. . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.Ephesians 4:15
There is the old joke about a businessman interviewing applicants for a position in his company. He asked each of them a simple question, “What is two plus two?” He got a variety of answers, including “I don’t know, but I’m glad for the opportunity to discuss the issue,” and a lawyer who referenced case law where two plus two was proven to be four. The final applicant got up from his chair, closed the door and the blinds, sat back down, leaned over the desk, and then whispered, “What do you want it to be?”
He got the job.
So often today, truth is whatever “you want it to be.” Whatever you want it to be includes religion, gender, morals, marriage, race, and political truth. Not only that, but anybody who questions the freedom to make truth what one wants it to be is labeled intolerant, bigoted, or worse.
Have you ever had anyone say to you, when you have expressed a deeply held conviction or a truth that had changed your life, “I’m glad it’s true for you”? What? I do not know anything that makes me spit and cuss more than someone speaking that kind of drivel. Frankly, I do not want to fly with a pilot, be treated by a doctor, or have a mechanic work on my car, who is that cavalier about aeronautical, medical, or mechanical truth.
So here at the beginning, let me make two statements that are quite controversial to a whole lot of people: there is true truth, and the Christian faith is true truth.
There Is True Truth
First, believe it or not, there is truth, and that truth is true apart from my perception or anyone’s opinion. Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying that “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” “True truth” (as my late friend and Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer called it) is not adjustable. I may not know that truth, I may miss it, and I may be wrong about it. But truth is there, and it is there aside from what anybody believes about it. For instance, God is personal, or he is not; you are forgiven, or you are not; I am loved by God, or I am not.
I know there are nuances to truth, and a lot depends on one’s definition of truth. When Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), he was really asking two questions: What is true? and behind that, What is truth? For people who live real lives—those who are needy, lonely and scared spitless; those who have to make a living and pay the mortgage; those who have cancer; and those who struggle with building a bridge, fixing a refrigerator, or feeding a family—the fact of the existence of truth is not up for debate. The truth is that a cow is a cow, right is right, wrong is wrong, the sky is blue, and water is wet.
In 1964 Justice Potter Steward of the United States Supreme Court, in describing a test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio, said that he was not sure he could define pornography or obscenity but that he knew it when he saw it. That is how normal people deal with the fact that there is truth. Most people know that two plus two equals four, that love is better than hate, and that there is a difference between right and wrong.
I Am Right, and You Are Wrong
Not only is there truth that is true: what I have accepted, believed, and taught about the Christian faith is true; and if you do not accept it, you are wrong, and I am right.
Well, maybe not everything I have accepted, believed, and taught. I think my views on politics, movies, and restaurants are better than yours, but actually probably are not. There are points of theology, biblical exegesis, and certain doctrines where I could be wrong. In the basics of the Christian faith, however (those statements made in the Apostles’ Creed), if you do not agree, you are wrong, and I am right.
There are times when I wish I was wrong. There are times when I do not want to speak the truth that I know to be true. There are times when the truth I know to be true causes me to wince. There are doctrinal truths that make everyone uncomfortable (e.g., the temperature of hell and the need for sacrifice). Nevertheless, the truth is the truth.
Does that sound arrogant? Maybe and maybe not. I have discovered that I have very little to be arrogant about. As someone has said, once you see truth you cannot simply unsee it. When Martin Luther (the lightning rod of the Protestant Reformation) was being brought to trial for his views and called to recant, he famously said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” That was not something he said because he wanted to say it or because he was arrogant when he said it. He was caught by the truth, and he could not change it. I am caught by the same truth.
I want to talk to those who are also caught by the truth, are convinced that it is true truth, and want others to see it. Mainly, we are going to talk about how to be right without being insufferable, and how to find a way to share the truths we know to be true with those whom we believe could benefit from the truths we know.
What follows will not be preaching to the pew, trying to convince someone who is already convinced. I suspect that if you are reading this book, you are probably already a Christian, affirm the truths of the Christian faith, and know that you have a responsibility to witness to those truths in the world. But we do need, on occasion, to be reminded. In fact, we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught—and certainly more than we need to be convinced. For this book’s purposes, reviewing five truths will suffice.
1. There Really Is a God
There really is a God, he is in charge (the Creator, sustainer, and ruler of all), and people are not him. Paul’s doxological statement at the end of Romans 11 should cause every Christian’s stem cells to stand up and sing The Hallelujah Chorus: “‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:34–36).
At the very heart of the Christian faith is the opening statement made by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not about you.” He says that people cannot fulfill what God has for them while, at the same time, trying to fulfill their own purposes. Rick Warren is right. Trying to fulfill your own purpose and God’s purpose at the same time is like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. Try it—you will see that I’m right.
2. God Has Not Remained Silent
The second truth makes the first truth more palatable: there is a God, and that God has not remained silent, uninvolved, or unconnected. The writer of Hebrews said, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1–2).
The important issue for the Christian (and everybody else, even if they do not know it) is God’s nature. Is he a monster? Does he know me? Will he kill me if I do not do what he says? Does he know that I am hurt? Does he care? Does he love? And then, a hesitant question: Does he love me?
The truth of God’s love is unbelievable, amazing, and exciting. Love defines God (1 John 4:8). God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. That is the basic truth of the Christian faith: God’s love includes forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. The problem with us Christians who have truth to share is that, when we talk about love, we either make it insipid and shallow, or we add a kicker to it (e.g., “God loves you, but don’t let it go to your head!” “God loves you, but there is more to it than that” or maybe, “Now the ball is in your court, and that ball requires that you respond with goodness, obedience, and submission”). But watered-down love or conditional love are not the Christian faith, or the truth God gave us. God loved us with love that is hard as nails, driven into hands and feet, and without a kicker. It simply says, “I love you. Is that okay?”
3. God’s Love Is Unreasonable
A sovereign God speaks his love. Nobody deserves it, but he loves people anyway. The Bible has a startling and negative view of human nature: “desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9); “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10); our goodness is like “a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6); “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). These are just some the descriptions the Bible uses to describe you and me. The counterintuitive and radical truth of the Christian faith is that God loves us despite our unlovable nature—and, surprisingly, because of our unlovable nature. Love in response to goodness is not love; it is reward. Love can only be experienced by someone who is unlovable.
All need to be loved and not one single person deserves it or ever has. Paul makes an obvious point in Romans 5 that sometimes there are those who will be willing to die for a good person, but that the astounding thing about Christ is that he died for the ungodly. That would be you and me.
Somehow, Christians have tried to fix those who do not want to hear the truth. Good heavens! We cannot even fix ourselves. I am an old preacher, and I have heard more confessions than any district attorney I know. Most of those confessions have come from people who have the reputation of righteousness. Believe it or not, because God has allowed me to move in the circles of well-known Christians, I have heard more confessions than you would believe by people you know—those who write books, stand in pulpits, pen Christian songs, and serve in significant positions of Christian leadership. What difference might it make if the people who did not want to hear the truth about sin knew that truth about you and me?
4. Christians Aren’t Called to Be Fixers
Fixing people, making society more kind, forcing politicians and preachers to be good; correcting spurious views of right and wrong; changing the culture of death; and stopping racism, abuse, and hunger are way above a Christian’s pay grade. Paul said to his young friend Timothy, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). I am not suggesting (nor was Paul) that the public square should be free of Christians or Christian influence, or that Christians should not have dirty fingernails from their efforts of caring and service. Believers are called to bring their witness to the world, but the results of these efforts will be far more effective than reality will support.
It is important to remember that, as Jesus said, “[The Father] makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Further, God will deal with the good and the bad at the harvest, not now (Matthew 13:24–39). Christians cannot speak as outsiders of the human race. But utopian schemes—whether Christian, political, or pagan—are rarely effective, and much harm has been done by benevolent, visionary Christians and pagans alike. May God save us from those who think they know what is best for me, you, and everybody else.
5. Truths 1–4 Are the Main Thing
The final truth is quick and easy, and relates to the other truths: The first four truths are the main thing. Everything else is secondary. Other truths are important, but the primary should not be confused with the secondary. Believe it or not, sometimes the communication of truth begins with silence.
Excerpted adapted from Talk the Walk: How to be Right Without Being Insufferable © 2019 by Steve Brown. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
Talk the Walk: How to Be Right without Being Insufferable
This attitude-altering book by Steve Brown, invites Christians to cultivate boldness and humility in communicating gospel truth. By uncovering self-righteousness and spiritual arrogance, Talk the Walk by pastor and author Steve Brown shatters stereotypes and helps believers consider how they present the good news without watering it down.