Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus engaged in a brief conversation with Pontius Pilate about His identity. Pilate asked Jesus, “So you are a king?” Jesus replied, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hearts My voice.”
To this, Pilate comments sarcastically, “What is truth?” (John 18:33-38).
The question has been a matter of debate through the ages. It is still an issue in our day. We live in a postmodern culture that does not believe in absolute truth or error. Culture says truth is what you make of life.
The idea of real, defined truth is under attack because of our ever-increasing tendency to promote “tolerance” among different religions, ideologies, and lifestyles. It appears that the only thing we can know for sure is that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Ironically, this statement is itself an absolute statement claiming truth.
Can we know truth? We certainly can. We know it because God’s word says so, which in turn is demonstrated in every observable aspect of life – physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and morality. No one’s life can truly operate in harmony and health if he does not abide by certain truths that govern his life.
Before I explain what truth is, we need to understand 5 claims that that do not define truth:
1. Truth is not pragmatism. It is not what works best or what is most efficient and productive in a given situation. What works best or comfortably can sometimes be unethical or morally wrong.
2. Truth is not what makes people feel good. Just because people enjoy doing drugs, eating like a glutton, watching pornography, or participating in feel-good false religion does not make it right.
3. Truth is not simply your own personal beliefs on a matter. It is not subjectivism. We can sincerely believe that no harm will come to us when we cross a street with racing cars or drink poison. But it does not change the reality of what will happen if we go through with these choices.
4. Truth is not what the majority of the population believes. A majority of the people can believe that slavery and racial genocide is right, but it does not make it true. A majority of the people can believe that abortion and homosexual marriages are okay, but it doesn’t make it true.
5. Truth is not defined by an important person’s stance on the matter, such as the Pope, Oprah Winfrey, the mayor of Los Angeles, or the President of the United States. Celebrities and government authority does not define absolute truth on a given matter.
So what is truth? Truth is whatever corresponds to reality. It is real and defined. Truth is unchanging. It is absolute. Therefore, anything that contradicts what is true is false and erroneous. Truth is objective because it is established by a transcendent source. Otherwise, there can be no such thing as truth. Without God, every person can define what is right and wrong in his own eyes.
No one can claim monopoly on truth. However, if there is an author of life who has designed and instituted fixed laws that govern the universe, especially in morality, ethics, and social relationships, then truth has to exist. That source is God, who is the author of truth.
John MacArthur, in his book Truth War, provides a solid definition of truth: “Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: Truth is the self-expression of God…The most valuable lesson humanity ought to have learned from philosophy is that it is impossible to make sense of truth without acknowledging God as the necessary starting point.”
Because God created and sustains the world (Genesis 1; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:3), there is such thing as objective, absolute truth. The existence of truth implies the reality of falsehood as well. It is true that reptiles can never have dog offspring. It is true that 2 plus 2 can never equal 5. It is true that the current orbit of Jupiter stops space materials (like asteroids) from bombarding and destroying the earth.
The same principle applies to morality. God has a code for human conduct, which governs the earth as much as the laws of nature govern the cosmos. Murder is wrong. Kindness is right. Adultery is wrong. Marital faithfulness is right. Lying is wrong. Telling the truth is right. Covetousness is wrong. Gratitude is right. These moral codes govern our behavior. Doing right results in harmony, prosperity, and peace, while doing wrong results in chaos, destruction, and disunity.
Where do we find this standard of truth? It is in God’s Word – the Bible. The Bible is the revelation from God Himself concerning His being, character, and will. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Furthermore, Jesus says of the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and all-sufficient word of God which alone guides people in how they are to conduct themselves in life.
So why does truth matter today? Because the very meaning of life, and our eternal destiny, depends on it. That is why everyone on earth needs to be acquainted with the truth of God’s word.
Although the Bible speaks important truths concerning science, geography, and history, it’s greatest truth (that we all need to pay attention to) is the issue of life, death, and salvation. Jesus Christ is the only way to God and eternal life (John 3:16). There is no other way to salvation, or even worship, than through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. If Jesus is truly God, then it implies that other religions and their teachings concerning salvation, are false. There is no such thing as “all roads lead to Rome.”
Is this saying that there is no truth evident in other religious teachings? No. Buddhism teaches that suffering is bad and needs to be rid off. That is true. Islam teaches that there is only one God, and men need to worship God. That is true. However, the only reason these observations and convictions are true is that they are based on what God has revealed in His general revelation, which every person on earth can see and experience. The whole world knows that there is a Creator who designed the world and empowers life (Romans 1:18-20. The world knows that there is a moral law that governs human behavior, which is evident in social relationships and manifest in government statutes (Romans 2:14-16).
This general revelation testifies of God so people are without excuse on Judgment Day. Yet the truths in general revelation do not save people. Nobody can get saved by looking at a tree and believing God exists. Salvation can only be through special revelation, which is God’s revealed word.
The word that saves us is the gospel. The most important truth that men must heed is the message of salvation.
Steve Cha is the teaching pastor of Grace City LA.