, it becomes clear that the context concerns God promising to send judgment for sin. Ephraim (Isaiah 28:1) had turned from God, was walking in rebellion, and the people were reassuring their troubled consciences by telling themselves that death could not overtake them—they had made a pact with hell (28:14-15). They could sin and there would be no judgment. No recompense. No accountability. No consequences. Lies were their refuge, and they denied reality with falsehood.

Now God comes to them with a very stern and grim warning: “Because you trust in lies, I’m going to lay a stone in Zion, and only those who believe will not make haste. I’m bringing my judgment and righteousness, and your lies are going to be washed away, your covenant with death disannulled, and you’re going to get the judgment you so rightly deserve but thought you could escape.” In fact, God goes on to say that judgment has been determined “upon the whole earth,” not just Ephraim to whom He’s speaking in this passage (28:16-22).

So there was God’s promise to send wrath and just retribution. But in this warning, He has also left a prophetic ray of hope. In the face of man’s sin, lies, and unrepentance, God is going to lay a chosen stone in Zion, upon which if a man believes, he will not “make haste.”

Make haste? To what would people be hurrying to…or from?

Again, the context would suggest the answer: when God’s judgment begins to fall, men will be “making haste” to flee it. God said He would bring “hail” to sweep away their lies, and “waters” to overflow their hiding place—and when the “overflowing scourge” passes through, they would be trodden down and taken by it (verses 18-19).

As a startling illustration of this, the people of Noah’s day come to mind. Noah preached to them for a hundred years, and yet they did not repent. Then one day Noah entered the ark, God sealed it up, and the opportunity for repentance was past. I imagine a scene in which terrified people are watching the rain descend, the fountains of the deep burst open, and the waters rush up on land towards them. Screaming, they rush in all directions, trying to clamor onto roofs, or climb trees, or run for the hills. They “make haste” but are overtaken and drowned in the flood waters of God’s wrath and judgment.

So if those who don’t believe on God’s chosen Corner Stone make haste, what do those who do believe do?

Here’s where it gets good.

In the Greek in 1 Peter, “believeth” means “to have faith, credit, to entrust.” In Hebrew the word can mean “to build up or support, to render or be firm or faithful, to trust or believe, to be permanent or quiet, to be true, to go to the right hand—hence assurance.” The word is used of Abraham in Genesis 15:6 when he believed the Lord and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. The idea is that a man puts his trust and faith in the Lord—he builds his life upon the Rock, Jesus Christ—and stands, immovable, in quiet rest. His position is permanent, despite anything that comes…because his Foundation is founded and permanently settled by God the Father Himself.

Faith is rest. It is resting from the works of the law, from fear of death and judgment, etc., and entrusting one’s soul to the Father through the finished work of His Son on the cross. It is literally standing on the Rock. Matthew 7 presents a good picture of this. Those who build their lives on Christ will not be swept away in the storm of judgment. Those trusting in anything other than Him will be destroyed when it comes. Sinners will not be able to stand in the judgment (Psalm 1), but the righteous will (Jude 1:24). Anyone found standing on the Chief Corner Stone that God has laid, rather than the sand of lies and self-deception, will not be washed away with other sinners in the judgment.

You could say that the opposite of making haste—hurrying to or from one place or another—would be to be still…to be at rest…to be quiet. Christ is our Sabbath Rest (Hebrews 4). The Greek word in 1 Peter translated “lay” is “tithemi,” meaning “to place (in the widest application literally and figuratively; properly in a passive or horizontal posture, and thus different from [histemi] which properly denotes an upright and active position, while [keimai] is properly reflexive and utterly prostrate).”

The Stone upon which we have chosen to build our lives is fixed, passive, securely resting and immovable. All who stand upon it are “safe and secure from all alarm” as the old hymn says. Never, never, will those who put their faith in Jesus be ashamed (Romans 10:11). In that verse in 1 Peter a double negative is used in that “shall not” be confounded.

In the day of judgment we will not be confounded—we will not find that our hope has disappointed us. We won’t find ourselves cast off and rejected and put to shame for believing in Christ. We will not make haste—we will not try to flee from the wrath of God when it descends, because it will not touch those found in Christ.

Only those who reject the Stone which God laid will in turn be rejected and consumed. When the floodgates of God’s wrath and judgment are one day unleashed upon the entire earth, not one of those who believed on Him will be washed away, trodden down, lost, or destroyed.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust…He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling…Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name…” (Psalm 91)

Psalm 91 takes on a whole new meaning in this light. If God is our habitation, our dwelling, His Son the Chief Corner Stone of our foundation, then when the judgment comes, and “ten thousand fall” to our left and right, it shall not approach us, because we have made Him our refuge.

 * * * * * *

These must have been encouraging words for the persecuted believers in Peter’s day to hear. They were not suffering in vain. Their hope was not in vain (1 Corinthians 15). They would receive the crown of life for choosing Christ—even if it meant they were to be tortured and killed for their testimony. Their foundation stood sure—how else could they have the courage to live and die? They might, for a time, be chased all over the face of the earth by evil men…but they would not be running in the day of God’s judgment. They were promised that in this life nothing could separate them from the love of Christ (Romans 8). He would never leave them nor forsake them (Hebrews 13:6).

In Isaiah 28 the verse is addressed to those in sin, warning them to repent. In 1 Peter 2 it is addressed to believers, assuring them that they have a foundation, and, by implication, that those who are now persecuting them will be judged for rejecting the Stone of God. In both contexts, safety, peace, and eternal hope are promised to those who trust in the Chief Corner Stone.

What do we say to all this? Unto us “which believe He is precious” (1 Peter 2:7).

If the Stone is under your feet, you’re good to go. Bank on it. And rest.