What Is Truth?
What is truth? This question raised by Pilate, when Jesus Christ stood trial before him, exposed his own worldview. He lived in a world in which absolute truth did not exist. I think Pilate’s voice was dismissive and filled with disdain. I imagine he sneered in mockery, angry that Christ dared to speak with truth. Though he looked straight into the face of the incarnate Truth, he could not discern it. Pilate was like so many today, a postmodernist, but one living in premodern times.
What is truth? It is defined as that which conforms with fact or reality. It is genuineness, veracity, or actuality. In a word, truth is reality. It is how things actually are. Theologically, truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Truth is the self-disclosure of God Himself. It is what it is because God declares it so and made it so. All truth must be defined in terms of God, whose very nature is truth.
God the Father is “the God of truth” (Ps. 31:5; Isa. 65:16, NASB and hereafter). Jesus Christ is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In fact, He is “the truth” (14:6). The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Paul calls Scripture “the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Jesus prayed, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Everything about God is true. God always tells it like it is.
How valuable is the truth? Its worth is more “than gold, yes, than much fine gold” (Ps. 19:10). John Calvin says, “Nothing is deemed more precious by God than truth.” No one can be saved without the truth. Nor can anyone be sanctified or strengthened without it. This being so, what are the characteristics of truth? What are its distinguishing properties?
First, truth is divine. Ultimately, all truth is God’s truth. Truth is from above. It is not of this world. It is not what the crowd speculates something to be. It is not determined by opinion polls, nor is it discovered by public surveys. It is not grandfathered in by human tradition. Truth can be known only by divine revelation.
God is the one Source and sole Author of truth. Sin is whatever God says it is. Judgment is whatever God says it is. Salvation is what God says it is. Heaven and hell are what God says they are. It matters not what man says but simply what God says. One word of what God says is worth more than ten thousand libraries of what man says. “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Rom. 3:4).
Second, truth is absolute. Without God, there cannot be any absolutes. Without absolutes, there can be no objective, universal truths. Without absolutes, truth becomes subjective, relative, and pragmatic. Without absolutes, truth gives way to mere personal or cultural preferences. But to the contrary, all truth is absolute because God is absolute truth.
This means that only what is of truth is true. Everything contrary to the truth is a lie. Truth is exclusive, not inclusive. Truth is discriminating as it excludes what is not true. Truth is incompatible with and intolerant of all error. If all truth is God’s truth, then all untruths are the Devil’s lies.
The issue in our day is whether there is absolute truth that is true for everyone, no matter who they are, where they live, or what they do. Many people say truth is whatever they want it to be. They claim that what you believe is “true for you” and what I believe is “true for me,” even when the two are worlds apart. Something cannot be both true and not true. In such a worldview of self-deception, truth is no longer objective.
All truth is universally true. There is no place where truth is not true. It is comprehensive, total, complete. Francis Schaeffer maintains, “Biblical Christianity is Truth concerning total reality.” That is, it exists without any exceptions. Truth is absolute because it is derived from the one God. Absolute truth depends on God.
Third, truth is singular. That is to say, truth is a single entity. It does not exist in bits and pieces of unrelated ideas or disconnected data. The Bible most often uses the definite article when speaking of the truth. Truth can never be merely a truth, as if it exists in fragments from various sources. Truth is not a collection of ideologies gleaned from detached sources. It can never be found in a study of comparative religions or competing philosophies. Instead, all truth is found in the one true God.
Because truth is one body of truth, it is always internally consistent. It never contradicts itself. Truth always speaks with one voice and is always in perfect agreement with itself. It is always in harmony with everything else it says, since each aspect of truth is congruent with the sum of its parts.
Schaeffer notes, “Christianity is not a series of truths in the plural, but rather truth spelled with a capital ‘T.’” In other words, truth presents a singular worldview. It presents one origin for the universe, one problem of the human race, one way of salvation, one way of holiness, one standard for the family, one plan for human history, one consummation of the age. James Montgomery Boice asserts, “Truth holds together. There is no phase of truth that is not related to every other phase of truth. All things that are true are part of the truth and stand in proper relationship to God, who is Himself the truth.” Truth is consistent with itself.
Fourth, truth is objective. This means that truth is not subjective. It is not discovered by personal feelings nor determined by private intuitions. Instead, truth is propositional. It is conveyed in narrowly defined words that have rational definitions and is stated in precise terms that communicate real meaning. Words mean something in regard to truth. Therefore, truth is black and white. It is definite, definitive, and conclusive. Truth is not abstract, vague, or nebulous. It is accurately stated by the fixed meaning of words and can be observed, discussed, studied, analyzed, believed, proclaimed, and defended.
Because truth is objective, it is impartial, unbiased, unprejudiced, and non-partisan. It speaks to all people in all places the same. Truth never speaks out of both sides of its mouth. It never caters to the crowd. It never says one thing to one person and something else to another. Truth addresses all people alike as it finds them.
Fifth, truth is immutable. God does not change and neither does His truth, which cannot be true today but not true tomorrow. Truth is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Right is always right and wrong is forever wrong. Society may try to redefine morality. Culture may try to reclassify its mores. But Jesus identified Himself as the Truth, not the custom of the day. Truth is forever the same. The psalmist says, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (119:89). Isaiah 40:8 affirms, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God abides forever.” The world changes. Kingdoms rise and fall. But truth remains unchanging.
Truth is permanent, fixed, and established. It is inflexible, unvarying, constant, lasting, enduring, timeless, unchanging. Therefore, truth is always relevant. It is always current, always contemporary, always relevant. Truth addresses the issues of the day with penetrating insight. It is never outdated, never obsolete, never expired. Truth never tires, never wanes, never ceases to be true.
Sixth, truth is authoritative. Truth does not stammer or stutter. It speaks with the supreme authority of God Himself. It always makes demands upon us and never offers mere suggestions. It never presents just one more option to consider. It is never intended to be simply interesting. It never speaks to tickle our curiosity. Instead, truth speaks with the voice of sovereignty. Truth roars with the sound of many waters, drowning out every other voice. Truth is commanding, arresting, and directional. It has the authority to order us. Truth must, therefore, be heard. It demands our undivided attention. We cannot pretend that truth has not spoken. We cannot act as if it will go away. We cannot live in denial of truth. It lays hold of us by the lapels and draws us close. It summons us and mandates our complete compliance. Truth is binding upon our lives. Truth demands our response.
Likewise, truth possesses supernatural power. Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). When received by faith, the truth delivers our souls from the tyranny of sin. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (17:17). The truth cleanses and purifies. It penetrates into the deepest level of the human heart, cuts to the bone, and works from the inside out (Heb. 4:12). It has life-changing power. It converts, sanctifies, and strengthens. It conforms, transforms, and reforms. Truth renews our minds, revives our hearts, and redirects our steps.
Truth has the final word in all matters, telling us how to worship and how to walk. It tells us how to follow Christ. It is the final arbitrator on any subject. It is the final judge of every life. All people are measured by the truth. Every life is weighed in the balances by the truth. Every destiny is marked by the truth. And so the truth will have the final say in every life.