Abiding in the Truth
Published June 12, 2023
One of the most devastating effects of the Fall of humanity into sin was the destruction of man’s ability to discern truth from error.
When Adam and Eve were created, the only thing they had ever heard was the truth. But when the serpent entered the garden and introduced the lie, he deceived Eve. Adam also submitted himself to the devil’s lie; and when he did so, the minds of Adam, Eve, and all their descendants were corrupted to such an extent that lies now dominate our thinking.
Perhaps there is no more striking example of the total inability of the natural man to distinguish truth from lies than Pontius Pilate. In John 18:28, John begins to tell the narrative of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Earlier in John 14:6, Jesus had declared to His disciples that He was the truth. Jesus Christ was not merely one who brought truth or who spoke truth, although He did both of those things – but He was truth incarnate. To see Jesus was to see the truth.
Yet after questioning Jesus, and after hearing Jesus explain that everyone who is of the truth hears Jesus’ voice, and after seeing Jesus stand before Him, Pilate ends the conversation by asking with disdain, “What is truth?”
If humanity had any opportunity to grasp the truth and any capacity whatsoever to distinguish the truth from lies – it was in that moment as Jesus stood before Pilate and explained why He had come into the world. Although Jesus stood there, the truth incarnate, Pilate was blind and could not see the truth staring him in the face, literally.
This same tragic inability to identify truth continues in our culture today. Looking inward for truth, finding truth in your feelings, truth as a subjective concept that might differ from person to person, truth as something that is determined by how it affects you and your life in the here and now – these are the ways the world today defines and seeks after truth.
This lie that feelings determine truth is one of the means the devil uses to keep sinners blinded to the truth of the gospel. The gospel tells us that we are sinners, that we are rebellious against God, that we deserve condemnation for our sins, and that we are not good people no matter what we might think.
No one apart from the work of the Spirit of God in their hearts wants to be told they are a bad person, a sinful person, and a person who is justly under the wrath of a holy God. No one wants to be told they cannot save themselves, that they are wholly dependent upon Christ to save them through His death and resurrection, and that their only hope is to believe in Him.
The world hates that message, and one reason why is because they don’t like the way it makes them feel. If feelings determine truth, and the gospel makes “me” feel bad, then the gospel must not be true. For this reason, many people – when they hear the gospel – reject it outright because they cannot fathom that a message that seems so insulting is true. And so they reject the truth for a lie that makes them feel better about themselves. In Romans 1:25, the apostle Paul puts it like this: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” Because the world is alienated from God, they are alienated from truth.
It comes as no surprise, then, that when we come to the fourth test of salvation in 1 John 2:18-27, the test revolves around our relationship to the truth. We have seen the test of our relationship to sin in light of God’s purity, the test of our relationship to Christ, and the test of our relationship to the world. In this passage, we see three ways that true Christians relate to and respond to the truth of God’s Word.
First, true believers know the truth – and what believers have that enables them to know the truth is the Holy Spirit. The reason we know the truth, and the reason John’s readers knew the truth, was simply because the Spirit of God revealed it to them as the Word was proclaimed. If you know the truth, it means the Spirit of God dwells in you. It means that you have eternal life. And it means that you aren’t going to be deceived by the lies of false religions.
Second, true believers confess the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. True believers do not merely know this and keep silent about it, but openly confess and do not deny this truth. This is not a requirement, but something we can’t help but confess. And when we know and confess the truth, we have assurance in our hearts that we have the Father and the Son through the Spirit, who is the anointing that gave us this knowledge and prompted this confession.
Third, true believers abide in the truth. John writes this phrase in the command form in the Greek, indicating that we are called to do this. This exhortation is very similar to what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:16, where he said, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” We let the Word dwell (or abide) in us by being in the truth constantly, being immersed in the truth, and being around others who know and confess the truth.
If we let the Word abide in us, the inevitable result is that we will abide in the Son and in the Father, which is an incredible promise. When Scripture takes up residence within you, you can be certain that you will live in the Father and the Son – and we will enjoy eternal life. That means that we will know God more, and that we will live with Him forever in a new creation where there will be no more pain, no more sickness, no more sorrow, and no more sin.
This fourth test is, I think, the most personal and intimate test of all that John has presented in his letter. It causes us to ask one significant question of ourselves: Am I abiding in the truth of Jesus Christ? Do I recognize that He is the truth, do I know that His Word is true without any lies, do I confess this truth, and do I live my life in relationship with the one who is the truth through His Spirit?
This is, in the end, the greatest reality of Christianity. It’s not merely about knowing truth as in a set of propositions that are true – although it involves that. It is about knowing the One who is the truth and abiding in Him. It’s really about knowing the Father and the Son through the Spirit He has given us, which is a gift greater than anything else we could receive. And if we know that, if we confess that, and if we abide in that truth, we have clear evidence that we have eternal life.