Is Truth Discovered or Defined?
By: Dr. Dillon Burroughs
Have you ever heard someone say…
- You have your truth; I have my truth.
- It may be true for you, but not for me.
- I must discover my own truth.
The dictionary definition of truth is: conformity with fact or reality; or a verified or indisputable fact. For example…
- The earth travels around the sun.
But when we redefine truth as something we can create, it’s like saying 2+2=5 and 2+2=4. Can this be possible? Of course not! It doesn’t work in other areas of life either.
If I wanted to visit your home, I would need to know your address. What if I called and said, “How do I get to your house?” and you said, “All paths lead to the same destination. Just take whatever path feels right to you.” I don’t think that would end well.
If my doctor told me I had high blood pressure, I would expect some answers on how to change it. He or she would not be a very good doctor if they said, “Just do whatever feels good to you.”
We wouldn’t tolerate this kind of diagnosis because the outcome is a matter of life or death.
Spiritually, the stakes are greater. Why? If we follow the wrong advice and the Bible is true, we could end up spending eternal judgment in hell. If we get the truth right, we can spend eternity in heaven and help others go there too.
Last year, my son Ben and I had the privilege to spend a day with apologist Josh McDowell. He shared some of his research on Generation Z, today’s teenagers and college students. Josh noted:
“One-quarter of Gen Z (24%) strongly agrees that what is morally right and wrong changes over time based on society. …
“Twice as many Gen Z than Boomers (12% believe this … the self as moral arbiter …
“21 percent of Gen Z and 23 percent of Millennials believe each individual is his or her own moral authority –though Gen X (18%) and Boomers (17%) aren’t too far behind on this one. … these are only the proportions who strongly agree…”
In other words, within three generations, double the number of people believe moral truth can change. This is the spiritual equivalent of 2+2=5.
How do we address this view of truth?
One of the great Christian minds of the past generation recently passed away. Dr. Norman Geisler started two universities and published over 100 books on defending the faith. He was a friend and great influence on my own learning.
His classic teaching on the 12 points that show Christianity is true begins with 2 points worth sharing here.
First, the truth about reality is knowable (this is undeniable). In other words, truth is that which corresponds to its object (that to which it refers). We can know actual reality. Someone may say, “There is no truth!” But is this true? No. This is a self-defeating statement. Therefore, we can know about reality.
Second, the opposite of true is false. This is obvious on a true-false test. But the law of non-contradiction affirms opposites cannot both be true. The law of non-contradiction is undeniable.
For example, if someone says atheism is true (there is no God), it implies any religion that includes a god is false. Also, those who claim we should be tolerant imply intolerance is the opposite of tolerance. Therefore, the opposite of true is false. Or, as commentator Ben Shapiro likes to say, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”
Why is this important? Let’s take a look at Scripture for some answers to why we should care about truth.
We are commanded to:
- Give answers for our faith: 1 Peter 3:15-16
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
- Defend what we believe: Jude 1:3
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.
- Love God with all our mind: Matthew 22:37
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’”
- Stand firm against those who oppose the truth: Titus 1:9
He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
- Speak the truth in love: Ephesians 4:15
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
Understanding God’s view of truth helps us to know what we believe and share it with others.
Let’s think of it this way:
- Who created truth? (God)
- Therefore, who defines truth? (God)
- How do we discover how God defines truth? (God’s Word)
Scripture is our guide, yet other areas of learning often support our study as well. Let me conclude with three observations about truth to use for our lives today.
First, truth is discovered rather than defined.
God created truth; we discover it. We don’t choose our own truth like a choose your own adventure book.
Second, truth is given for us to apply.
Truth helps us when we use it. Many people treat the Bible like the directions to toys at Christmas. If nothing else works, maybe I’ll look at the directions. Instead, we can save ourselves a lot of problems by going to the instructions first.
Don’t know what to do about an ethical issue at work or school? Look at the instructions for help.
Third, truth is given to be shared.
I am blessed with work where I regularly get to share my faith with others. But it concerns me how little Christians tell other people about Jesus.
If we really care about our family and friends being in heaven and not hell, we must do more than just pray about it. If Jesus is the most important thing in our lives, then how can we go weeks or months in a friendship with someone and say nothing about Him?
So here’s my challenge: Talk to one person about truth this week. Remember to share truth. Here are some easy ways to talk with someone who may not be a believer. Ask questions:
-So, what’s your spiritual background?
-I’ve been trying to focus more on growing spiritually. What have you found to be helpful?
-Or, blame me! I read an article by this guy that dared me to tell someone how God changed my life. Can I share with you?
God’s truth is discovered, not defined. We are called to know the truth, live it, and share it.
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Dr. Dillon Burroughs
Dillon Burroughs serves as senior writer at The John Ankerberg Show and has written nearly 40 books on issues of faith and culture. He is also an associate editor for The Apologetics Bible for Students and has contributed to many works on apologetics and Christian worldview. Dillon is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and holds a PhD in Leadership from Piedmont International University. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife, Deborah, and their three children.