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Christian Living

Contending for the Truth

Today our writer on the blog is Fabrice Katembo.

Fabrice Katembo is a member of Redeemer Bible Church and he initially studied Electronics and Electrics Engineering. He later moved into the field of Biblical Studies. Katembo is fascinated by the interaction between the African culture (or African traditional religions) and the Bible and writes regularly on these themes.

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If I start my speech by saying: “Idi Amin once said that…” your reaction would probably be different than if I would have started with, “Nelson Mandela once said that…” In the first sentence, you would probably be suspicious about my speech because of the negative things you have probably heard about Idi Amin; you would probably close your ears for the rest of my speech. However, you will tend to listen to me if it was Mandela in the introduction to my speech because to you, he probably stands out in history as a heroic figure.

Most of the time, we tend to uncritically listen to the people we tend to like and critically to the people we tend to dislike. Often, I hear people say “this is my favorite speaker or preacher”. But, after a further examination of what these “favorites” say or write, you will realize that they intentionally or unintentionally falsify the truth by their words. Just because one is an authority in a certain area of study or domain does not make all their claims to be true.

Consider, furthermore, the idea of the paradigm shift. A paradigm shift is a change in approach from previous assumptions. This happens when new evidence appears to contradict previously held belief systems or assumptions. We see this happening over and over in science. For example, consider the old belief that the sun was rotating around the globe. Certainly, this was not actually true before it was shown that in reality, the earth rotates around the sun, even though that belief was held earnestly.

What is Truth?

Ryan Ruggiero says that “truth is what is so about something, the reality of the matter, as distinguished from what people wish were so, believe to be so, or assert to be so.” Therefore, if the truth is “what is so about something”, then before we affirm or deny the words of “my favorite so-and-so”, we must listen, read or understand their words through the lenses of the truth and not the other way round. In other words, we should allow the truth to dictate our listening, our reading, and understanding.

The reason why we go to school is to gain a greater grasp of the truth and how to express it. This is why archaeologists are excavating the ground right now to find new evidence which may or may not align with existing beliefs. This is why Christians read their Bible hoping to understand more of the revealed truth of God. Truth is always objective. It is our job to understand it and express it in adequate language even though we fail to do so many times.

The Christian Truth

Christians read their Bible because they believe it to be the truth of God. They can’t help but study it because it tells them about God, the origin and nature of human beings, their relationship to God, and their destiny. If the Bible was subjective for Christians, then some of their moral ideas could have been better than the Bible’s. On the other hand, if the truth is what is so about God, then Christians must read the Bible objectively. When Jesus was delivered to be executed, Pilate was plagued with the same question: “What is truth?”

“You are a king then?” Pilate asked. “You say that I’m king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” “What is truth?” said Pilate (John 18:37-38).

On the one hand, Pilate was standing with Jesus of Nazareth, who was himself the truth summed up and embodied: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the truth that is in God the Father and proceeds from him: “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). On the other hand, Pilate was standing with Jesus of Nazareth who gave testimony in favour of the truth in order to establish its authority and set people free (including Pilate, if he believed) from the bondage of sin: “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

In Christianity, truth is the reality about the nature and character of God and the fulfillment of his purposes through Jesus. The truth is that which is presented in the gospel. In his letter to Galatians, twice Paul associates the gospel with the truth: “the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:5, 14). Thus, the truth (or the gospel) as taught in the Christian faith is who God is and what he has done in Christ. It is the knowledge of the nature of God and his plans to accomplish salvation through Christ.

Jesus Christ has brought the evidence of what God is – his nature and character – and carried out his purposes. He did this through his words and deeds – his sufferings and death. However, we ought not to embrace this as head knowledge only. We also need a heart knowledge of the same since Jesus Christ said: “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). Listening carries the idea of obedience to the truth coming from God.

The truth concerning God must be known, believed, and obeyed with eagerness. It should be exemplified in our lives and affect every faculty of our being so that our thoughts, words, and actions be constantly in conformity with Christ’s life.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this means that when I am listening to my favorite preachers, despite their popularity, I must discern (or test) their words with the truth as revealed in the Word of God as my filter. In prayer and humility, I have to constantly ask myself if what they say is consistent with the word of God. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul instructed them with these words, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). 

In the New Testament, prophecies (propheteia in Greek) can refer either to spoken words or written words. The verb form (propheteuo) means “to speak or proclaim publicly”; thus, the gift of prophecy is the Spirit-endowed skill of publicly proclaiming God’s Word (Rom. 12:6). For Paul, the Word of God is infinitely superior to all the words of man. 

The Apostle John expresses the same idea in his first letter, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). John warns all his readers, including you and I, not to believe all that we are told, but to discern its origin, whether it comes from God or not. Since many false prophets have gone out into the world, we have to be on guard against the false. To be on our guard is to examine their words against the revealed truth of the Bible.

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