The Beauty of God’s Truth - Part 2
In a world that has rejected the idea of absolute truth and suffers the resulting confusion, it is a great gift to have God’s unchanging truth revealed in his Word.
Through Scripture we are taught a proper framework for understanding reality. God’s truth is not only perfect and reliable but it is beautiful, and through its shaping of our character and lifestyle we can make God’s truth attractive to those living in ignorance.
When God reveals his truth, it’s never abstract but is meant for real life. In the way we speak about this truth, we can be convincing and persuasive. We can also show that this is something good for the world and good for us, for when we believe God’s truth our lives begin to change. As Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are my disciples. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free!” (John 8:31-32). Knowing the truth of God in Christ sets you free from the power of sin and fear and guilt.
Knowing his truth also clarifies why we’re here: to live for his glory. In the Bible that’s always the test of faith: do we keep God’s Word? Think about how the New Testament emphasises the need to “obey the truth.” Like in 1 Peter 1:22, “You have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other.” God’s truth inspires love, and knowing his truth must lead to doing it.
Ready to Answer
God’s truth has a transforming power, one that affects how we work, and speak, and deal with hardship. Because that’s the case, I think it’s the experience of most Christians that we will be asked questions.
The questions will range from the simple, “Why do you go to church every week?” to the more complex, “How can a good God allow evil in the world?” And God’s Word teaches that it’s valuable to be prepared, to find accessible ways to speak of his truth: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15-16).
Peter’s words suggest that there is merit in studying apologetics, the methods and arguments for making a defense of God’s truth. We want to give explanations, validations, and reasons for what we believe. We can’t persuade someone to become a Christian, but neither should we discount the role of evidence and argument in coming to faith. For instance, a person might be more open to consider the gospel because of historical arguments for the existence of Jesus. Or a person might be prepared to accept the message of the Bible when he learns how the Bible has been faithfully preserved and passed down.
Efforts in apologetics have their place, but I want to focus on our witness to others not through reasoned arguments, but through sanctified behaviours. Such a focus arises from Scripture too, like 1 Peter 2:12,
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
In the first part of this article, we described the consequences of living without God’s truth: it’s painful, confusing, miserable, and pointless. At some point, probably every truth-less person will experience this. But we have the opportunity to show the better way, to demonstrate that the truth is transforming us and blessing us. Each of us is challenged to portray the beauty of God’s truth in a truth-less age.
Do our lives exhibit the fruits of how good it is to know the Lord? When people see the spirit in which you live, are they drawn closer to God? When they observe the way you treat others, do they find the gospel more credible? Conversely, would an unbeliever find the Christian message less credible by watching the way you live?
An agnostic who was converted after years of close interaction with Christians wrote the following powerful words:
The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians – when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug… When they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.[i]
It has always been true that the best argument for Christianity is not clever debating or solid historical evidence, but the best argument for Christianity is Christians.
As Pearcey observes, “In the days of the early church, the thing that most impressed their neighbours in the Roman Empire was the community of love they witnessed among believers. ‘Behold how they love one another,’ it was said. In every age, the most persuasive evidence for the gospel is not words or arguments but a living demonstration of God’s character through Christians’ love for one another, expressed in both their words and their actions.”[ii]
This Scriptural principle calls us to give attention to our personal witness through meaningful relationships and through a life that bears out the beauty of God’s truth. As Peter says, our “such good lives” should invite questions from others because we are faithfully, joyfully, and meaningfully living out the gospel: “What is the reason for the hope that is in you?”
The Holy Power of Friendship
I noted how true this was in a couple of books that I read in the last while. The first book was Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi (2016). Qureshi was a Muslim, so he accepted absolute truth, but it was truth of the Muslim variety—and therefore false. The first part of the book recounts his long and winding journey towards the Christian faith. Qureshi investigates the credibility of the Bible, studies the historical accounts of Christ, and tests the intricacies of Christian theology. While attending university, he also begins spending time with Christian friends, having meals together and studying together.
These Christians certainly engage in apologetics, for they try to persuade him about the truths of the Scriptures and the Triune God. Even so, in the book it is striking how it’s the friendship of these Christians that helps to change his mind. They are patient with him, hospitable toward him and kind, despite being worlds apart in belief. It’s in that warm context of love that the Holy Spirit moves Qureshi to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A second example is that of Christopher Hitchens and his friendship with Larry Taunton. We mentioned Hitchens in the first article as one of the militant atheists who argues vehemently that religion has no good use to a 21st century person wanting to lead a rational and responsible life. Hitchens wrote God Is Not Great, a book with the striking sub-title, How Religion Poisons Everything (2007).
Here are a couple of examples of his ranting in God is Not Great:
· “The Bible may… contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.”
· “The god of Moses would brusquely call for other tribes, including his favorite one, to suffer massacre and plague and even extirpation, but when the grave closed over his victims he was essentially finished with them unless he remembered to curse their succeeding progeny. Not until the advent of the Prince of Peace do we hear of the ghastly idea of further punishing and torturing the dead. First presaged by the rantings of John the Baptist, the son of god is revealed as one who, if his milder words are not accepted straightaway, will condemn the inattentive to everlasting fire.”
Hitchens passed away from cancer in 2011. Sometime after that, a Christian named Larry Taunton wrote about his relationship with Hitchens, telling the story in a book with the provocative title, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens (2016).
Taunton is a journalist and commentator who formed a friendship with Hitchens through various connections. In 2010 they went on a road-trip together as part of a tour where they were having public debates (against each other, no less!) on matters of faith and reason. The book gives an account of some of these long conversations, as Hitchens was curious to learn more about the Bible and the teachings of Jesus.
Hitchens had written some particularly nasty things about the Bible, but his public vilification of the Christian faith wasn’t enough to prevent him from forming a private friendship with someone devoted to Christ. Hitchens even praised Taunton for his “loyalty, care and concern.” The example of Taunton to Hitchens powerfully reveals the truth of 1 Peter 2:12, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” The accusations and caricatures and insults seemed to fall away when Hitchens actually spent time with a sincere Christian who was a respectful, devoted and kind friend toward him.
The title of Taunton’s book mentions faith—does that mean Hitchens came to accept Christian teaching before he died? Taunton says that there is no indication that Hitchens did, though Hitchens did admit that the Christian hope was attractive. Throughout his life he was searching for the truth, and Taunton was a friend to him for a short part of this journey. This might not have changed his life, but it certainly shaped his perspective. Through the faithful witness of a Christian, Hitchens caught a glimpse of the truth and he found it compelling.
How many more people like Hitchens are there in the world? Millions, even billions. They are blinded by the god of this age, the devil, and many actually know little about the truth that God has revealed in his Word. They need someone to tell them!
In his Word, God has revealed his perfect truth. His truth provides us with a reliable guide for decisions. His truth unites us with other people who are similarly devoted. His truth imparts to us a purpose and direction for life. His truth releases us from guilt because it reveals Jesus Christ. And his truth gives a right framework for understanding this complicated and contradictory world.
This truth is something we can believe, and it is something that we can live. We’re part of an age when many people are searching for answers, even if it doesn’t always look like it. We have many neighbours and fellow citizens who are lost, who probably have moments of realizing that they are missing something fundamental. Through lives that humbly and lovingly testify to God’s truth, we can show them that God’s truth in Christ really is true, and it really is beautiful.
[i] Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011), 94. [ii] Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 378.