"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:32). Twice in this passage Jesus refers to “the truth.” In this context, He is referring to spiritual truth that will set man free from the consequences of his sins. He does not speak of “truths” or “a truth,” in both instances the word truth is singular with the definite article. There is no “my truth” versus “your truth,” there is only the truth. Further, truth is something that must be known if we are to be free. Peter says, “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3). Since God has given us all things through the truth, we need look no further.
Spiritual freedom requires great vigilance, and many passages warn of false teachers. “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1). This entire chapter (along with the epistle of Jude) gives us a description of the character and works of false teachers. False teachers don’t carry signs identifying themselves as such. They disguise themselves as humble and pious religious leaders (cf. 2 Cor. 11:14-15; 1 Jn. 2:19). Yet, we are instructed to “test the spirits” (1 Jn. 4:1), comparing their works (Matt. 7:15-20) and words (Jude 16) with what is revealed (Acts 17:11; 1 Jn. 4:5-6).
As dangerous as false teachers are, there is a more subtle threat to our spiritual freedom and the truth, our attitude. There are certain attitudes that some members of the church have that can endanger their spiritual well-being.
A Closed Mind. When studying with others, we often express the idea that they need to keep an open mind like the Bereans in Acts 17. While it is right to insist that others have an open mind, we err if ours is closed. Such an attitude makes us hypocrites. This does not mean that truth is malleable, truth is set. But all of us must consider the possibility that we may be wrong in our understanding of the Scriptures. We are to continually examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). If we approach God’s word with the attitude that we know it all, then we are beyond further teaching or correction. Paul described the Jews as having this attitude in Romans 2:17-25. The problem wasn’t with the law, but with their attitude that they had reached perfection and were beyond criticism. God has no use for someone with such arrogance.
This does not mean that we shouldn’t have confidence in what we believe. We should. Paul told Timothy, “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-15). Our confidence should come from understanding God’s word, not in a sense of personal perfection. This is why we must be diligent in studying. If we find that we have misunderstood some subject or passage, we must be willing to change. We admire Apollos not because his understanding was perfect, but for his willingness to learn “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).
Some are closed-minded about being open-minded. They are so open-minded that they will not consider the possibility that truth can be narrower than their current beliefs. For example, some believe that the truth about creation is unimportant. They don’t care if a fellow Christian believes in a literal six day account or theistic evolution, just so long as God is involved. They relegate the issue to the realm of opinion. Such open-minded brethren immediately close their minds if it is suggested that theistic evolution is heresy, and that those teaching it are in error. They are determined to be open-minded and nobody is going to change them. While they see such issues as opinion, they fail to consider God’s opinion as He revealed it in His word.
The Party Spirit. Divisions and parties have always plagued the church. Within some congregations there are cliques that vie for power. The church at Corinth was divided over several issues. They placed too much importance on who baptized them (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1-9). Some members were taking others to court (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Some had no regard for the weak brother in eating meats offered to idols (1 Cor. 8-10). In addition to turning the Lord’s supper into a common mean, they were divided in their partaking of it by not waiting for one another (1 Cor. 11:17-34). In the 12th chapter, Paul emphasizes that the body should be one, “that there should be no schism in the body” (1 Cor. 12:25). Clearly, parties within a congregation means that at least some are sinning. They need to repent.
Among preachers there is a great temptation to form parties. These are not necessarily organized groups, but informal alliances founded on a strict adherence to what the group considers “orthodox” doctrine. There is no room for individual thought or questions on even the most minor of points. The “orthodoxy” must be defended at all cost (sometimes at the cost of truth). Should any have a question or doubt on any point they are quickly labeled a heretic and all ties with the group are broken. Again, let it be emphasized that truth is not malleable. There is one truth on every biblical issue. The danger with such parties lies in the attitude toward others. A perfect understanding is expected on all issues, and it’s expected NOW. Little time and patience is afforded for study and investigation. And no consideration is given to the possibility that the party can be wrong. Sound familiar (Jn. 9:39-41; Rom. 2:17ff)?
Of course, this is not to say that it’s wrong for preachers to get together to talk about the Scriptures or various issues. The danger is in not allowing others the time and freedom to study, meditate, and work things out for themselves.
Tradition. Perhaps the greatest threat to the truth in all ages is tradition. Jesus asked the scribes and Pharisees, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” (Matt. 15:3). He then quoted from Isaiah 29:13, showing the same danger existed in his time. This attitude is manifested today in many ways. Ever hear a brother say, “But we’ve always done it this way!” He’s appealing to tradition. If an issue comes up and we run to a commentary, our favorite preacher, or what other churches practice, and accept what is said without question, then we’re appealing to tradition. If we believe something simply because our parents or grandparents did, then we’ve allowed tradition to take the place of scripture.
It is God’s word that is our only source of authority. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Men can be wrong in their interpretations and opinions. That is why you must “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).
By Dan Gatlin
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