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What is truth?
— Pontius Pilate
“In every age of Christianity, since it was first preached, there has been what may be called a religion of the world, which so far imitates the one true religion, as to deceive the unstable and unwary.” So began John Henry Newman in his sermon “The Religion of the Day.” In that sermon he complained that cultural forces in mid-nineteenth-century England resulted in a Christianity stripped of power and truth. He went on to bemoan that in his day “Religion is pleasant and easy; benevolence is the chief virtue; intolerance, bigotry, excess of zeal, are the first of sins. Austerity is an absurdity—even firmness is looked on with an unfriendly suspicious eye.”
From today’s perspective, the “religion of the day” has advanced to the point where the Christian culture of Newman’s time looks strong and sincere. And intolerance, bigotry, and excess of zeal are, in some cases, criminal offenses.
In light of such things it is not surprising that our young people have trouble discerning the Truth. We have confused the Truth with the Lie. The age-old question of Pontius Pilate—a question that at its simplest level ought not even be asked in a truly Christian culture—is now asked by the vast majority of college students. “What is Truth?” “Is there any Truth?” “Why shouldn’t I just make up my own Truth?” These are questions that, as a professor at a secular college, I hear being raised by students who want to live virtuously but feel that they have no foundation upon which to build a meaningful life.
The Apostle John wrote that “if we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth.” (1 John 1:6) This is the sin of our age. It is difficult to number the things that were scandalous to Christians fifty years ago that are now accepted in Western culture. Walking in darkness and lying to ourselves has become a part of American Christianity. Is there any wonder that our young people are confused? That teenage suicide is at such a high rate? That students can better relate to words of Pilate than to those of Jesus?
John tells us, “He who says ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected.” (1 John 2: 4–5a) Our choice is simple: either we try our best to keep God’s commandments or we do not. Either we allow love for God to be perfected within us, or we become liars. Either we walk in the way of Truth and our delight is in the law of the Lord, or we abandon that which is true and walk in darkness, in league with the devil. To the Apostle John there was no middle ground.
We need to walk in the Truth unapologetically. We need to demonstrate our intolerance of sin, our prejudice against evil, and our zeal in the love of God so that others can see the Truth. We need to teach it diligently to our children when we sit in our house, when we walk by the way, when we lie down and when we arise. We need to abandon pleasant and easy religion and take up the way of the cross. Only by doing so can we expect others to follow and thereby find the Truth. In this way we can show that we agree with John when he wrote, “No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth.” (3 John 4)