The Truth About Truth
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:76-78)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
One of the marks of our era is the lack of
confidence that there really is a thing called truth.
Many go so far as to treat concern about the truth as an annoying distraction. Of course what they refuse to admit to themselves is that all the while they deny truth, they are assuming certain things to be true. Current trends even in the churches avoid saying that anything is always true for everybody all the time.
Our period of history is often called the age of Post-Modernism. Modernism in the early 20th century attempted to explain away anything supernatural. It assumed that everything perceived as spiritual had either a natural scientific explanation, or was just the result of our psychological needs. To the Modernist, the Bible was a good book, but just a good book of myths and morality lessons. They said it was spliced together by deluded men and religious manipulators.
Modernism fails to fit the way we really are. It continues in many of the “main-line” denominations. However, as creatures of God we know by instinct that there is a real supernatural dimension to our lives.
In the latter part of the 20th Century and today in the 21st Century, unbelief favors another way to attack God’s truth. Truth is no longer considered to be important. The Post-modernist is more concerned about our feelings and doing what it assumes to be good. We don’t mean to imply that those are bad things. The real problem that what is thought of as good in the eyes of one group of people might be horribly rude, insensitive, and oppressive to another group. Without knowing what is true, our own feelings become the test for what is correct, and what should be believed about what God’s word says concerning morality, attitudes, and behavior. Propositional truth becomes at best a mere secondary curiosity.
In this Post-Modern era, truth is seen as whatever seems best for each situation. Post-Moderns reject the idea that lies and truth are black or white issues. They see truth as coming in many shades of gray.
The result is a world without absolute moral standards. What the Bible forbids as immoral might be recommended as the best thing in certain situations. Law becomes flexible, and should be always changing. It becomes based upon currently popular trends, rather than upon principles built into the world by its Creator. Feeling personally comfortable inwardly, and what we personally thinks should make others feel comfortable, become the tests of what should be done and believed. This is the main-stream belief expressed in popular music, movies, TV shows, and novels.
This movement is effecting the churches today too. It separates practice from belief. It does what feels right without concern for what God says is really good and right. They talk about living in love, but hate it when someone picks up a Bible and tries to define what God says love really is. They would rather have a dialog about things, than admit that somethings are not true. They want to re-think worship, not wanting to be tied down to patterns that emerge from the Bible They prefer patterns that emerge from our culture, rather then those that emerge from the study of Scripture. The idea that God calls some of his children to study and to teach the Bible authoritatively is being replaced by a denial of the ordained Eldership as described in Scripture.
This “emerging church” idea, emerges from a faulty concept of truth. Those embracing this paradigm truly believe that they are becoming more relevant by just being caring about others. They tend to bristle with contempt if someone questions whether God sees what they are doing as really caring for the people’s actual spiritual needs.
Satan’s false kingdom hates God’s message. It sees it as the enemy. Today, the only real heresy, the one thing the post-modernists cannot tolerate, is the belief that there is actual truth that should be accepted and honored always.
The fact is, there are things that are true,
and other things that are not.
In Question 76 the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “Which is the ninth commandment?” It answers by quoting Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
The next two questions help explain what this Commandment covers.
Question 77. What is required in the ninth commandment?
Answer. The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness-bearing.
Question 78. What is forbidden in the ninth commandment?
Answer. The ninth commandment. forbiddeth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor’s good name.
This commandment is based upon a fundamental respect for truth. Truth is precious because it is the way things really are in the mind of God. What our Creator knows as true is what really is true, regardless of who else knows it or believes it. He defines what is true.
This is what makes lies so wrong, and truth so sacred and important. Dr. Charles Hodge once said: “Truth is at all times sacred, because it is one of the essential attributes of God. Truth is … the very substratum of Deity.” Titus 1:2 so simply tells us, “God … cannot lie”. Lies are contrary to his nature.
When you tell a lie, give false testimony, or promote things that are false, even little things, you obscure the way things are as God knows them, and you fail in your created duty to show the Creator’s nature at work in your heart.
The problem is that in our fallen estate we have lost our ability to love truth. It is only through Jesus Christ that our spiritual blindness can be taken away. He changes the hearts of his people, and enables them to see and to appreciate what God says. We should hunger to learn and to promote the truth of the way things are, even when it is not comfortable for us.
As we mature in Christ we should promote truth all the more. We want to be honest about things in our lives, and to be careful not to spread untruths about others.
Lies defy what God knows to be true.
There is a cosmic battle that has been going on since the moment of the first rebellion. Satan is the enemy of truth. In John 8:44 Jesus said, “… he is a liar, and the father of lies.” Evil wants to obscure God’s truth in every way possible. It attracts and enlists its followers with false promises, false testimony about God — lies. Those who stand against God are characterized by their love for lies.
When you lie, you align yourself with the enemy of your Creator. God is offended, and you fail to point your life toward the God of Truth. People’s lives and reputations are also damaged very seriously by lies and rumors.
- Bending the truth, just a little can seem to be a convenient way to excuse doing what God forbids:
- People lie to avoid commitments or phone calls
- Children might lie to their parents about what they’ve done, or where they’ve been
- Workers sometimes lie to their bosses, or bosses to their workers
- Businessmen lie to their clients. Advertisers lie to sell their products
- Students sometimes lie about their homework
- Some teachers bend the truth to shape the views and attitudes of their students
- Some lie to avoid paying their taxes
It is very easy to make up stories that blame others, rather than to shoulder our own responsibilities. Often people rush to judgment about others rather than to take the time to find out what really happened and why.
There is no lie or dismissal of truth so minor that it does not offend our Heavenly Father. To misrepresent the truth is to rebel against God. Truth is important, and lies are morally wrong because God says so. God’s truth is the bedrock of morality and of all civility. Jesus Christ calls all of his children to be promoters of truth.
Specifically this commandment forbids bearing false witness against your neighbor. If you do, you sin grievously. That happens anytime you say something untrue about someone, or make a false promise.
One of the obvious ways this commandment is broken is in a court of law. False testimony and lies can get an innocent person convicted of a crime he did not commit, or it may set a guilty person free from paying for his crimes. It obstructs justice and defies the way God tells us to deal with criminals. God’s law for Israel was very harsh toward a perjurer who would give false testimony in court. We can see from this, just how offensive deception must be to God.
The larger principle summarized in the 9th commandment is that truth must always be upheld. Zechariah 8:16-17 says, “These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; And do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate, Says the LORD.”
When writing to the Ephesian church Paul used that verse from Zechariah. In Ephesians 4:25 he wrote, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.”
Bearing false witness is not just something done in a court of law. Sometimes false witness comes in the form of gossip. When people say things against others without evidence or in the form of gossip they take part in a vicious, inhumane sin. It attacks this 9th commandment and the God whose morality it represents. Many lives, families, churches, and communities have been painfully destroyed by a few words spoken by idle busybodies or prideful fools.
We should never listen to or spread rumors and innuendos about someone. In the eyes of God, a person’s reputation is important. Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold.” When you steal sliver or gold from someone it is obviously wrong. When you gossip, you steal his good name. The Bible says this is even more grievous.
Gossip shows a reckless disregard for the other person’s reputation. It can do a lot of damage to someone’s life. Proverbs 16:27 says, “An ungodly man digs up evil, And it is on his lips like a burning fire.” Rumors can destroy a person, his family, his church, or business.
Misunderstandings, assumptions, and outright lies can spread like wildfire. James 3:5 warns, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!”
Dangerous gossip might not be about someone you know personally. Celebrities and well known political figures are often the target for gossip. Tabloids, opinion columns, blogs, and interview shows should be more responsible. Just because something is in print, on TV, radio, or the internet does not make it reliable.
Confirm that things are true before you repeat them. Never forward those juicy e-mails without doing some checking. Go to snopes.com or other similar fact-checking websites to research what is said in those e-mail reports. Usually you can find an analysis of the stories currently being circulated.
Gossip, true or untrue, is a symptom of a heart that is not right with God. It can be used to blackmail or to intimidate opponents. Sadly it is used commonly in political campaigns, in personal relationships, and in business.
The best cure for gossip is silence. Never speak of, or become audience to, private and unsubstantiated matters. When the loose tongue is controlled, the gossip dies. Proverbs 26:20, “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.”
You also break this commandment when you make a vow you do not intend to keep. Before you vow faithfulness in marriage, church membership, take on some office of trust, or sign a business deal, be sure you really mean all you vow to be and to do. Do not repeat creeds in church if you do not believe they are true.
By living with a low view of truth, by telling even little convenient lies, you show disregard for its sacredness before God, and you contribute to the darkness of the world. In such a world neighbors are not trusted, courts become bodies of misjudgment, leaders become those who are the most skilled in manipulation and deceit.
Thankfully God restrains sin to a degree even in the unsaved, otherwise there would be no trust or hope in our world at all. He tells us he does this for the sake of his people, and for the honor or his own name.
Our responsibility is to know and to show God’s truth.
In God’s eternal plan, Jesus Christ came into our world as its only Savior. He paid the penalty for the sins that separate his people from him. He re-enables his people to know and to love what is true. As those redeemed and taught by his word, we have an awesome responsibility. We are obligated to champion all that God reveals as true. We do it for his glory.
Jesus said the truth shall set you free. The truth of God’s redemptive promises show how we are set free from the deceptions of our fallen hearts through the work of the Savior. By telling the truth of the gospel to those you know and meet, you promote that freedom. By respecting truth and avoiding unseemly gossip, you can preserve reputations. By living obediently to the true ways God reveals in his word, you help people, maybe yourself, get back on the right track in life
Failing to tell the truth has its consequences. Lies promise things they can never deliver. By bending the truth now and then, people imagine they can get moments of peace, security, and satisfaction. This deception is tragic when what they are told does not take place. They become discouraged by distortions of what God has actually told us in his word. In contrast, the consequences of truth carry the promise of blessing from our unfailing God.
In a world where truth is seen as relative and uncertain we have a great message. When gossip covers our newspapers, fills our TV and radio programs, saturates the internet, fuels conversations over coffee or meals, spreads like wildfire through gullibly passed on stories, and drives a dirty and distasteful form of politics, believers will stand out if they handle truth responsibly.
One of the great attributes of the God who made and saves us is promoted when we are champions of truth. God promises rich blessings to those who love his word of truth, and who show the evidence of hearts changed by grace through our Savior Jesus Christ.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)