A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 2/20/00
Because, as we saw last week, the concept of salvation is about God before it is about me; because the Church is about the glory of Christ before it is about me; because I am about being a living stone in the walls of the eternal Temple God is building to the glory of his Son; and because all these truths are under constant assault by the Enemy of our Souls; therefore, we need to stand firm, putting on the whole armor of God, so that having done all, we may stand. The first piece of that armor is the Girdle of Truth.
The first thing we must consider in understanding this passage is THE IDENTITY OF TRUTH. What is this truth with which we must gird ourselves? Truth in Scripture can have either an objective or a subjective meaning. Objectively, truth would be Christian doctrine; subjectively, it can mean truthfulness or integrity. Both meanings are relevant: the Truth of Scripture is the foundation of everything, and every epistle, especially this one, starts with doctrine, which it then goes on to apply. And surely we must be truthful people if we are to speak the truth in love. Most commentators point out that truth in the objective sense is covered by the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, so it must have the subjective meaning here: in order to engage successfully in spiritual warfare, we must be honest with God, ourselves, and others. But wait: the girdle or belt was where the sword hung. So we must not dismiss the objective sense as irrelevant here. One cannot be truthful unless there is objective truth to be truthful about. So the best understanding would be one that combines both aspects: the truth with which we are to gird ourselves is the objective Truth of Christian teaching as incarnate subjectively within, lived out by us. This reflects the whole pattern of the Epistle to which this passage is after all the conclusion: We must understand God's purpose and our calling objectively (chp. 1-3) in order subjectively to walk worthily of that calling as thus understood (chp. 4-6).
We must then consider Truth from both perspectives. First, THE OBJECTIVITY OF TRUTH. Oliver Wendell Holmes once cynically defined Truth as the majority opinion of that nation that can lick all the other nations. What Holmes intended as tongue-in-cheek, PostModernists take very seriously. To them, truth is merely a word for the many perspectives that stem from one's membership (or "situatedness") in various ethnic or gender groups limited by space, time, culture, etc. Anybody who makes real truth claims, as opposed to merely expressing those limited perspectives, is really using truth as a disguise for an arbitrary attempt to impose power on others. Now, if God had not sent his Son into the world, we might be tempted to agree, for history is certainly replete with examples of people using truth that way. But if in the beginning was the Word and the Word was God, if that Word was One who transcends the limitations of our cultural or historical group or situation, and if He has spoken in Christ and Scripture, then we may dare to believe that Truth exists and is knowable and, however imperfectly, is in fact known.
This is a position that we must insist on, especially today. I am very uneasy about the many papers I hear read at gatherings of Evangelical theologians saying that the current PostModern generation is not interested in reason or evidence--that truth claims are actually a handicap in dealing with them--and that therefore we must de-emphasize these things in our presentation of the Gospel. The Gospel has been an offense to the pride of Man in every age, and it is precisely at the point of the offense that we dare not compromise. This is an offense we must simply make up our minds to live with, for a Gospel that is not Truth is no Gospel at all. If Christianity is not Truth, it is just one more drug trip. I remember hearing Francis Schaeffer in one of the last public appearances before his death remarking about how the questions young people were asking him had changed from the 60's to the 80's. They were no longer interested in whether Christianity is true or how we could know if it is true; they were now only interested in personal relevance. Schaeffer said that if seekers do not ask the truth questions, then we must raise them ourselves, and pled with us to emphasize content, content, content. And he was right. If we try to do battle on this field without having our loins girded with truth, we will be easily swept away and leave to the next generation at best a faith without foundations.
How then do we present Christ as Truth but do it without arrogance, and in a way that PostModern people suspicious of truth claims can accept? Not by de-emphasizing our truth claims, but by remembering the other side of the coin: THE SUBJECTIVITY OF TRUTH, truth living in us. The key word here is reality. If we believe in the Truth, we had better be people who are true. A Christian should be doctrine stored in skin, truth with skin around it. This manifests itself in two ways. First, a Christian should be the last person, and the Church the last place, where anyone will encounter hype, buncombe, or spin doctoring. Second, a Christian should be the person, and the Church the place, where doctrine is lived out redemptively (or, as Paul puts it in Ephesians, we should speak the truth in love). If we believe in sola gratia, salvation by grace alone, then we had better be people who feel down in our guts and marrow that "there but for the grace of God go I." We had better not be people who are ever self-righteous, in other words. If we believe that the Church is the Body of Christ which exists for God's glory, then it cannot be the one small pond in which I can be a big fish.
The bottom line is that if Truth exists ultimately as a Person, the person of Christ, then it is more (but not less) than a list of dry propositions. It is not enough to hold and teach the right formulae. It is not Truth unless it is held and taught *and lived* according to the Spirit as well as the Letter, unless it is lived redemptively and taught and applied in love. That is the only thing that can overcome PostModern resistance to Truth.
"What is truth?" asked jesting Pilate, and would not stay for the answer. Truth is the Word of God dwelling in human flesh--ultimately in Christ, derivitavely in us. Therefore let the Word of Christ dwell richly in you so that you may stand, having girded your loins with Truth. Then you will know from experience how right Bacon was when he said that "the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature." Then you will know from experience how right he was when he said, "Certainly it is heaven upon earth to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth." Amen.
Here endeth the Lesson.