THE TRUTH THAT SETS US FREE
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:
“At this Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.”
– 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. Jehovah’s Witnesses, formerly known as The Bible Students, were just one of many groups who had set specific dates for end time events. Some of those groups folded after their failed interpretations. Some, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, 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:
“Nobody sews a patch of unshrunk cloth upon an old outer garment; for its full strength would pull from the outer garment and the tear would become worse. Neither do people put new wine into old wineskins; but if they do, then the wineskins burst and the wine spills out and the wineskins are ruined. But people put new wine into new wineskins, and both things 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, the Law? It was added to make transgressions manifest, until the seed should arrive to whom the promise had been made; and it was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now there is no mediator where only one person is concerned, but God is only one. Is the Law, therefore, against the promises of God? May that never happen! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, righteousness would actually have been by means of law. But the Scripture delivered up all things together to the custody of sin, that the promise resulting from faith toward Jesus Christ might be given to those exercising faith. However, before the faith arrived, we were being guarded under law, being delivered up together into custody, looking to the faith that was destined to be revealed. Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.”
– 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:
“A revelation by Jesus Christ, which God gave him, to show his slaves the things that must shortly take place. And he sent forth his angel and presented [it] in signs through him to his slave John, who bore witness to the word God gave and to the witness Jesus Christ gave, even to all the things he saw.”
– Revelation 1:1-2
Since the Revelation was ‘presented in signs,’ we know that we cannot take what it says literally. The ideas, characters and features symbolize other things that are 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:
“Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregation.”
– Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22
“If anyone has an ear, let him hear.”
– Revelation 13:9
An example of its symbolic pictorials is when it speaks of ‘war in heaven:’
“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled but it did not prevail, neither was a place found for them any longer in heaven. So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down 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:
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea is no more. I saw also the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God and prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away. And the One seated on the throne said: “Look! I am making all things new.” Also, he says: “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” And he said to me: “They have come to pass! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To anyone thirsting I will give from the fountain of the water of life free. Anyone conquering will inherit these things, and I shall be his God and he will be my son.”
– 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.
“And do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Do not two sparrows sell for a coin of small value? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s [knowledge]. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore have no fear: you are worth more than many sparrows.”
– Matthew 10:28-31
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone that beholds the Son and exercises faith in him should have everlasting life, and I will resurrect him at the last day.”
– John 6:40
“I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life; and everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all.”
– John 11:25-26
“Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [other] things will be added to you. So, never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.”
– 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.
“Consequently I entreat you by the compassions of God, brothers, to present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason. And quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
– 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:
“These things I write you about those who are trying to mislead you. And as for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to be teaching you; but, as the anointing from him is teaching you about all things, and is true and is no lie, and just as it has taught you, remain in union with him. So now, little children, remain in union with him, that when he is made manifest we may have freeness of speech and not be shamed away from him at his presence. If you know that he is righteous, you gain the knowledge that everyone who practices righteousness has been born from 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 our torture stake,’ 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 many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present. However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things coming. That one will glorify me, because he will receive from what is mine and will declare it to you. All the things that the Father has are mine. That is why I said he receives from what is mine and declares [it] 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:
- Jesus said and did some things, but he did not write them down.
- 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.
- In about 325 C.E., the Council of Nicaea 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.
- 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.
- 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.
“[T]he helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told 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 ‘the anointing is teaching us.’ (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:
“But a physical man does not receive the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know [them], because they are examined spiritually. However, the spiritual man examines indeed all things, but he himself is not examined by any man. For “who has come to know the mind of Jehovah, that he may instruct him?” But we do 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.