By Morris W. R. Bailey
“Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate said unto him, What is truth?” (John 18:3 7, 38.)
The reader’s attention is directed to the question asked by Pilate. What is truth? Truly this should be a thought-provoking question. In every line of human endeavor there is nothing more challenging to the human mind than the search for truth, and nothing is broader in its implications. I have often wondered what prompted Pilate to ask this question. Was it cynicism? Or was there aroused in Pilate a sincere desire to learn more about the nature of Christ’s kingdom and the constitution on which it rested? It will be observed that when Pilate asked this question he was under extreme pressure. He was in a most difficult position, faced with the urgency of making a momentous decision. Actually he was between the horns of a dilemma and faced with the necessity of making a choice between two decisions. Before him stood Jesus Christ whom Pilate knew to be innocent of all the charges brought against him. Three times he had brought down his judgment, –I find no fault in him. Pilate could therefore have dismissed the charges and released Jesus. But out beyond stood the bloodthirsty mob of Jews, determined that Jesus must be put to death. The situation was tense. Any moment it threatened to erupt into a violent uprising. This, Pilate could not afford. An uprising now, could easily cost him his prestige, and possibly his position. It was under these conditions that Pilate asked the question of our text, –What is truth?
Whether it was asked cynically or sincerely by Pilate, the question is a most challenging one. Eternal issues are involved. It is especially important today when viewed against the background of current religious attitudes. We are living in an age when people like to boast of religious tolerance and broadmindedness, and when there is little in the line of genuine religious conviction. The popular concept that is echoed from so many pulpits today, and which is more and more being woven into the warp and woof of twentieth century religion is that different and conflicting religious beliefs are no cause for concern, because it doesn’t make any difference what one believes just as long as they are sincere. In other words, the test of doctrinal purity today is not truth but sincerity.
Because of this lack of genuine conviction regarding truth, the religious world has undergone a very pronounced change in its attitude toward religious controversy and the discussion of religious differences. Gone is the militant spirit of yesteryear that prompted sectarian preachers to challenge for public discussions in which to promote and defend their doctrines. Sometimes sectarian preachers debated one another when both were wrong. But at least they realized then what many people don’t seem to realize now, –that two conflicting doctrines cannot both be true. But it seems like those days are gone and in the place of conviction there has grown up the sickly and sickening attitude that it is all right to believe anything if one believes it sincerely enough. What do most people care today if the doctrine preached by those who call themselves Jehovah Witnesses makes man nothing more than a super-animal and denies the bodily resurrection of Christ? What do most people today care if the doctrine preached by Mormons, when pressed to its logical conclusion, makes God nothing more than a glorified human being and living in polygamous relationships? In fact, the only thing that is wrong, in the thinking of many today, is to believe that some body else is wrong. That is being narrow-minded, and is anathema to the thinking (or lack of thinking) that characterizes this age.
If there is to be any way out of the morass in which the religious world is lost today the first step will in the very nature of things have to be a change in men’s attitude toward truth. There will have to be a sincere appreciation for, and a genuine search after truth. People need to ask again the question asked by Pilate,–What is truth? The dying embers of human philosophy that judges doctrines by sincerity, popularity, or expediency must be fanned into a flame of consuming zeal for truth. The stagnant pools of apathy must be replaced by the moving stream that rolls eagerly on toward the sea of eternal truth. Unity as an end in itself is not sufficient. Men may be united in error. The unity for which Christ prayed and for which Paul pleaded will be a by-product of the religious world’s acceptance of truth. What saith the Lord? What do the scriptures teach? A sincere appreciation for the importance of these questions, the proper answer thereto, and a proper application of the principles involved are the only hope for an ailing Christendom.
The apathy toward doctrinal purity that is so prevalent today is inexcusable. God has not left man without witness as to the importance of truth and its function in saving the lost and bringing wayward man back to God.
Makes Us Free
“Jesus therefore said to those Jews that believed him, If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. They answered unto him, We are Abraham’s seed and have never yet been in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Everyone that committeth sin is a bondservant of sin.” (John 8:31-34.)
Thus does Jesus tell us that we are made free from sin by the truth. Freedom is a much-cherished hope for anyone in bondage and for which men will pay almost any price. Nations under the rule of a cruel foreign power have often risen up in rebellion to obtain their freedom. Prisoners of war have often spent months digging tunnels or have even sacrificed their lives in a break for freedom. The man behind penitentiary walls look forward to the day of his release and freedom.
But the most bitter and most exacting of all bondage is man’s enslavement to sin. Sin is a hard and cruel taskmaster. It exacts much, but gives so little in return. It holds man bound with fetters not easily broken, a slave to his own passions and appetites. The tens of thousands of alcoholics throughout the nation stand as grim evidence of the enslaving power of sin. Freedom from sin is therefore man’s greatest need. Happily for man there is a means of deliverance from the bondage of sin. Jesus said that the truth makes man free. But if it takes the truth to make us free from sin, then it is most certain that error will not, and it is the sheerest folly for man to seek refuge in false doctrine regardless of how sincere he may be. If it takes the truth to make us free from sin, should not the quest for truth be the most important thing in life and worth any sacrifice or any price?
Saved by Believing Truth
“And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” (2 Thess. 2:11-13.)
Thus does Paul tell us that we are saved by believing the truth. The Bible represents man as lost in sin. To escape damnation, man must be saved from sin. Jesus announced that His mission to earth was to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10.) But God has made salvation conditional for man, and faith is one of the conditions. “He that be” lieveth not shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:16.) However it is not the mere act of believing something that saves man. It is what he believes. Let us illustrate it this way. Man lives by eating. But it is not the mere act of eating that keeps man alive. It is what he eats. He could starve to death eating some things. Man must drink to live. But it is not the mere act of drinking that sustains life. Water is nature’s own beverage without which neither man nor beast can long survive. But a few grains of strychnine added to a glass of water make a deadly potion. Man lives by breathing, but it is not the mere act of breathing that imparts life. It makes a difference what he breathes. Motorists have often died from breathing the deadly carbon monoxide fumes from the exhaust of an automobile.
And just so man is saved from sin by faith. But it is not the mere act of believing something that saves. Paul said that those who believe a lie will be lost. (2 Thess. 2:11, 12.) Man must believe the truth in order to be saved. And if it takes the belief of the truth to save, then how earnestly man should seek for the truth!Souls Purified
“Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently.” (1 Peter 1:22.)
Man in his unconverted state is unclean and therefore unfit for heaven. Before he can enjoy the hope of heaven he must be purified from sin. Peter tells us that our souls are purified by obedience to the truth. It is not sufficient that man obey something that he conceives to be right. Sacrifice and zeal can n ever take the place of obedience to the truth. Those who obey not the truth are lost. (Romans 2:8,9.)
Since man is made free from the bondage of sin by the truth; saved by believing the truth, and his soul purified by obedience to the truth, the question asked by Pilate nineteen hundred years ago is the most urgent question today. What is truth? In an article to follow we shall seek the answer to this question.
Truth Magazine VI: 9 & 10, pp. 14-16
June & July 1962