Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Fighting for truth

We've probably all heard the expression "might doesn't make right." We can probably agree that right makes might, at least morally speaking. But does right make fight?

Too often, I've felt the need to fight for every scrap of truth. Sometimes, like a dog fighting for a meaty bone, I was fighting to protect what I saw to be a truth, and other times I was fighting for ownership of it, as if it belonged only to me. But fighting for truth is not the same as fighting for The Truth.

Should we pursue to the point of division every nugget of truth that we cull from the Scriptures? Should we divide from our brethren over whether Abimelech was a judge or not? I believe it is clear he wasn't, but nevertheless, some mistakenly include him in the list of the judges of the children of Israel. Is that worth biting and devouring one another over? Of course not, and I think we are all agreed on this (with the possible exception of those poor souls who are grossly mistaken about Abimelech's identity).

It should be apparent, then, that all truths we find in Scripture or deduce from them are not equal. Some truths are simply statements that are not false, like the fact that Abimelech was a usurper king during the historical period of the judges. Other truths are more transcendent, meaningful, and, in fact, expedient to believers. In fact, their expedience, or utility, is what gives them their importance. That is why there is such a thing as useless knowledge--yes, even useless Bible knowledge.

This is important if we are to understand what Jesus meant when he said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life:

    John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (NKJV)
There are many "truths" that humans have uncovered to find peace, God, a happy marriage, sanity, or a combination of these. Some of these truths may actually be useful, and can be found, to some degree, in the sacred pages. But all truths are not useful in reconciling us to God, only the good news of Jesus Christ can do that. The Son of God, crucified and risen again, is The Truth that is expedient to becoming reconciled to our Creator. This is what was acknowledged prior to the Ethiopian eunuch's immersion:
    Acts 8:34-38 - So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water.

    And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"

    Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

    So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (NKJV)

Jesus is The Truth, but not all truth. Jesus is not embodied in the truth that my laptop is black or in the fact that Abimelech was a king. Every truth is essential for something, and The Truth of Jesus Christ is essential to something more important than the truth about Abimelech. This is why I look, not for a collation of the Bible into "essentials" and "non-essentials," but for the application of the question "essential to what?" to the things we find there.

All Scripture truth is essential, but it is not all essential to the same thing. (This is why creeds divide, by the way, not unite.) Some of Scripture is essential to a correct understanding of history. Some is essential to a correct understanding of Judaism. Some is essential to understanding King David's character, or heaven, or conduct in the Christian assembly, or the traditions of synagogue worship, or the appointment of elders, or eschatology. But some of it is essential to our initial salvation--our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven--our cleansing from sin that is accomplished through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is the good news. This is the "gospel of our salvation" that Paul writes about:

    Romans 1:16 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (NKJV)

    Ephesians 1:13 - In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation (NKJV)

The Truth, of course, cannot be taught without teaching His death, burial, and resurrection:
    Romans 6:1-8 - What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

    For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.. (NKJV).

This Truth is the very teaching that separated us from sin when we obeyed it from the heart, as he goes on to explain a few verses later:
    Romans 6:17-18 - But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (NKJV)
Once the Lord has numbered us with his called out, we now must set out to learn other types of truths, truths that will help us educate each other as brothers, truths that will train us in becoming Christlike in our character, truths that will teach us to stay away from certain kinds of lifestyles. All of these truths are essential to our growth and proper understanding of the Christian walk.

Nevertheless, as long as we are in this fallible, earthly body, we will not have a perfect understanding of all truths. This means we will hold some opinions and deductions which are neither accurate nor factual. We will be mistaken on our understanding of some truths, because we are human, and to err is human. Our life is to be a career of eradicating the errors from our thinking and our practices.

But we dare not veer from, nor be mistaken about, The Truth of the good news of Jesus Christ, otherwise we have accepted another gospel. On that we can't afford to be mistaken, because it is the very thing that brought about our reconciliation to Him. Paul's reprimand to the Colossian believers stands as a warning to us today: If Christ did not die for our sins, then we must still be in them.

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