Is Truth Absolute or Relative?
"If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." These words of Jesus are recorded in John 8:31-32. Many express belief in these words, but then disagree as to what truth is. Many even suggest that there is no such thing as absolute truth. All truth, they will say, is relative.
The steps leading to salvation are taught differently in different churches. One church calls for only faith. Another church calls for sprinkling water on an infant. Some teach that once we are saved, we are always saved, while others teach that salvation is through confessed belief in Jesus and baptism for the forgiveness of sins teaching that one may fall from grace after being saved.
The work of the church is taught differently by different churches also. One church calls for benevolence for all people. Another church calls for benevolence for brethren only. Another sees the work of the church in recreation, child care, schooling, etc. And yet another says the work of the church is anything that serves what is called the greater good.
Many believe even things such as modesty or honesty are determined by the circumstances, suggesting that a swimsuit is not too revealing at the beach but is not appropriate at the grocery store. A cheerleader's uniform might be considered modest at the ballgame but immodest at the funeral home. Honesty may be compromised by telling a lie if it leads to what is considered a better result. This is sometimes called situational ethics and other such terms indicating that truth is relative to circumstances or maybe to one's faith.
Yet into all of these varying opinions we still have the words of Jesus. "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Can we abide in His word and believe all sorts of contradictory things? Does that make sense? Someone calls our attention to the fact that seemingly sincere people come to different conclusions and that all quote scripture to support their different beliefs. We may be asked if we think we are right and all others are wrong.
Let us think about that for a minute. Is there one right way? A group of young students studying arithmetic for the first time may look at a simple equation such as 2+2 and conclude that the sum is 3, 4, 5 or even 7. Surely the teacher will try to help those students understand that there cannot be four different answers. The sincerity of the different efforts does not mean that different answers are acceptable. The fact that they might be able to offer reasons for their different answers does not mean that disagreement is okay. No, the answer is that 2+2=4, and pointing that out is not a bad thing. Indeed, the one is right while all the others are wrong.
There is absolute truth in arithmetic, and there is absolute truth in scripture. Our work is to seek it. First we must believe in God and in His word – the Bible.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us, "…he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Paul wrote to Roman Christians saying, "…let God be true but every man a liar" (Romans 3:4). And Jesus affirmed both the existence of God and the truth of His word in John 17:17 when He prayed saying, "…Your word is truth."
It has never been God's desire that we all come to Him in different ways. God even warned us through Paul's letter to Timothy saying, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
This is what has happened today. People are going where they hear what they want to hear, with far too little regard for the idea that the Bible teaches us that there is "one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all…" (Ephesians 4:4-5). God does not want us to study His word and come to different conclusions. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:10, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing…"
Why then, one might ask, do all the different churches cite scripture to support their various beliefs? Remember, the devil cited scripture to Jesus when he tempted Jesus. This is recorded in Matthew 4:6. Satan said, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written, 'He shall give His angels charge over You,' and 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest You dash Your foot against a stone'" (Matthew 4:7).
The scripture can be sincerely or insincerely misunderstood. Care must be given to make sure it is correctly understood. Paul encourages us to "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Peter gave us a warning regarding some things Paul had written, saying in 2 Peter 3:15-16 that Paul had written things that were hard to understand, "which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures."
If two people come to different understandings, one of them is wrong. If both of those people are quoting the scriptures, one of them is twisting the scriptures to their own destruction. There are not various faiths, there is one faith. There are not various truths, there is one truth. Truth is not relative. It is absolute.
Scripture can be used to prove truth, and it is all we need. 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
Jesus warned that there will be those who believe they have done God's will who would say, "'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:22-23).
It is an interesting fact, as many have pointed out, that the Bible never speaks of truth in the plural. There is but one truth, and we must seek it and stand humbly but faithfully in it if we hope to escape the wrath of God that has been revealed against all unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).