Obtaining First-Hand Religion
When the Spirit of Truth operates in our lives, we can experience first-hand religion. The Spirit of Truth is, in fact, Jesus present with us individually. But when we allow men to teach us their understanding about Jesus who require that we subject ourselves to their interpretations, our religion becomes second-hand – a hearsay religion. Here is why:
- Jesus said and did some things, but he did not write them down.
- Years after his death, some of his apostles and disciple began to compile notes from what they could recall of what Jesus said and did, compared their notes with others and published those compiled notes into what is called the four Gospel Accounts – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – which were written in the languages of the day, Greek and Aramaic.
- In about 325 C.E., the Council of Nicea convened, sifted through the hundreds of Christian writings and after much debate, settled on the 27 books that make up the Christian writings. History reveals that the book of Revelation was the last book that was accepted into the Bible canon, perhaps 100 years after the other books were accepted and after much debate and suspected reconstruction of its contents.
- These settled (or canonized) books were translated into various languages which were themselves translated into various other languages until we have the writings translated into our modern languages.
- Then modern Bible translators revised those writings according to new archaeological findings and ancient lexicons and modern vocabulary, all claiming to provide a more accurate translation of what Jesus actually said.
And after all this work, what we have is a book containing various translations of translations of recollections of the words and teachings of Jesus. These are the reasons why some doubt its veracity.
However, when we say the Bible is ‘hearsay,’ that does not mean it is unreliable, inauthentic, or untrue. Hearsay simply means that the person reading the writing has no first hand knowledge of its veracity. We can illustrate it this way: When something happens to you and you tell another about it, to that other person, that experience is hearsay, even though you know it to be true. The person you told it to did not experience it first hand, therefore all he can do is believe you or not believe you. He cannot prove to another person that it actually happened.
Hearsay only means that we know about something by the words of another, not by our own personal experience. Hearsay information does not prove anything to the listener. A listener can believe it and accept it as true. But as followers of Christ, we are told to prove truth to ourselves. (Romans 12:1-2)
Further, the fact that the Bible writers were inspired does not solve our hearsay problem. The Spirit of Truth inspired them to write the gospels, and it gave them the conviction that what they wrote was true. It recalled to their minds the things Jesus said and did.
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
– John 14:26
But, how does that effect you and I? Isn’t it still hearsay to us even though the gospel writers were themselves inspired? The writers can say “But the Spirit of Truth confirmed it to me!” Yet, all we can do is accept it or not accept it. Their declaration is not truth. Divine inspiration is the personal possession of the individual who is aided by the Spirit of Truth, based on that individual’s capacity to receive it. And it can and will be given to each person who asks in faith for its assistance. Hence, when the Spirit of Truth arrives in our lives, then we, too, will have the conviction that what the gospel writers wrote is true. This is the point the Apostle John was making when he wrote that ‘his anointing teaches you’. (1 John 2:26-27)
This is how we, almost 2,000 years later, can experience Jesus first hand. We recall that Jesus is the word (John 1:1-2) and Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), and that the word of God is alive. (Hebrews 4:12) Therefore, the written word about Jesus is not the activating force. The activating force is the Spirit of Truth who continues to reveal the authentic Jesus in our day. So rather than just reading about Jesus, we are to apply what we learn and imitate him in our lives. In this way, we become living first hand witnesses of truth. Note what Paul wrote:
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:14-16
A spiritual man learns to examine things spiritually, not by reading about something, but by experiencing it. Instead of testifying that ‘this or that is what Jesus said,’ we can testify that ‘I am a living example of the truthfulness of what Jesus said and taught.’ That is the goal! That is the meaning of being a witness. If all we are doing is telling about what we read, we are not valid witnesses. The legal term is that we are not ‘competent’ witnesses and we ‘lack capacity’ to tell the true story. Our testimony will be thrown out of court as hearsay. (Let’s hope we are not sanctioned for our ignorance of the rules.)
But when a person experiences something first hand, no one – no clergyman, no deceiver, no self-appointed leader – can convince him otherwise. Such a person is solid in their faith and can then put his attention on serving his brother rather than on vacillating from one idea to another. Such a person becomes a competent, not a hearsay, witness of Jesus. We know of what we speak.
What we need to do and be are living examples of Jesus’ teachings. We must become ‘little Christs’ substituting for him (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), not mere gossipers ‘about Christ.’ Rather than passively marveling at the faith of the men and women of old, and the apostles and disciples of the early Christian era, we should be discovering those qualities in ourselves and becoming new expressions of bold and faithful living for our generation and future generations to look upon.
To those of us who are up to the challenge of being modern day spiritual heroes who are living examples of the excelling value of Jesus’ ministry, we need to do a first hand examination of the plain and open teachings of Jesus, and then move on to the next step in this symposium. We need to apply the truth, live the truth, and speak the truth to one another, thereby dividing the physical men from the spiritual men. Do you have the courage to become living heroes and competent witnesses of Jesus. If so, then let’s move on to the next article in this series, Living the Truth.