1-1 The Importance of Truth
There are a number of serious problems in our spiritual experience which will exercise all thoughtful believers:
- We realize that for all that we ourselves know, we often behave in a way totally inappropriate to the wonderful doctrinal knowledge which we have
- We may convince a person of the truth of our position about, e.g., the trinity, but they can respond: " And, so what...?" Why does it matter what we believe? Does Biblical interpretation matter very much at all? What is the importance of truth?
- Grace and peace are multiplied to us through the [true] knowledge of the Father and Son (2 Pet. 1:2). There are times in our own lives, and in part throughout the life of our community, where this doesn't seem to be happening. The link between peace and true knowledge isn't apparent.
I believe that the resolution to these issues is to understand that our way of life is a direct outcome of our doctrinal beliefs, and that therefore it does matter, crucially, what we believe. The problems and disappointments which we face in our private and collective lives arise from a lack of appreciation of how doctrine directly affects our practice, if we truly believe it.
Faith and " The Faith"
Trust or faith in God comes from not trusting upon human understanding, but upon the understanding [s.w. meaning, knowledge, wisdom] that is God’s (Prov. 3:5). In this lies the importance of truth in Biblical interpretation. So understanding, correctly perceiving meaning, true wisdom…are related to having a real faith. The Proverbs go on to plead for correct understanding, because this will be the source of a Godly life of faith in practice. There is therefore a connection between " faith" in the sense of belief, and the fact the essential doctrines of Christianity are called " the faith" ; the noun " the Faith" and the verb 'to believe / have faith' are related. This is because a true understanding of the one Faith will inevitably lead to true faith, and therefore works; for faith and works are inseparable. This relationship is brought out in Acts 3:16: " His name, through faith in his name, hath made this man strong...yea, the faith which is in Him (Christ) hath given him (the healed man) this perfect soundness" . Being unsound in the Faith is another way of saying that in works a man is denying Christ; to be " sound in the faith" is to tell the truth and not be lazy nor gluttonous (Tit. 1:13,16). Good behaviour " adorns the doctrine of God" , i.e. the basic doctrines of the Gospel (Tit. 2:10); the practical commandments of Tit. 2:2-10 are " the things which befit the sound doctrine" (Tit. 2:1 RV) which Titus was to teach. It's almost as if Paul is telling Titus to bring out the practical implications of the doctrines which he was teaching.
Keeping the commandments and having the Faith in Christ are paralleled in Rev. 14:12. To have the commandments is to keep them (Jn. 14:21 Gk.)- a true understanding leads to obedience in practice. " The faith in Christ" (cp. Acts 24:24) was what was responsible for the man's faith and therefore his healing. But that faith involved an understanding of doctrine; it wasn't just a feeling of trust. Thus the Lord commended the Canaanite woman for her understanding of the Hope of Israel and the Gentile's place in it: " Great is thy faith" (Mt. 15:28); great was her understanding, and therefore her faith. It would appear that in John’s Gospel, the verbs for ‘to know’ and ‘to believe’ are interchangeable (e.g. Jn. 17:8). Knowledge in its true and proper sense leads to faith. Therefore the importance of truth becomes paramount. Jn. 10:38 in the AV has Jesus beseeching men to " know and believe" , whereas the RV has " know and understand" . Likewise the faith of the sick woman is commended by the Lord (Mk. 5:34; Mt. 9:20)- when it was due to her understanding of the significance of the hem of the Lord's robe that she had touched Him. She had perceived the connection with the High Priest's hem; perhaps too she had added Job's comment about our touching but the hem of God's garment into the equation. And certainly she perceived that the sun of righteousness of Mal. 4 had healing in his hems / wings of his garment. Remember that it was due to His knowing that the Lord gave His life (Jn. 10:15). Knowledge, in its active and true sense, does have a vital part to play. Otherwise spirituality becomes pure emotion alone. To " follow after righteousness" is paralleled with " to know righteousness" (Is. 51:1,7). To know it properly is to follow after it. The disciples were rebuked as being " of little faith" in the matter of not understanding the Lord's teaching about leaven (Mt. 16:8-11). It has been commented that the sayings of Jesus " are everywhere too subtly penetrated with theological claims and dogmatical instruction for the distinction commonly drawn between Christian " ethics" and Christian " dogma" to be other than forced or artificial" . His doctrines lead to His practice. Doctrine is likened by the Lord to yeast- it is going to affect the holder of it (Mt. 16:11,12).
There is likewise an intended ambiguity in the phrase " the faith of Abraham" (Rom. 4:16); this 'ambiguous genitive' can mean those who share " the (doctrinal) faith" , which Abraham also believed; or those who have the kind of belief which Abraham had. Like Abraham, we are justified by the faith in Christ; not faith in Christ, but more specifically the faith in Christ (Gal. 2:16). The use of the definite article surely suggests that it is our possession of the same doctrinal truths (the Faith) which Abraham had, which is what leads to faith in Christ and thereby our justification. The life Paul lived was by the Faith of Christ; not simply by faith, as a verb, which is how grammatically it should be expressed if this is what was meant; but by the Faith (Gal. 2:20).
The Power Of Truth
Truth of itself changes us. Hence the importance of truth. We must grasp the reality of the fact that either what we believe and stand for is indeed " the truth" , or a very carefully fabricated pack of philosophy, commended to us by many experiences of auto-suggestion and complex psychological tricks we are playing upon ourselves. For me, and I suspect for you, the awesome conclusion is that no, this is the truth. The real thing. Daniel speaks of repentance and obeying God's voice as being a result of 'having discernment in thy truth' (Dan. 9:13,14 RV). To grasp the endless depth and height of the fact we are in touch with ultimate truth inevitably affects our lives. 3 Jn. 3 in the AV speaks of " the truth that is in thee" ; but the Greek can also mean, as in the RV, " thy truth" . To really believe true doctrine leads to repentance, and to our being truthful at the very least. Our contact with God's truth results in our being truthful not only to others but to ourselves, and this, as Daniel observed, gives rise to true repentance.
We must be careful not to separate doctrine from practice. Our concern for truth and for the importance of truth must always remain with us, but truth sets free, not enslaves us to forms of words and the inevitable division which such slavery will bring. Doctrines lead to faith, but faith is not total certainty we know everything; faith is essentially trust, trust in those things we do not and cannot know in the ultimate sense. It is the basic Gospel itself which has the power to bring forth the new man, after the image of Christ. It is crucial to what I would call 'true theology' [defence of first principles, upholding the Truth, call it what you will] that it is not separated from the call of doctrine to be the vital force for the transformation of human life. We must be careful not to develop (either in our ecclesias or in our own minds) a complex intellectual theological system that lacks a praxis. That praxis, I submit, is in the preaching of the Gospel to the world. Out there, there is plenty of praxis, striving to find an adequate theological / doctrinal underpinning. We must realize that the true theologian, the real believer in the Truth, cannot avoid the challenge of knowing personally life in its most traumatic forms. It has been truly observed: " theology cannot but have a mission" . Unless 'theology', doctrine, defence of it etc., are put at the service of our mission, to save men and women and glorify the Lord, then there can only be an ever increasing gap between the theory and practice in our lives. I fear that we have come to worship a theology, rather than the living and real persons of the Father and Son to whom that theology should lead. We have come to love and concern ourselves with the doctrines which comprise our theology, and we tend to leave it there. And thus that theology has of itself become empty, and sooner or later thoughtful folk start asking ‘What ever are we spending our lives worrying about? Let’s quit this for something more practical!’. When paradoxically enough, it is the actual doctrines which comprise the theology, or at least, the correct theology, which ought to be transforming lives in practice.
It is worth observing the very simple fact that the New Testament is essentially a missionary document- all the expressions and articulations of doctrine / theology found there are all in the context of the preaching of the Gospel and the immediate problems of men and women in responding to it. This is why we aren't given a cold statement of faith or catechism in the New Testament, but rather the history of the mission of Christ at its first beginning. Even parables like that of Mt. 25:31-46 were relevant in a missionary context- regarding the perils of not supporting the itinerant missionaries in the first century. And this is why the power of the early Christian witness lay in who they were- for this was the real advertisement for the doctrine they preached. The importance of truth was reflected in how their personalities and characters differed from those around them. There should be no disconnection between the message we preach and ordinary life. Life, our actual existence, should be at the heart of the doctrinal message we preach. It is not only a message of future things- that message must touch and reach deeply into life at home, work, family, and into the unshareable self of the human psyche. Our belief in any statement of faith should be just that- a statement of our living faith, rather than a mere statement of our intellectual, academic, theoretical opinion. Our lives and personalities above all are our individual statement of faith. The doctrine of the cross, of the Gospel, of the man and Lord Christ Jesus, is to be the centre of not merely our mind and reason, but at the core of our actual life and conscience.