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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Is God's truth a neat little package just waiting to be opened?

Some folks seem to regard the "truth" as a finite package of information that is just waiting to be revealed to those whom God has chosen to grant access to it. They see the "truth" as a collection of doctrines or beliefs that can be explained to anyone with a "converted" mind (one who has God's Holy Spirit). For most of them, that "truth" is found exclusively in the pages of the Bible (and their pamphlets, books, booklets, tracts and magazines which seek to "explain" it). For these folks, you either have it or you don't - there is nothing in between. But is such an understanding consistent with how God views the Truth? Is God's truth a neat little package just waiting to be opened?

First, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible makes plain that the Hebrew and Greek words that have been rendered as "truth" in English refer to a rather complex range of meanings. In Scripture, the original Hebrew and Greek words can refer to: that which is the opposite of falsehood, that which represents fact or reality and all or part of the various concepts that reflect God's will, purposes, plans and acts. Hence, the words themselves suggest something more expansive and broadly defined than our original question would seem to suppose.

Second, it is essential to arriving at any kind of a sensible answer to our question to take a moment to consider how God reveals Truth to our minds. If we again appeal to Scripture, it quickly becomes apparent that God always reveals things to people incrementally or in stages. When God revealed himself to Abraham, "He" employed a number of dreams/visions to do so. When God revealed to Pharaoh that Egypt was about to be engulfed in a severe famine, "He" gave him two dreams and then used Joseph to explain and interpret those dreams to the king. When God revealed the terms of his covenant to Moses, "He" did so with a number of meetings in which "He" gave a series of instructions and commandments. When God chose to warn the Israelites about the consequences of their bad behavior, "He" employed a number of prophets to whom were given a series of dreams, visions and revelations. Jesus Christ used a variety of stories, illustrations, parables, discourses, miracles and visions to reveal information to his disciples. For me, all of this demonstrates the "truth" or reality of how the human mind learns/acquires information - it is a process that takes time.

Finally, if the Truth is a neat little package of doctrines and beliefs, then why is there so much evidence to the contrary in Scripture? Jesus Christ told Thomas that he was the ultimate expression of Truth. (John 14:6) He also told Pilate that he "came into the world to testify to the truth," and that "all who love the truth recognize that what I say is true." (John 18:37) The author of the letter to the Hebrews had this to say about doctrinal matters: "So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don't need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing your faith in God. You don't need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding." (Hebrews 6:1-3, NLT)

Wait a minute! You mean we aren't given all of the truth when we become a Christian?
The author of Hebrews obviously regarded the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead as a fundamental or basic teaching of Christianity, yet Paul tells us that some of the folks at Corinth didn't understand the concept. (I Corinthians 15:12) "Oh well, they weren't really Christians," my friends will protest. Then why did Paul go on to explain the concept of the resurrection to the saints at Corinth? (Read the rest of the chapter) Likewise, I would think that the gospel message would qualify as one of those fundamental or basic concepts; but we find Paul having to correct the saints of Galatia regarding this! (Galatians 1:6-9)

If the truth is a neat little package that we get to open when we become a Christian, then why did Peter encourage Christians to grow in grace and knowledge? (II Peter 3:18)
If we have the truth, what else is left to acquire? Why did Paul tell the Christians of Corinth that they currently saw things imperfectly? (I Corinthians 13:12) Didn't they have God's Holy Spirit? Why didn't they see things clearly?

If we have The Truth right now, then why did Paul write the things that he did to the saints at Ephesus? He wrote: "Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love." (Ephesians 11-16) Sounds to me like the acquisition of the Truth is a lifelong process that only begins at baptism.

"Doesn't the understanding of Spiritual Truth identify us as God's people - the folks He has called and given His Holy Spirit?" my friends will persist. Jesus Christ said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:35) So let's all stop crowing about what we know and get about the business of learning the stuff that we need to know to be more like Christ and his Father!

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