Sometimes I feel like apologizing for my beliefs. In our culture, it’s not politically correct to be dogmatic or to try to convince someone else that she might be wrong or have false views. I might sincerely believe what I read in my morning Bible time, yet later, when I’m conversing with a neighbor of a different faith or worldview, I’m tempted to keep my mouth shut and not “impose” my views on her.
Why am I so timid? Do I really think there is a possibility that I’ve interpreted Scripture incorrectly? Do I really think that it’s wrong to make someone else feel badly, even if I think she is believing a lie that has eternal consequences?
I’ve been pondering this a lot lately, partly because I have friends with different beliefs than mine — and I’ve found myself keeping my mouth shut so that I do not offend them. I’ve heard myself apologize for being “opinionated.” I’ve even heard words come out of my mouth that were acceptable to my friends yet in opposition to the Bible. Why do I do that?!
I also wrote a blog post a few weeks back about a Bible curriculum that claims that God’s Word is subject to our own interpretation, and this post spawned a host of comments and blog posts by prominent authors and ordinary women. Some argued that we need to stand up for our beliefs, while others argued that we need to carefully listen to and converse with others who believe differently than we do, because how can we be sure that we are truly interpreting Scripture accurately? Isn’t it wrong to accuse others of being wrong? Isn’t it possible that others are right and we are the ones who are wrong? Is it even possible to know truth at all?
I took a piece of paper and began making a list of the basic beliefs to which I hold.
What makes my “religion” different from all others? Why would I hold to a belief in the Bible, claiming that it is true above all other religious writings? Most of all, why do these differences matter? Why do they give me joy, peace, stability, and calm in a world of change, uncertainty, and confusion? After all, if there is nothing different or better about my beliefs, then I should not be dogmatic. I should welcome others’ viewpoints of God, as long as they are sincere.
The first thing on my list: “I can know truth.”
Most people believe that there is such a thing as truth, but they don’t believe that truth is knowable. What feels like truth to me may actually not be truth. Maybe I just don’t have all the facts, so therefore, it’s not usually possible to be absolutely sure that what I believe is true. As Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him” (NIV).
Therefore, they believe we need to converse with one another, to learn from each other, and to be open-minded about truth.
They believe even language and word usage is subject to error when we interpret them. Words are just tools that we use to talk to each other, and individuals are not always capable of expressing truth properly. My words are subject to how others interpret them, to how others define them, and to the life experiences with which others filter them. When I hear others’ words, I have to realize that I haven’t lived in their shoes, so I shouldn’t be quick to judge their meaning and intent.
Everything is very vague… changeable… subject to our culture, emotions, and experience.
As a culture, we are reacting to abuses of supposed truth in the past. We are rightly concerned about times in the past when humanism set up reason and science as “absolute truth,” violently opposing any whose viewpoints were different. We’re rightly reacting against the atrocities of human history, committed against those whose truth statements differed from the established authorities.
I feel badly for Pontius Pilate on the day that Jesus stood at trial before him. The Jews were pressuring him to have Jesus executed, yet he himself couldn’t determine a cause for it. The Roman government had charged him with keeping peace in this volatile Jewish province, yet the crowds were threatening to riot. His own wife had sent him a note, telling him to have nothing to do with situation because she’d been having bad dreams about it. Finally he summoned Jesus into his palace, to get the prisoner’s side of the story.
Jesus didn’t make the situation any easier for Pilate. Jesus claimed to be a king, which is exactly the claim that would get him crucified. Who was right? What was the truth? Which faction should Pilate try to please?
“Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’
‘What is truth?’ Pilate said” (John 18:37-38).
It was probably more of a groan.
Pilate didn’t believe in absolute truth. He just wanted a little peace in the world, and Jesus’ bold answer wasn’t making things any easier for Pilate.
Yet in the midst of all the upheaval, Jesus made three profound statements in these verses:
- There is such a thing as truth.
- He had come into the world to testify to the truth.
- People have to take sides. Those on the side of truth listen to Him (and therefore, we can assume that those on the side of falsehood do not listen to Jesus).
I’ve been examining the book of 2 Peter, and I find that this close disciple of Jesus upheld the truth statements made by Jesus to Pilate.
There is such a thing as truth.
Pilate sought peace in life by helping people get along together. He wanted the various factions to converse with each other and to reach some sort of compromise.
On the other hand, Peter states that peace only comes through knowledge of God. In other words, Peter tells us that it is possible to know exactly what God is trying to tell us. We can know truth — dogmatically, authoritatively, and with firm assurance. God is knowable; therefore, truth is knowable. This truth alone brings peace to our world.
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him…” (2 Peter 1:2-3).
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge… For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).
“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory…” (2 Peter 1:12-13).
“I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things” (2 Peter 1:15)
It is obvious from these verses that knowledge of God is available to us and that God wants us to be “firmly established” in it.
Jesus testified to the truth.
Only hours before standing before Pilate, Jesus prayed that his followers would be sanctified [set apart from all others] “by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus didn’t make up truth; He only taught what was in agreement with His Father’s words, and the words of the coming “Spirit of truth” would also agree.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him… He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:16-17, 24).
As Peter reminds us that, although he was an eyewitness to the majesty of Jesus, his sure basis in truth was not on his experience but on the prophecies of Scripture, the 39 books of the “Old Testament” canon. These words were not subject to human interpretation but were breathed out by God Himself.
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty… We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16-21).
Words spoken in the past, in “the holy prophets,” are to be taken as truth, as God’s very words and with His authority.
“Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:1-2).
God’s Words were written down by the prophets and apostles, and Peter seems to make it very clear that they are truth, that they have been passed down to us, and that their commands are to be obeyed.
Those on the side of truth listen to Jesus.
Peter also makes it clear that not everyone will be on the side of truth. As much as we might wish that everyone “just get along,” there are indeed those who are “false prophets.”
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies [choices or preferences], even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute” (2 Peter 2:1-2).
One of the evidences of a false prophet is that he despises authority or having others govern over him (see 2 Peter 2:10).
“But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct… They have left the straight way and wandered off… For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him…” (2 Peter 2:12, 15, 18-19).
“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’
[Note the tactic of making believers doubt what God has said in His Word.]
“But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water” (2 Peter 3:3-5).
They have access to the truth of God as revealed to us in His Word, but they do not accept or welcome it (see 1 Corinthians 2:13-14).
“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (2 Peter 2:20-21).
We can know the truth
So we see that God’s opinion is different from our culture’s. God says that we can know truth, that truth is revealed in his Scripture, that truth has been accurately and faithfully passed down to us by His prophets and apostles, and that we are to obey this truth.
Truth isn’t made truth because someone “said so.” Truth is truth because God said so. Truth is written in plain language in the Bible. Truth can be understood by all, and truth can be passed down faithfully. Truth can be correctly interpreted. Truth does not change according to culture or time period.
This means that there are absolute truths, such as creation, an unchanging God who will judge me someday, the fact that I am a sinner, the blood of Jesus, and the eternal law of God.
This does not mean that I will always correctly interpret truth. However, God holds me accountable for misinterpreting the Bible, and He calls me a “false prophet” if I teach Scripture to others incorrectly. This assumes, of course, that there is only one right interpretation of His Word, and this also assumes that God thinks I will be able to figure it out.
When my interpretation or human science doesn’t agree or make sense with other sections or with the entirety of Scripture, it is I or science who must change, not Scripture. This means that I have to be humble enough to accept reproof from others, when that reproof is backed by absolute truth as revealed in Scripture.
It does not mean that I should accept false prophets, though, all in a spirit of keeping peace and “not judging others.”
“Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18).
I believe in absolute truth as long as it is absolutely grounded in the Bible. I believe I can read the Bible, correctly interpret it, and know what it means. I believe I must obey it.
This is one of the key things that makes my “religion” different!
P.S. I’ll share another one next week…