Telling the Truth about the Truth
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2008 Feb 19
More often than not today’s American Christian finds himself in a conversation with someone else about truth or religion only to acquiesce to any number of false notions as stated by the one with whom he is conversing for any number of reasons. His reticence may be due to a lack of confidence in his own ability to speak intelligently, or it might be due to a fear of some kind including that of offending or embarrassing another, a concern that a friendship might be strained in some way, or a worry about what another might think of him after sharing the claims of Christ. The upshot of the encounter is that Christ is not exalted, a soul is not confronted, and the believer in question often has feelings of guilt for not speaking the truth in love, or worse yet, has become apathetically calloused as this scenario has been played out too many times to remember. And yet, those who know Christ are called to tell the truth about the truth when given the opportunity.
Dr. Albert Mohler wrote an article that spurred my thinking in this direction entitled “Telling the Truth about Truth.” He notes that we Christians “must be honest about the kind of claims we are making and the kind of conversation we are ready to enter.” We believers as human beings do not claim a monopoly on truth in the sense that we think that we get it all right in terms of our understanding or interpretation. But, we as Christians must confess that our belief in God is owing to the fact that God has revealed Himself to us by virtue of His love for us. We must then engage in dialogue concerning ultimate questions with the knowledge that God has revealed Himself truthfully in His word. Of course, that means that God’s word and the claims of Christ are authoritative for us. We cannot compromise that which God has revealed.
With the above in mind, let us now affirm that the conversation must not stop when someone makes a false claim or statement. That is the very moment of truth. That is the very moment God has appointed for us to represent Him as He is providentially at work in our lives and in the lives of those to whom we speak. We know the truth, we must speak the truth, and we must tell the truth about the truth.
A question must be raised here in light of the postmodern, pluralistic culture in which we find ourselves. Will anyone listen? The answer is a resounding “yes!” A few points of support for that claim may be highlighted here.
First, there is common ground between Christians and unbelievers of all kinds in that we have all been created in the image of God. It is that dynamic that allows us to converse with one another in an intelligent way. Beyond that, all persons have a knowledge of God that they have suppressed (Rom. 1:18f). It is true that the image of God in man has been marred and unbelievers cannot interpret spiritual things properly and therefore cannot be convinced of the truth through human reason alone as their minds are darkened, and it is also true that unbelievers one hundred percent of the time actively suppress the knowledge of God they have and cannot and will not acknowledge the true and living God in a saving sense in and of themselves. Nevertheless, common ground does exist that provides the basis for dialogue.
Second, God has purposed to save guilty, hostile rebels from sin, Satan, death, and His wrath. He has a purpose of grace to gather all things together in Christ including redeemed sinners adopted into the family of God to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:3-14). If God has purposed to do something, who can stop Him? As the prophet declared without hesitation, “For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? (Isa. 14:27).” God’s purpose cannot be thwarted by anything including rampant pluralism.
Third, God has chosen the means by which rebels will be saved: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t overlook the massive power in Paul’s bold affirmation, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16a).” Unbelievers reject the gospel but it is that same gospel that is God’s power unto salvation.
Fourth, we do not speak alone. There is a second voice that speaks when we speak: the voice of the Holy Spirit of the Living God. It is true that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).” But bound up in that verse is the same truth Christ uttered in a different context and way. In other words, it is also true that, “You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jn. 3:7-8).” The Holy Spirit is at work applying the gospel to the hearts of men, women, boys, and girls unto salvation.
Telling the Truth
Now, these foundational issues should give us confidence. We know the truth, must speak the truth, and must tell the truth about the truth. But, how do we tell the truth about the truth if we are still gripped by seeming inability or fear? Let me offer four suggestions.
First, commit yourself to a quest for preparation. By that I mean that you must “study to show yourself approved (2 Tim. 2:15).” While you don’t have to be a seminary theologian, you have to know the Scriptures. In other words, you need to know the general thrust of the Scriptures in terms of God’s redemptive plan. Further, you need to employ sound interpretive principles that you might grow in your knowledge of the Scriptures and of God Himself. Get a handle on basic orthodox theology. This handle will function like a guard rail to keep you on track when tempted to fanciful interpretations or when faced with error in conversation. Read voraciously things that are helpful. Stay away from pop theology and “the latest, greatest ideas” that come down the pike. As you grow in your understanding, you will have a growing confidence to tell the truth about the truth.
Second, engage frequently in a prayer for boldness. The apostle prayed for such and requested others to pray for him in this regard: Pray for me, “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak (Eph. 6:19-20).” If Paul needed boldness from God, how much more do we? And, doesn’t God answer prayer?
Third, live constantly with a desire for glory. Remember that this world is not our home; the praise of God is better than the praise of men; there is great reward for those who build with gold, silver, and precious stone; God gets glory and we get joy when we tell the truth; souls will be saved; and God’s purpose will be accomplished even when we are rejected. The reality is that these things must be so much more important to us than the perceived feelings of others, than our own desire for people to like us, and the momentary relief or pleasure we get from our notions that people like us. We place way too much importance on those things which are actually fleeting or unreal. In light of what the bible teaches about the sinfulness of man, how many people really have genuinely warm and lasting feelings about us simply because we agree with them in a conversation? Why not rather place a greater importance on what God thinks about you and/or the soul that might be saved or sanctified?
Fourth, develop for yourself a door for conversation. When we find ourselves at the moment of truth is when it gets tough. That’s when we don’t know what to say. That’s also why it is necessary to think some of these things through now. What will you say the next time someone says to you, “Well, we all worship the same God,” or, “We Roman Catholics are no different than you: we all worship Jesus?” A one liner might be provocative enough to spur further conversation. You might say, “That’s true unless you believe the bible.” You might say, “That’s not what the bible says.” Or, you might simply ask, “May I share with you what the bible says about that?”
What do you say to those who don’t claim to believe the bible? You might ask this question: “Would you be committed to a worldview that has inherent contradictions or inconsistencies?” When dealing with a relativist you might inquire, “Are there not absolute standards of any kind?” Remember, effective conversation starters will vary depending upon who you are and the situation in which you find yourself. I am simply urging a little thought on your part here.
Ultimately, all we are attempting to do here is turn the knob on the door that we might further the conversation. It’s up to the Lord to open it further. It won’t always be easy. Remember both sides of what Paul said, “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries (1 Cor. 16:9).” There will be difficulty and opposition. But God may just open that effectual door. You must use wisdom and speak in love when you speak the truth. But, remember, when the truth is questioned, distorted, impugned, or misunderstood, you must tell the truth about the truth for it is the truth that sets men free (Jn. 8:32).”
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