THE TRUTH THAT SETS US FREE
June 10, 2012
Once we understand that Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), and we have properly prepared ourselves to receive the truth by emptying ourselves of man-originated doctrines (1 Timothy 1:3-4) and disowning ourselves (Matthew 16:24), then we are ready to receive truth.
As part of our spiritual reboot, we first wanted to understand how to use the Bible to rebuild our faith. A review of the books of the Bible reveals that it can be divided into four major sections:
Section 1 - Genesis to Malachi which contain the Hebrew history, experience and understanding of God;
Section 2 - Matthew to John - which contain the accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings
Section 3 - Acts to Jude - which contain the acts of the apostles and disciples and their understanding of Jesus and his teachings
Section 4 - Revelation - which contains a great and complex prophecy
We made up a little analogy: The Bible is like a well-stocked banquet. The Hebrew writings are the appetizer, Jesus’ teachings are the meat, the writings of the disciples are the vegetables, and Revelation is dessert. For our purposes, Section 2 is where we began – the meat of the Bible. Since Jesus is “the truth,” it seems appropriate to begin here.
What we wanted to know was: What did Jesus actually teach? We had wiped our beliefs from the doctrines and interpretations of men. We wanted no outside influences or interference. We have a great deal of respect for the centuries of efforts of so many who did their best to preserve and translate the Christian writings from Aramaic and Greek to the modern languages of our day. And we have a great deal of respect for those who mulled over these writings and provided indexes, concordances and lexicons to aid in our search for understanding.
But we must also realize that these individuals were limited in many ways by the strict mores of their time and their own limited spiritual vision. Their interpretations were colored and circumscribed by their national agenda and their own social progress. For example, as early as 33 C.E., this statement was made:
“Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
– Acts 10:34-35
Yet it has taken nearly 2,000 years for Christians to accept this scripture. And in many areas of the world, this idea is still not accepted. How could Christianity condone slavery, and the oppression of women? How could these comparatively faithful Christian men abide and promote colonialism? One reasons is that their view of Jesus’ teachings was handed down and promoted by their church leaders who, as we now know, had an agenda different from that of the Christ.
We can also look to what occurred in Christianity in the 1800's, especially in America. There was a boon of dispensationalism and end-time speculation called Eschatology. Beginning in the first century, and every century thereafter, many Christian groups believed the book of Revelation was having its fulfillment in their time and they were certain they understood its meaning. This was not new. However, in the 1800's something different was happening.
The dispensationalists were developing theories based on sporadic Biblical scriptures and varying calculations. Some of those groups folded after their failed interpretations. Some, simply re-calculated and re-asserted new dates, each time with even greater fervor. As a result of these movements, there is a long trail of faith destruction and economic disaster to this day. For these reasons, we must be watchful as to what we believe and be cautious, especially, about our spiritual and religious expectations.
Rather than simply going along with our church doctrines and prophetic interpretations, we must take a fresh look for ourselves at our beliefs. The ideas that we find to be in harmony with Jesus’ plain and open teachings we can accept and continue to hold onto them. But those that we find have no support or are in opposition to Jesus’ teachings must be rejected.
With this information in mind, we wanted to get the most unadulterated and purest message of Jesus that we could get. We wanted to know what specifically Jesus wanted us to know. Thereby, we could build our faith on the firm foundation of the truth as personified by Jesus Christ, and in the process, we could save ourselves from being misled by the efforts, though sincere, of imperfect men with biased or limited understanding.
Since we concluded that Section 2 contains information about ‘the truth,’ we also concluded that Sections 1, 3 and 4 are to be understood through the paradigm of Section 2. In other words, when we try to understand what the Hebrew writers meant, we are to examine those teachings through the lens of the teachings of Jesus, and not the other way around. And if we want to understand what the apostles and disciples meant, or what the images of Revelation symbolize, we must also examine them through the lens of Section 2. Consequently, if there is a discrepancy between what Jesus taught and the other portions of the Bible, we always side with Jesus and seek to understand the other portions in relation to, and subject to, what Jesus taught.
This is what Jesus wants us to do. When asked why he and his disciples did not participate in the Hebrew practice of fasting, Jesus responded:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
– Matthew 9:14-17
Here, Jesus is telling us that what he brings is something new and different, and his new and different teachings do not fit into the old ways of the Jewish system. When someone attempts to fit Jesus’ teachings into the old Jewish system, not only will Jesus’ teachings be lost, but the Jewish system would be destroyed – it would no longer make sense. And isn’t that what we see now?
For example, surely you see that the God Jesus described is very different from the God the Hebrews described. If you try to fit Jesus’ God into the old Hebrew descriptions of God, the love of the Father is lost, and the God of the Hebrews scriptures appears very childish. But if we accept Jesus’ teachings as a new and true revelation, we can look back at the Hebrew descriptions, not as wrong, but as partial and incomplete. (1 Corinthians 13:9-13) We can know the true God as Jesus revealed Him, and still have respect for the Hebrew writings.
When we completed Section 2, we had a whole new understanding and appreciation of the message of the good news of the kingdom. We saw the unmatched personality of Jesus and the great love of the Father. Then we moved to Section 3 – the nourishing vegetables and side dishes – and gained a deeper appreciation of the good news by the way the disciples and apostles lived it and taught it. Then we asked ourselves:
What was so revolutionary about Jesus’ teachings that separated them from the Jewish laws and rituals?
Why did the message of Jesus cause his disciples and apostles to leave the synagogues and separate themselves from the Jews?
What was so offensive about Jesus’ teachings that caused his followers to be expelled from the synagogues?
What was it that Jesus taught that compelled common men and women to voluntarily and earnestly tell others about Jesus and his teachings?
What was so profound that average men and women were willing to give their lives for it, even if it meant a very painful death?
What is it about Jesus’ teachings that continue to influence men and women over 2,000 years after his death?
When we found the answers to these questions, we understood the true good news. We understood our relationship to it and what we needed to do about it.
When we looked back at Section 1, we realized it contains only a partial understanding of God and his purposes. As the apostle Paul wrote:
“Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
– Galatians 3:19-25
Therefore, when we read Section 1, we are to keep in mind that the matters contained therein are basically lessons and guidelines – the appetizers. Up until Jesus, man was carried and guarded by laws. But ever since Jesus arrived, we are carried and guarded by “truth” – the main entree.
Finally, we turned to Section 4, the Revelation – the dessert. We remembered that any understanding we gained from it would have to be consistent with Section 2 since it, too, was given by Jesus:
“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
– Revelation 1:1-2
Many of the ideas, characters and features in the Revelation were given to John in signs and symbols by angels. They were not to be taken literally, but were meant to convey to the reader’s mind certain ideas and concepts. These pictorials are designed to evoke and provoke imagination and spiritual thought. It often uses the phrases such as:
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
– Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22
“Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
– Revelation 13:9
An example of its symbolic pictorials is when it speaks of ‘war in heaven:’
“Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”
– Revelation 12:7-9
What would war in heaven look like? We doubt it would be carnal warfare like wars on earth. We learn from Paul that heavenly bodies are incorruptible. (1 Corinthians 15:42, 50) That means that they do not wear out and no one can arbitrarily or negligently destroy them. Although we are certain the Father retains the authority to decree an incorruptible personality’s extinction for gross unrepentant disobedience or rebellion. (Jude 6)
No, war in heaven is more likely a war of words, a war of ideas such as challenges to authority and sovereignty. Which side is correct? Which side leads to life? Which side is with the Father? It seems there would be a back and forth debate among those affected until the victor was clear. Heavenly warfare is not as barbaric as the physical wars of men, but it is far more deadly. In a physical war, physical life is in jeopardy, but war in heaven is fought on terms of life eternal. To convey to the human mind the exceedingly deadly nature of war in heaven, the signs and symbols must be horrific and beyond what we would imagine could take place in a physical war.
In fact, we are inclined to believe that many of the signs and symbols of Revelation are likewise of events that occurred, occur, or will occur in the heavenly realm or regarding spiritual matters. Man has a tendency to think that heaven is ethereal and not real. The revelation shows the heavens are indeed real and that decrees from heaven can have a real effect on mankind, far greater than what would occur by normal earthly tragedies.
And we believe that when it says it was ‘given in signs,’ it means that certain angels and other celestial beings were acting out a drama for John, rather than John being given a foregleam or foreglimpse of things that will actually take place on earth. And given the history of its compilation, it even appears that much of the revelation has been changed, rearranged, fragmented and/or omitted. For this reason, we do not purport to know the meaning of the entire Revelation. And we suspect that no one can truly know it in its entirety without a further revelation from Jesus. But as a dessert, it rounds out our spiritual meal and at the end, we experience its sweetness:
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”
– Revelation 21:1-7
Until then, we find no need to fear the graphic visions of Revelation. Whatever its actual meaning, we are assured in Section 2 that those who exercise faith in Jesus’s plain and open teachings will have an eternal and everlasting future.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
– Matthew 10:28-31
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
– John 6:40
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
– John 11:25-26
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
– Matthew 6:33-34
We have published many articles our on our website that identify and expound on the actual, authentic, plain and open teachings of Jesus – the true good news. But now we challenge our readers to discover the good news for themselves. Look over the questions we posed above about Section 2. We found our answers and to some extent, we have shared many of them on this website. And while we are confident that our explanations are accurate, it is imperative that each person examine the writings for themselves and make a personal discovery of the good news so that the truth can become their own.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
– Romans 12:1-2
When you discover the true good news for yourself, your personal dignity and self respect will soar. You will discover that you can figure out truth on your own, without the overlording and dictating of men, and you will know the truth of John’s words:
“I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.”
– 1 John 2:26-29
Yes, all those who seek truth – divine truth, not man’s truth – will find it. When we empty ourselves of the customs and rituals of men, and ‘pick up ourcross,’ we receive the anointing which will lead us. This is how the Christ empowers us as individuals and this is how we are made free – by the pouring out the Spirit of Truth:
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
– John 16:12-15
Obtaining First-Hand Religion
When the Spirit of Truth operates in our lives, we can experience first-hand religion. The Spirit of Truth is, in fact, Jesus present with us individually. But when we allow men to teach us their understanding about Jesus who require that we subject ourselves to their interpretations, our religion becomes second-hand – a hearsay religion. Here is why:
1. Jesus said and did some things, but he did not write them down.
2. Years after his death, some of his apostles and disciple began to compile notes from what they could recall of what Jesus said and did, compared their notes with others and published those compiled notes into what is called the four Gospel Accounts – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – which were written in the languages of the day, Greek and Aramaic.
3. In about 325 C.E., the Council of Nicea convened, sifted through the hundreds of Christian writings and after much debate, settled on the 27 books that make up the Christian writings. History reveals that the book of Revelation was the last book that was accepted into the Bible canon, perhaps 100 years after the other books were accepted and after much debate and suspected reconstruction of its contents.
4. These settled (or canonized) books were translated into various languages which were themselves translated into various other languages until we have the writings translated into our modern languages.
5. Then modern Bible translators revised those writings according to new archeological findings and ancient lexicons and modern vocabulary, all claiming to provide a more accurate translation of what Jesus actually said.
And after all this work, what we have is a book containing various translations of translations of recollections of the words and teachings of Jesus. These are the reasons why some doubt its veracity.
However, when we say the Bible is ‘hearsay,’ that does not mean it is unreliable, inauthentic, or untrue. Hearsay simply means that the person reading the writing has no first hand knowledge of its veracity. We can illustrate it this way: When something happens to you and you tell another about it, to that other person, that experience is hearsay, even though you know it to be true. The person you told it to did not experience it first hand, therefore all he can do is believe you or not believe you. He cannot prove to another person that it actually happened.
Hearsay only means that we know about something by the words of another, not by our own personal experience. Hearsay information does not prove anything to the listener. A listener can believe it and accept it as true. But as followers of Christ, we are told to prove truth to ourselves. (Romans 12:1-2)
Further, the fact that the Bible writers were inspired does not solve our hearsay problem. The Spirit of Truth inspired them to write the gospels, and it gave them the conviction that what they wrote was true. It recalled to their minds the things Jesus said and did.
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
– John 14:26
But, how does that effect you and I? Isn’t it still hearsay to us even though the gospel writers were themselves inspired? The writers can say “But the Spirit of Truth confirmed it to me!” Yet, all we can do is accept it or not accept it. Their declaration is not truth. Divine inspiration is the personal possession of the individual who is aided by the Spirit of Truth, based on that individual’s capacity to receive it. And it can and will be given to each person who asks in faith for its assistance. Hence, when the Spirit of Truth arrives in our lives, then we, too, will have the conviction that what the gospel writers wrote is true. This is the point the Apostle John was making when he wrote that ‘his anointing teaches you’. (1 John 2:26-27)
This is how we, almost 2,000 years later, can experience Jesus first hand. We recall that Jesus is the word (John 1:1-2) and Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), and that the word of God is alive. (Hebrews 4:12) Therefore, the written word about Jesus is not the activating force. The activating force is the Spirit of Truth who continues to reveal the authentic Jesus in our day. So rather than just reading about Jesus, we are to apply what we learn and imitate him in our lives. In this way, we become living first hand witnesses of truth. Note what Paul wrote:
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:14-16
A spiritual man learns to examine things spiritually, not by reading about something, but by experiencing it. Instead of testifying that ‘this or that is what Jesus said,’ we can testify that ‘I am a living example of the truthfulness of what Jesus said and taught.’ That is the goal! That is the meaning of being a witness. If all we are doing is telling about what we read, we are not valid witnesses. The legal term is that we are not ‘competent’ witnesses and we ‘lack capacity’ to tell the true story. Our testimony will be thrown out of court as hearsay. (Let’s hope we are not sanctioned for our ignorance of the rules.)
But when a person experiences something first hand, no one – no clergyman, no deceiver, no self-appointed leader – can convince him otherwise. Such a person is solid in their faith and can then put his attention on serving his brother rather than on vacillating from one idea to another. Such a person becomes a competent, not a hearsay, witness of Jesus. We know of what we speak.
What we need to do and be are living examples of Jesus’ teachings. We must become ‘little Christs’ substituting for him (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), not mere gossipers ‘about Christ.’ Rather than passively marveling at the faith of the men and women of old, and the apostles and disciples of the early Christian era, we should be discovering those qualities in ourselves and becoming new expressions of bold and faithful living for our generation and future generations to look upon.
To those of us who are up to the challenge of being modern day spiritual heroes who are living examples of the excelling value of Jesus’ ministry, we need to do a first hand examination of the plain and open teachings of Jesus, and then move on to the next step in this symposium. We need to apply the truth, live the truth, and speak the truth to one another, thereby dividing the physical men from the spiritual men. Do you have the courage to become living heroes and competent witnesses of Jesus. If so, then let’s move on to the next article in this series, Living the Truth.
“Your Brothers in the Faith”