Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true…think on these things.”
What is Truth? A question for philosophers of every age and every generation. Fortunately, we as Jesus-followers have it laid out for us in the Bible, the record of the Truth given to us by God. So why is it so important – and difficult – to remember to focus on what is true?
I’ve always been taught to find the Truth; however, I didn’t always understand what that entailed. When I began to doubt my family’s faith at the age of 15, my whole world felt out of control. Looking back on that year, I see darkness; I literally imagine a thundercloud hanging over me all the time. Not that anything terrible happened or that I did anything bad. I just felt no joy, no peace, no contentment. It was the also the year I began yelling at my parents. Oh, how I hate to remember that time!
It took me awhile to understand what was wrong, but I finally realized that it was because I had never really been taught to question what I had been taught. Not that cynicism is always right. Not that skepticism is a lovely frame of mind (Phil. 4:8). But that I had to be humble enough to admit that I might not be right. That maybe I didn’t know as much about the Bible as I thought I did.
When I came against some arguments against Christianity, I had never been taught a truly intellectual reason why we believe what we believe. It was just what our family always believed. I grew up in church and loved it. I didn’t bother questioning what I was taught in Sunday School or church, not really. If the pastor or teacher said that’s what the Bible meant, he must be right. After all, he’s much smarter and has spent years studying.
Then at 15, I questioned everything I believed in, starting with the most general: Is there really a God? Does He exist? But I couldn’t deny the intricate design I saw in the world all around me.
So God exists, but is He really the God of the Christian Bible? Is He maybe the Mormons’ God or the Hindus’ idea of god or maybe just an impersonal Force? I discovered that the Bible is the most reliable document by far in all of human history—over 25,000 copies that all say the same exact thing! Even the most reliable works of Shakespeare don’t compare! So I had to believe that the Bible was true.
Then I got specific: was the Baptist doctrine I had been taught really the right denomination? Are there different ways to interpret the Bible, and all denominations have some things right? After some research, I decided that though there is room for grace, and the Baptists definitely don’t have a corner on Biblical truth, it was close enough to the Bible that I could follow it. There are some ambiguous Biblical topics, especially about church government, but I didn’t see anything morally or doctrinally against Biblical truths in the Baptist denomination, so at the very least, I could humbly submit to my authority and glean what was proven to be Biblical.
I finally found my way back to the Light; in believing that God gave us what we need in the Bible, and that it’s reliable. It is the only standard of Truth that we can bank on. Jesus Himself said this in John 17:17: “…Thy Word is Truth” (KJV).
So what exactly is Truth? Is it absolute or up to interpretation?
Wikipedia defines truth this way: “Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. (quoting Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, truth, 2005).
If truth equals reality (and it does), then the only source of truth is the Lord God Almighty. He determines not only what is real but also is the standard Himself.
Truth means the absence of its antithesis: deception, false information, inauthenticity (hypocrisy). As the Source of Truth is God, Satan is the Father of Lies, and the world’s system is His distributor.
What is Truth not?
It’s not relative. It doesn’t change, depending on what we want or a differing opinion. Whether we know it or not, whether we believe it or not, Truth stays the same.
It also means that Truth doesn’t disguise itself, has no relationship with deceit or hypocrisy. When I think of hypocrisy, I think of a prude with their nose in the air, just like I used to be. When we hear God’s Word but we don’t heed His warning, we’re being hypocritical (see James 1:21-24 and Matt. 7:24-27). When we profess with our lips but don’t practice it with our lives, we’re being hypocritical (see Isaiah 29:13; Titus 1:16; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; & Gal. 5:19). When we focus on outward action only but forget inside attitude, we’re being hypocritical (see Isaiah 58:1-7). [Taken from a sermon outline by Mark Herbster on 1-26-2005.)
That means that as Christians, as Jesus-followers trying to think on Truth, we must be very careful what goes into our minds. Everything must be filtered through the Truth found in God’s Word. That’s one reason that I advocate personal Bible study. We shouldn’t just rely on what our pastor or Sunday School teacher or the TV Evangelist says the Bible means. Devotionals and commentaries and study books can really help, and I use them, too. But the majority of our time should be spent not on someone else’s opinion of what they think the Bible means but the Bible itself. Let the Holy Spirit be your main teacher of Truth. (Of course, you also have to be careful that you’re listening to the Holy Spirit and not your own opinion of what you want the Bible to say. That’s an entirely different topic for another day.)
There is a place for listening to the arguments against what you believe to be true, what you have been taught is truth. There is a certain benefit of questioning. A true seeker of Truth will be willing to at least consider the possibility that he or she may be wrong. I hesitatingly recommend the Benefit of the Doubt by Gregory Boyd, but beware: it is not for the faint-hearted. It is extremely deep, and even though he writes so that the average lay person can understand, the concepts are just so profound and some of the reasoning is so academic that it’s hard to push through. And let me just say that I don’t agree with every one of his conclusions. However, it really helps dispel the myth that every believer should be 100% convinced of every single belief all the time, or he might not be saved. That makes an idol of certainty. We’re not trusting in our own sureness, our own faith; we’re trusting in the True and Faithful God. He’s the one thing we can be 100% sure of.
Why is thinking about Truth so important? Because it’s the foundation for the rest of your life. I didn’t know that this quote is attributed to Mahatma Ghandi: “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” --Mahatma Gandhi, Indian political and spiritual leader (1869 - 1948). I would personally tweak this a little into this formula:
Thoughts → beliefs → actions → habits → lifestyle (KJV “conversation” of our lives).
So how do you examine fiction though this filter of Truth? Isn’t the definition of fiction a story that is not real, not true? This is especially important for me, as a writer of women’s fiction, specifically Christian Romance.
There are some people who believe there should be no such thing as Christian Fiction at all. I believe that there may still even be a very small segment that believes Christians should not only avoid writing fiction but also should avoid even reading it. If this is their belief, they are welcome to it. Though, to be consistent, that means no Shakespeare, no Milton, no C.S. Lewis, no John Bunyan, nothing.
However, I really don’t think anyone can be dogmatic about it, neither can anyone impose one’s belief on another—either way—since it’s not definitively spelled out in the Bible anywhere. In fact, though most of the Bible is history—True Stories—there are some genres of Biblical literature that include some fictional stories, such as Solomon’s highly poetic language in the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes and David’s and other psalmists’ allegories in the Psalms (see Psalm 23, the most famous psalm). Further, if you really want to get technical, Jesus Christ Himself used hyperbole and parables, which use exaggeration and fictional characters to prove a point!
So fiction in and of itself is not morally wrong. It’s what is put into it that can be. And that’s why we as believers need to take watchful care to filter everything through the Truth found in the written Word of God, the Bible.
Here is a checklist of criteria that I use to decide if whatever I’m reading is true and should go into my mind, or if it should be thrown out:
1. Is it non-fiction or a true-to-life story? If yes, skip to #7. If it’s fiction, continue to #2.
2. Does it point my thoughts back to Jesus? If no, put it down. Don’t read anymore.
3. Does it paint sin in a bad light? If no, put it down.
4. Does it contain some kind of good moral or Biblical point to the story? If no, put a “con” in your mental Pros & Cons list and continue on to #6.
5. Is Christianity mentioned in a good light? If no, put it down.
6. Does it focus on any sin in graphic detail? If yes, put it down.
7. Does it mention Bible verses or at least paraphrases? If no, put a “con” in the Pros & Cons list in your mind and continue on to #8.
8. Can I find any Bible verses that support the main argument? If no, put it down. Don’t bother reading any more.
9. If it’s a “Christian” non-fiction, do the verses used to support the argument really speak to that issue, or are they being taken out of context? If out of context, put it down.
10. Does the argument go along with the majority of other Scriptures? Or is it being touted as a “new” way to understand the Bible or a major doctrine? If “new,” be very careful. Not that every new interpretation is wrong, but if it’s about a major doctrine, it needs to line up with Orthodoxy, or else it could be considered heresy. If it’s about a minor doctrine, one that many Christians differ about, or a new way to interpret a particular word or phrase, carefully continue on to #12.
11. Is the main argument predicated on the author’s opinion or on the Scripture? If opinion, put it down.
12. Does it fill my mind with light or with darkness? If darkness, put it down.
13. Would I be embarrassed to show it to Jesus, if He were right next to me? If yes, put it down.
If there are more than two “cons” in your mental Pro/Con list, I would recommend putting it down. If you’re searching out something you’re not sure about, be very careful. Again, I’m not saying that there’s not a place for doubt, but be very careful to not be blown about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14).
And I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive. If you have any other criteria you use or that help you, please share in the Comments below!
As Jesus-followers and the temple of the Holy Spirit, we must ever be vigilantly guarding the door to our thought closet (Jennifer Rothschild, Me, Myself, & Lies). We must first decide if a thought is True or backed by Biblical Truth. (Stay tuned for the next in the series, “Whatever is Honorable…”)