August 21, 2017

Truth and Consequences

Mike Ascher

From 1940 to the mid 1980s the program Truth or Consequences aired on American radio and television. Contestants were asked silly, “trick” questions that were phrased in such a way that wrong answers were usually given. The emcee then told the participants that since they did not tell the truth, they would have to face the consequences. The “consequences” were most often humorous, elaborate stunts designed to embarrass the contestant while entertaining the audience. The show’s popularity reached such a level that a town in New Mexico even changed its name to Truth or Consequences!

A study of “truth” in the Scripture sets a far different tone from what is portrayed in the modern world. What a person does with truth and the resulting consequences are no laughing matter. Even simple admonitions, such as “[put] away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour” (Eph. 4:25), can have colossal ramifications if ignored. Consider the following example:

In 1899 four reporters from Denver, Colorado, met by chance on a Saturday night in a Denver railroad station. Al Stevens, Jack Tournay, John Lewis, and Hal Wilshire worked for the four Denver papers: the Post, the Times, the Republican and the Rocky Mountain News. Each had the unenviable task of finding a scoop for the Sunday edition. They hoped to spot a visiting celebrity arriving that evening by train. However, none showed up, so the reporters wondered what on earth they would do. As they discussed options in a nearby saloon, Al suggested they make up a story. The other three laughed—at first. But before long they were all agreed—they would come up with such a whopper that no one would question it and their respective editors would congratulate them on their find. A phony local story would be too obvious, so they decided to write about someplace far away. . . . “What if we say that some American engineers, on their way to China, told us they were bidding on a major job: the Chinese government is planning to demolish the Great Wall?” Harold was not sure the story would be believable. Why would the Chinese ever tear down the Great Wall of China? “As a sign of international goodwill, to invite foreign trade.” By 11 P.M. the four reporters had worked out the details, and the next day all four Denver newspapers carried the story—on the front page. . . . When the citizens of China heard that the Americans were sending a demolition crew to dismantle the Great Wall, most were indignant, even outraged. Particularly angry were members of a secret society made up of Chinese patriots already against any kind of foreign intervention. Moved to action by the news story, they attacked the foreign embassies in Peking and murdered hundreds of missionaries from abroad. In the next two months twelve thousand troops from six countries, working together, invaded China to protect their countrymen. The bloodshed of that time, born out of a journalistic hoax fabricated in a saloon in Denver, was . . . the Boxer Rebellion (R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, 129–30).

We should not be surprised that one lie could cause the upheaval mentioned above, when it was the questioning of God’s word (“Hath God said?”) and a lie that plunged our race into deadly sin. We should be sobered, however, as we watch the reaping in a “postmodern” world where all truth is considered relative, and the only idea that will not be tolerated is intolerance itself. Because few voices plead for the truth, “judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter” (Isa. 59:14). In these last days, evil men who deny the truth will “wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). While their disregard for truth and the resulting consequences will be seen in government, education, the media, the courts, and society overall, the child of God who thinks what is true and lives accordingly will know true spiritual freedom and blessing (John 8:32, 36).

Defining “Truth”

God’s Spoken Word A word study of “truth” in the Bible will quickly reveal its definition. The psalmist declared, “thy law is the truth,” and “all thy commandments are truth” (Ps. 119:142, 151). The prophet Isaiah said, “Thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (25:1), and twice in Isaiah 65:16 he calls the Lord “the God of truth.” In Ephesians 1:13 Paul defines the “truth” as “the gospel of your salvation.” James adds that “of His own will begat he us with the word of truth” (1:18). “Truth” is whatever God speaks. If man speaks in contradiction to what God has said, “let God be true, but every man a liar” for God will be “justified in [His] sayings” (Rom. 3:4). A. J. Gordon put it this way: “If you tell the truth, you have infinite power supporting you; but if not, you have infinite power against you.”

God Himself God’s spoken word is truth, because all truth is bound in His Person. Hence, “God . . . cannot lie” (Titus 1:2), and His “word is settled [set; it stands without change] in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). Jesus Christ is not only God the Son, but He is also the “Word” (John 1:1, 14), God’s communication of Himself in human flesh. Hence, He is Truth personified (John 1:17; 14:6), and whenever He speaks He also bears witness to the truth (John 18:37). God the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of truth” three times in John’s Gospel (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). His primary responsibilities involve the truth in that He testifies of Christ (John 15:26) and works to “guide [disciples] into all truth” (John 16:13) of which He is the Author (2 Pet. 1:21). Lord Chesterfield was correct in stating: “Every man seeks for truth, but God only knows who has found it” (“Open Quotations,” Power Bible CD, Version 4.0a). A man or woman’s response to truth is really his or her response to God, and certain consequences will follow.

Truth and Personal Consequences

As a pastor, hardly a week passes when I do not find myself quoting Philippians 4:8 to someone I am counseling. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true . . . think on these things.” Most problems that people face are the consequences of thinking that is contrary to what God says is true and honest. This is why Paul admonished the Corinthians to “[Cast] down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and [to bring] into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Believers who “renew” their minds by thinking only that which is consistent with Biblical truth (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23) will be equipped for spiritual battle (Ps. 91:4; Eph. 6:14), and will be “established” by the truth in their spiritual walk (2 Pet. 1:12). A. T. Robertson said this: “It is not the number of books you read, nor the variety of sermons you hear, nor the amount of religious conversation in which you mix, but it is the frequency and earnestness with which you meditate on these things till the truth in them becomes your own and part of your being, that ensures your growth” (Ibid.).

Many have learned the hard way that God’s truth is always better obeyed the first time. One man who operated a small grocery store in Sheridan, Arkansas, was asked by one of the local women for a “large chicken,” since she expected guests from out of town. When the storeowner placed a frozen bird on the scale, the woman replied: “I need one larger than that.” The owner returned the chicken to the freezer below, but to his dismay there was no other chicken. After some quick thinking, he pulled the same chicken out of the freezer, put it on the scale, and with the help of a hidden finger on the back of the scale, produced a “larger” chicken. Imagine his grief when the local woman saw the scale and declared, “I’ll take both chickens” (Elbourne. org/sermons/index+t).

In Psalm 51:6 David identified one of the primary causes of his sin with Bathsheba. Though God desires “truth in the inward parts,” David chose to follow what his lusts and his reasoning told him to do. Simply put, he hadn’t been honest with what he knew to be true! The words of R. E. Neighbour accurately express this important truth:

It is not what you say that counts,
Nor merely what you do;
Your words may all seem genuine,
Your works be not a few.
Yet, after all, God looks within,
And sees the inner “you.”
Your doctrine may be error free,
Your creed be all so true.
Yet, God looks past all these to see
If you, indeed, are true.
(Walter B. Knight, Knight’s Treasury of Illustrations, 168.)

As David reaped the tragic consequences of his sin, he discovered that it is better to listen to truth the first time. Joseph, on the other hand, exclaimed in Genesis 39:9 the internal truth that kept him from moral failure with Potiphar’s wife: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” His right thinking led to right actions!

Truth and Universal Consequences

Of course, the most sobering aspect of God’s truth is the fact that what we do with it always has eternal ramifications, and no one is exempt. When an individual hears “the word of truth, the gospel of . . . salvation” and chooses to place his trust completely in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:13), he is saved eternally. According to 1 Timothy 2:4, God wants “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Yet, 2 Thessalonians 2:12 says that the eternally “damned” are those “who believed not the truth.” This group has had their minds blinded to the gospel by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and ungodly men who seek to “hold [suppress, conceal] the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). So when Mahatma Gandhi told the people of India, “I believe in the message of truth delivered by all the religious teachers of the world” (Ralph L. Woods, The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, 1010), he was not delivering a message of truth at all, but a false message of darkness that has had eternal consequences for millions of precious souls.

Those of us who have been born again must not forget that our daily response to truth also has eternal consequences. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). To a large degree, our accounting as Christians will be about how seriously we took our responsibility as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) and were willing to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3).

Conclusion

The first two verses of Psalm 2 are a commentary on the history of civilization: “The heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing[.] The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed [literally, His Messiah].” Listen to the attitude of the heathen toward the truth of God in verse 3: “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.”

In verse 8 God makes this promise to His Son: “I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” The fulfillment of this passage is Christ’s return to earth in Revelation 19:11ff. Take a moment to consider that the Conqueror who rides the white horse is called “Faithful and True.” For millennia mankind has doubted and denied the words of the “Word made flesh.” At His second coming Christ will prove definitively that His word “liveth and abideth forever.”


Mike Ascher is pastor of Good News Baptist Church, Chesapeake, VA.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2006. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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