The Sum of Your Word Is Truth

Children Desiring God Conference

Twin Cities, MN

One of the greatest tragedies for children in our age is the cavalier attitude toward truth—that is, acting as though there were no such thing as truth, or as if it didn’t matter, when, in fact, it matters eternally.

Don’t Treat Truth Like a Tyrant

Michael Novak wrote about this tragedy in an article in First Things (Sept. 1994, p. 21)

“There is no such thing as truth,” they teach even the little ones. “Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Follow your feelings. Do as you please. Get in touch with yourself.  Do what feels comfortable.” Those who speak this way prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants.

The reason people who speak this way “prepare the jails” is that thousands of children who grow up making themselves the measure of truth, rather than believing in objective truth outside themselves, will sooner or later not submit to law, and will end up in jails.

And the reason the people who speak this way “do the work of tyrants” is that a society in which the individual, autonomous self is elevated as the source of truth will, sooner or later, descend into chaos and anarchy, and then will bless the day that a tyrant rises to protect them against the mobs.

One of the aims of this conference is to awaken in you a well-grounded passion for the sheer existence of truth for the sake of passing that on to the next generation.

If one of the greatest tragedies for children in our age is the attitude that there is no such thing as truth, or that it doesn’t matter, then one of the greatest blessings we can give to children is the passionate conviction that there is such a thing as truth and that it matters at every point in life and eternally.

Kipling’s Serving Men

So how shall we approach this subject? I’ll take my cue from Rudyard Kipling, the British poet and storyteller from a hundred years ago. He wrote many poems and stories for children. One of them is especially relevant for lovers of truth. It’s called “Elephant’s Child” and has this verse:

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

When I finished my six years of college teaching in the spring of 1980, one of my classes gave me a T-shirt with these words on the back: Asking questions is the key to understanding. I was pleased. That’s what they learned. And that’s right. If there is truth outside of me, then I will be endlessly asking questions, and seeking true answers.

So the way I am going to structure our concern with truth is with three of Kipling’s “serving men”: Why? and What? and How?

Why should we care about passing along a passion for truth to the next generation?
What is the sum of truth we want the next generation to see and embrace?
How can the next generation come to know what is true and be joyfully confident in it?

1. Why should we care about passing along a passion for truth to the next generation?

I’ll just mention one reason here. And I choose this because it has had such a huge impact on my own stance toward truth, and because it is the kind of reason you can give to a child. You can tell it like a story.

Jesus Demands We Take a Stand for Truth

The reason we should care about passing along a passion for truth to the next generation and the reason they should care about getting that passion is that Jesus will not deal with people who take no stand for truth.

Consider Matthew 21:23–27.

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Truth Matters More Than Your Safety or Ego

Look at how the chief priests and elders deal with truth. Jesus asks them to take a stand on a simple truth claim: Either John’s baptism is from heaven or from man. Declare what you believe to be the truth. Take a stand. They ponder:

If we say that John’s baptism is from heaven, then we will be shamed because Jesus will show that we are hypocrites. We don’t act like we believe that. We will be shamed before the crowds.

But if we say that John’s baptism is from man, we may be harmed by the crowd, because they all believe he was a prophet. There could be some mob violence.

So, since we don’t want to be shamed and since we don’t want to be mobbed, we won’t take a stand. We’ll say: We don’t know.

Here is the way the depraved mind works. They are thinking carefully: if we say this then such and such will happen. And if we say that, then such and such will happen. They are reasoning carefully. Why? Because the truth is at stake? No, because their skin is at stake. And their ego. They don’t want to be harmed and they don’t want to be shamed. Truth doesn’t matter. I matter.

And Jesus responds to that attitude toward truth  (v. 27): “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” In other words, I won’t deal with people that treat truth that way. Jesus abominates that kind arrogant, cowardly prostituting of the precious reality of truth.

Taking Truth Seriously Is Inseparable from Saving Faith

So the reason we should care about passing along a passion for truth to the next generation is that, if they grow up unwilling to take truth seriously, and unwilling to take stands for truth that might cost something, Jesus will have no dealings with them. And that will be eternally tragic.

So since we are saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus, not our own works, this implies that taking truth seriously is inseparable from saving faith. No love for truth, no saving faith. Passing this passion to the next generation is very important. Very important.

2. What is the sum of truth we want the next generation to see and embrace?

The answer is found in the theme verse of our conference, Psalm 119:160, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”

The Hebrew word translated “sum”—“the sum of your word is truth”—is rosh. It can mean a literal head on a body, or figuratively the head of a river or the head of a family.

The Census of God’s Word Is Truth

But Derek Kidner draws attention to a peculiar use of the word rosh that seems relevant here. He points to the use in Exodus 30:12 where the Lord says to Moses, “When you take the census of the people of Israel . . .” (Exodus 30:12). And behind the word “census” is this same Hebrew rosh. When you take a sum of the people, or perhaps a headcount. . . .

So here’s the implication. The psalmist is saying something like: When you take a census, or a headcount, so to speak, of the word of God, what you find is that the totality of the population is truth. The sum total is truth. And not just the totality, but the individual citizens in this land of God’s word—every one of them—is truth. That’s why the second half of the verse draws out this individual nature of each rule or each judgment—“and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” So you have a summation in the first half of the verse (“The sum of your word is truth”), and an individualization in the second half of the verse (“and every one of your righteous rules endures forever”).

God’s Word—in Totality and Its Parts—Is Truth

So this figurative census, the headcount of God’s word, has discovered something about the sum and something about the individual members in the sum. The sum is truth, and every individual part endures forever, because they too are truth. Neither the whole nor the part will ever prove false; they will never need to be struck from the royal record. The population, so to speak, of the word of God is totally truth and truth in every part.

So my answer to the question, What is the sum of truth we want the children to see and embrace? Is the word of God, in its totality and all its parts.

Or the way Jesus put it in his prayer in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” In other words, when the Father speaks, that is truth. If we want to know what truth is, we go to the word of God.

God’s Word Is Ultimate Truth Because God Is Ultimate Reality

Step back and ponder this for a moment. The reason God’s word is ultimate truth is because God is ultimate reality. The concept of truth depends on the concept of the real. For something to be true something behind it must be real. And the truth is telling us what is real. God alone is ultimately real—ultimate reality. That is, no reality was before him. He doesn’t depend on any other reality. All other reality is created by him. So by his being and by his creating he has determined and defined what is—what is real. And since what makes something true is that it corresponds to what it real, therefore, God determines and defines all truth. When God speaks, that is truth.

The way the Bible uses the word truth, and the way we should use it, is to refer to a faithful representation of reality. If it is a true statement or proposition, that statement faithfully represents reality. If it’s a story, the story faithfully represents reality. If it’s a true sunset, the sunset faithfully declares reality—the glory of God.

Jesus Is Truth and Speaks Truth

The place where the reality and the representation come together most profoundly is in Jesus Christ himself. Jesus said,

  • “I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).
  • “My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going” (John 8:14).
  • “My judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me” (John 8:16).
  • “The one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (John 7:18).

So Jesus spoke the truth. His words were truth.

Jesus Is God’s Word and Speaks God’s Words

But he said something more profound in John 14:6. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). I am the truth. The most ultimate reason he could say this that he is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). He so fully embodies the faithful representation of God that he is God. Therefore, he is ultimate reality, and he represents ultimate reality as the eternal Word, and the words that he himself speaks are truth—they faithfully represent what is real. There is no falsehood in them.

So Jesus enters the world as the ultimate divine reality and as the perfect spokesman for this reality. This is God’s final and decisive way of saying to us that truth is not impossible to reach. It has come to us. He is not waiting for us to find it. Truth is pursuing us. “I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). Since he is God, and God’s Word, he speaks God’s words.

Jesus Authenticates the Old and New Testaments as Truth

And to make plain to us the scope of God’s word Jesus both endorses the divine truth and authority of the Old Testament, and he promises to send his Spirit to guide his apostles into truth as they write the New Testament.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17–18). There and in a dozen other places Jesus puts his stamp of approval on the Old Testament as the word of God.

Then he promises to his apostles, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). So the apostles become the authoritative spokesmen for the Spirit of God and provide the church its foundation in the New Testament (Eph. 2:20). As Paul says, “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:13).

So when we speak the words of Psalm 119:160 today, “The sum of your word is truth,” we mean all that Jesus has shown us it means: Himself, his words, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. This is the sum of God’s word, and it is truth.

God’s Word and Word Is the Sum of Truth

So in answer to the question, What is the sum of truth we want the next generation to be passionate about? The answer is: the Bible, with Jesus Christ the incarnate Word at the center. This is the sum of Truth.

The God who made everything, knows everything, controls everything, and has a purpose for everything—this God has spoken to us. He has not left us without the revelation of his will. He has not left us without wisdom. He has not left us with out unfathomable knowledge, that none of us ever exhausts. He has not left us without a full and sufficient revelation of the way of salvation, the way of everlasting joy. He has not left us without a way to measure the truth claims of every life-shaping question we face. This is simply a priceless legacy for our children.

God’s Word Is Pervasively Relevant

It’s implications for their lives are countless and vital. You can see this, for example, in the Affirmation of Faith that governs Children Desiring God and Desiring God and the Elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church. It says, 

1.1 We believe that the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts.

1.2 We believe that God’s intentions, revealed in the Bible, are the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right. In matters not addressed by the Bible, what is true and right is assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.

Which means we aim to bequeath to our children a legacy of truth—the sum of truth, God’s word—which is pervasively relevant to everything they will face in life—either directly in addressing the very issue, or indirectly by shaping the criteria they use to make judgments.

God’s Word Grants Authority and Significance

As I have completed 30 years of pastoral ministry, I can testify that having in my hands the sum of truth week in and week out has made all the difference. Every thought that enters my mind passes (all too imperfectly) through the framework of God’s word. In every sermon I preach, and every article or book or blog I write, I am aware that the assertions I make have no final authority and no eternal significance unless they are rooted in and shaped by the word of God, the sum of truth, the Bible.

I want the next generation that comes after me to be passionate for this same wonderful privilege. You are a key part of that dream. That’s why I love Children Desiring God and why I love this conference and being a part of it.

Summarizing so far:

1. Why should we care about passing along a passion for truth to the next generation?

Answer: Matthew 21:23-27. Jesus won’t deal with people who are unwilling to take a stand for the truth. So to treat truth lightly is an eternal tragedy.

2. What is the sum of truth we want the next generation to see and embrace?

Answer: Psalm 119:160. “The sum of your word is truth.” That is, the Bible with Jesus, the incarnate Truth, at the center, is the sum of truth.

3. Now finally, how can children come to know what is true and be joyfully confident in it?

Or more specifically now: How can they know that the Bible is true with Jesus at the center? Ever since my college and seminary days I have sought to get clarity on why I believe the Bible is the sum of truth. Believing something for no reason does not honor what you believe. So God’s word is not honored if we believe it for no reason.

But with every apologetic approach to defending the Bible I have always had in my mind: Can a non-literate, simple person—say the member of some newly reached tribe in Papua New Guinea—or an American nine-year-old, or just an average church member with no time or intellectual ability to research a long historical chain of reasoning—can such people also come to a well-grounded confidence that the message of the Bible is true?

Expertise Alone Is Insufficient for Knowing the Bible Is True

The person, outside the Bible, who has helped me most with this question is Jonathan Edwards. He shares my burden about helping ordinary people find rock solid, well-grounded confidence that the Bible is true. Here is the way he put it:

Unless men may come to a reasonable, solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the gospel, by the internal evidences of it, . . . by a sight of its glory; it is impossible that those who are illiterate, and unacquainted with history, should have any thorough and effectual conviction of it at all. They may without this, see a great deal of probability of it; it may be reasonable for them to give much credit to what learned men and historians tell them. . . . But to have a conviction, so clear, and evident, and assuring, as to be sufficient to induce them, with boldness to sell all, confidently and fearlessly to run the venture of the loss of all things, and of enduring the most exquisite and long continued torments, and to trample the world under foot, and count all things but dung for Christ, the evidence they can have from history, cannot be sufficient.1

We Know Truth by a “Divine and Supernatural Light

What we want in the next generation is not merely that they grow up with a vague family-conditioned and culturally conditioned acceptance of the Bible, but that they grow up so deeply persuaded and so deeply treasuring the Bible that they build their whole lives on its truth, are ready to risk everything for the glory of its story, the Gospel of Jesus. This does not come to pass merely through historical reasoning. It comes to pass through spiritual sight.

So let me simply point you to two passages of scripture that describe how this happens and commend to you the tremendously important sermon by Jonathan Edwards that you can either read or listen to online, “A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God.” This sermon can give you a profound grasp on how we come to know the truth of God and his word, even if we cannot follow long, complicated arguments for the historical reliability of the Bible.

God-Given Spiritual Sight Awakens Lives of Radical Devotion

First, Matthew 16:16–17:

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

This is the text for Edwards’ sermon. And the point is that objective, visible, rational, evidences are important. The incarnate Son of God was standing before the world. But these evidences are not sufficient. Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you. We can’t argue or persuade anyone—whether eight or eighteen or eighty-eight—into seeing Jesus and his message as true and precious and compelling. The compliance of children to their parents’ faith is not the same as a well-grounded, spiritual sight of the glory of Christ that leads to a lifetime of radical devotion.

God Grants Spiritual Sight Through Gospel Light

How does this happen today when Jesus is not here to see physically? The second text helps us see how it happens, 2 Corinthians 4:3–6,

Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. . . . God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts

to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The Shining of Jesus’ Self-Authenticating Light Grants Confidence in Truth

What this text teaches is that we come to a well-grounded confidence in the truth of Christ and the gospel message, and then the scriptures themselves, by spiritually seeing the self-authenticating “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (v. 4). Or, as it’s called in verse 6: “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” And we come to see this, verse 6 says, because God causes it to shine in our hearts. He says, “Let there be light,” as he did when he created the world.

This is not a leap in the dark. This is not belief without evidence. The light is really shining as the gospel story of Jesus is told faithfully to our children. There is real glory radiant in the person and work of Christ as the biblical portrait is communicated. And God’s supernatural work is to remove Satan’s blinding, shine in our hearts to give the self-authenticating light of the glory of Christ.

Here is the way Edwards puts it:

The soul may have a kind of intuitive knowledge of the divinity of the things exhibited in the gospel; not that he judges the doctrines of the gospel to be from God, without any argument or deduction at all; but it is without any long chain of arguments; the argument is but one, and the evidence direct; the mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory.2

Children Must Experience Christ Before Explaining Christ

Our children do not need to be able to explain this when they are young. They need to experience this. We can’t make them experience it, and we should not try to rush it or coerce it. It is a supernatural work of God. And without it, the compliance of our children will prove fruitless in their adult years.

The way we help our children is by giving them the clearest and fullest display of God’s word, centered on light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.

This is where God opens the eyes of the blind. This is what he wants them to see. This is how his Son is glorified.

Conclusion

Summarizing my three questions:

1. Why should we care about passing along a passion for truth to the next generation?

Answer: Matthew 21:23–27. Because Jesus won’t deal with people who are unwilling to take a stand for the truth. So not caring about truth is an eternal tragedy.

2. What is the sum of truth we want the next generation to see and embrace?

Answer: Psalm 119:160. “The sum of your word is truth.” That is, the Bible is the sum of truth—and at the center the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.

3. How can even children come to know what is true—to have well-founded, joyful confidence that Jesus Christ is the truth and worth living and dying for?

Answer: 2 Corinthians 4:3–6. By reading or hearing God’s word—especially the biblical story of Jesus and experiencing the supernatural work of God opening the eyes of the heart to see the self-authenticating light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.

May God fill you with a strong love for truth, a deep grasp of the Bible as the sum of truth, and a powerful, self-authenticating sight of the glory of Christ in the gospel. Amen.

________

1 The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol.2, The Religious Affections (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), p. 303. “Miserable is the condition of the Houssatunnuck Indians, and others, who have lately manifested a desire to be instructed in Christianity, if they can come at no evidence of the truth of Christianity, sufficient to induce them to sell all for Christ, in any other way but this.” p. 304.

1 Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, p. 298.

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