This is the eightieth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
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What did Jesus mean when he said, “I am the truth.”
It is hard to overstate how bold this claim is. It is bold to say, “I know the truth.” In these days it is even bold to say “I believe there is truth.” But when Jesus said: “I am the truth” he was raising the issue to a whole new level. Remember, when Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” it was on the evening of that dividing line between his life and his death. Just hours later, after Jesus’ arrest, he would stand before Pontius Pilate and say “for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” And then came the chilling question of Pontius Pilate: “what is truth?”
Pilate’s question may have been a cynical response, but it was the right question. And it remains the right question. It is why we do research, why we have universities, why we have publishing houses, and why we have churches.
Now there are those who think “what is truth?” is yesterday’s question. That we have now grown up and we no longer look for “the truth” because physics now presents us with different constructs of the universe that can apparently be true at the same time, and because historians are supposedly always biased, and because we certainly don’t want to get entangled with comparing Christian faith with other religions.
The problem is that this just does not square with everyday experience. We are continually looking for truth. The only way to live is if you assume that that there’s a difference between truth and falsehood. What if the bank sent you your monthly statement with the disclaimer at the top: “this statement may or may not be true.” What if you were on trial and the judge instructed the jury that they may or may not prefer to seek the truth in their verdict? What if a candidate for the office of president of the United States openly said in the campaign that he was going to be selective on which days he would tell the truth? What if you asked your adolescent kid whether or not he or she was using drugs–to give you the simple truth–and his or her response was “what is truth?” What if you ask your doctor to tell you the plain truth and he said to you “I’m sorry but our hospital’s policy is that we can choose whether or not to tell patients the truth”?
None of us really believes that we’ve outgrown the need for truth. None of us can live that way. And so we should honestly say that some of the things some religions teach are true and other things are false. And when we read Jesus’ words “for this reason I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth; everyone on the side of truth listens to me” and “I am the truth,” we should consider that some of the best news the world has ever heard.
Now there is one important qualification to make here. Christians believe that in Jesus Christ we have the eternal, the utterly true, truth about God. But Christian faith does not require that a person say that all other religions in the world are wrong in everything they say. When the Muslim says: “there is only one God,” the Christian should say “Amen.” When the Buddhist says “we can do better than living as merely material creatures, only being concerned about the clothes we wear or the goods we amass,” the Christian should say: “I agree with that.” When the Hindu says, “God is mysterious to us,” the Christian should not disagree. When the secular humanist says that human beings have fought shameful wars over religious convictions, and have shed the blood of innocent people and that is a crime, the Christian should say, “Sadly, I have to agree.” When the Confucian says we need to be guided by wisdom and principle, the Christian can only say, “I believe in the principled life, too.”
As someone has said, all truth is God’s truth. It does not sharpen our understanding of the truth to believe that everybody who is not a Christian is wrong in everything they believe. The Christian believes that the truth of God is so substantial and so deep and so strong and so loud, that it echoes across the centuries and throughout the cultures. Its strength does not come from our arguments, and its longevity does not depend on our institutions.
God loved the human race so much, that he did not only give prophets to speak the truth, but he came to us in the Son of God who is the truth… in person.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.