Life Before Truth
What does an infant do with a diamond? Let me give you the two most likely options: 1) eat it, 2) lose it. We might show a little toddler our diamond ring, but there is no way we are going to give it to him. Why? He simply does not understand the concepts of value and rarity or how such concepts are attached to this shiny rock.
There is a parallel to this when it comes to the unbeliever and spiritual truth. The unbeliever is going to handle truth as a person who does not understand the value and power of it. They do not have spiritual life and therefore they do not understand spiritual truth. Life comes before truth. This needs to be understood so that you do not grow frustrated and spiteful. Jesus spoke about these realities both when he was being challenged, as well as when he was teaching his followers. The Gospel of John contains several of these statements and we will look at them.
John 7:17 “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.
What must come first, willingness or knowledge? Jesus said that before someone can know something is God’s words, before that person can see God’s words as authoritative and beautiful and eternal, that person must be willing to obey them. But how can that be? Isn’t this the cart before the horse? This sounds like jumping first and then bending your knees? But friends, this is the miracle of new birth. And this miracle does an instantaneous thing. When God grants life, understanding truth comes bundled with it. It is like asking which comes first, the flame or the light. They are not first and second chronologically, they are simultaneous. Yet there is a first cause and a second result. The flame causes the light, not the other way around. So God grants a person a willingness to obey the truth, and with that willingness is an ability to know truth in a way it was never known before.
John 8:31–32 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
What comes first, continuing in the Word or knowing truth? Jesus said if you continue in My Word then knowing truth follows after. This again seems backward. Don’t you have to know the truth to continue in it? No. You first have to have a certain kind of heart. If you have a heart that will endure to the end, then you are going to begin to know truth and be freed by it on day one. Only when God grants a person this kind of new life, will that person have the ability to know truth. This is not saying that only until you make it to the end of your life will you then know truth. This is saying knowing truth is proceeded by the right kind of heart, the kind that God must give a person in the new birth, which happens by grace and grace alone.
John 8:47 (NASB95) — 47 “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
What comes first, being of God or hearing the word of God? Jesus said that you have to be “of God” first and then you will “hear the words of God.” Some will say that this is backwards. In fact, they might even come with a bible verse. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Are these verses contradicting one another? May it never be! It needs to be understood how the Word of God is being viewed in each verse. Think of the Word as the Sun in the middle of our solar system. It is powerful and dynamic. A piece of clay on planet earth is baked by the sun, hardening until it finally crumbles. Yet a tiny plant is nourished by the sun and grows and bears fruit. You recognize that clay is very different from a plant, and that is what John 8:47 is highlighting. A person who is “of God” is one who has been miraculously changed from a lump of clay into a living thing. God has done a work in them and therefore they now will hear God’s words in a life-giving way. Romans 10:17 is looking at the means used by God to bring the miracle. God changes someone from clay to fruit-bearer when the Spirit connects the living word to a dead heart. The Spirit allows them to hear the word in a new way and faith happens. We all know that people can hear the word for years and be unaffected. So why is it that faith comes from hearing all of a sudden? The Spirit did a work and he used the word to do it.
John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14:21a “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me;
John 14:23a Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word;
What comes first, loving God or keeping commandments? Jesus said love comes first. This is another way of saying that internal heart work happens before external hand work. You love before you obey. Where did this love come from? It comes from a new heart that God puts in a person after removing his heart of stone.
2 Timothy 2:25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,
What comes first, repentance or a knowledge of the truth? Some will say that a person needs to know what is true before they will repent of sin. But the first truth they need is a truth they cannot obtain on their own. The truth they need is to see the vileness of their sin in light of the beauty of God’s holiness. Repentance is the optics that allows them to see God like this, and God himself must grant it. When they are granted repentance, only then will all other truths open to them.
The goal of all this is to encourage you in your faithful witness. It may seem like it is going nowhere and doing nothing. But it is doing something. It is may be creating an irrefutable case for the day of judgement that God gave them much truth and opportunity. Even better than that, God is using us to fill them with truths that will one day blossom when the Spirit grants them life by plowing up their hearts with repentance and faith. So do not grow weary or frustrated. God has called you to be faithful and to leave the rest up to him. He knows what he is doing.