#STRask: June 2, 2016

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Published on 06/02/2016

Greg discusses what Jesus meant when He referred to Himself as “The Truth”, how to show respect in another country or to another religion without compromising our own beliefs, and if Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21 was answered.


  • If truth is what matches reality, and Jesus said he is “The Truth”, what was he really trying to communicate?
  • How do you show respect in another country or to another religious person without compromising our beliefs?
  • Was Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17:21 answered?


Melinda: Hi, this is Melinda the Enforcer with Greg Koukl, and this is the STR Ask Podcast #STRAsk.

Greg: Yes it is.

Melinda: Just before we get going I wanted to mention our speakers. We have four of them, Greg, Brett, Alan, and Tim speak all over the country and sometimes the world. You are on your way tonight to Norway.

Greg: Yes, all night. I will be there tomorrow afternoon sometime.

Melinda: Alan just got back from New Zealand not long ago. If you would like to find out more about where they are speaking, you go to our webpage At the top of our homepage there is training and then you click on that link and then click on events. Coming up, Greg, you are going to be on vacation in Wisconsin and as usual, you are going to speak/teach one Sunday at Evangelical Free Church in Woodrift, Wisconsin, on June 19th.

Greg: That is my Wisconsin Body of Christ and I just spent a lot of time with some of those folks actually last Sunday. I guess Sunday before last now. I sat in their service.

Melinda: Did you talk to Rick?

Greg: I did.

Melinda: Did you talk about the topic for that Sunday?

Greg: Just in general maybe I will talk about the “Naturalism: Bumping into Reality” because I have not spoken on that.

Melinda: Because he emailed me to talk to you and I said, “Well, he is actually there, so you might see him before I do.”

Greg: Yes. I will be speaking probably on “Naturalism: Bumping into Reality” at their two services. Then usually what I do is, I do a Sunday evening open Q&A and that’s always well-attended. If you are in that neck of the woods, I don’t get up there very often except for when I am on vacation, and so if you are in the Northern Wisconsin area and would like to make a trip that will be a lot of fun. Plus say you are going to talk about the thing UK?

Melinda: Yes. Greg is going to be teaching in London on July 2nd and 3rd. On July 2nd it’s an all-day seminar. It is with Christian Heritage London, their day conference and you go to I think it is. You could go to our website too, and get the information about that. Then the next day ...

Greg: I will be doing “Tactics” then.

Melinda: “Tactics,” and then the next day... Christian Heritage, they have relocated. They were previously in Cambridge. They are now in London and their goal is to use all the history of Christianity in London to evangelize and do apologetics. It’s a good organization. On Sunday, July 3rd, you are going to be teaching at Disciples Church in Leatherhead, which used to be Calvary Chapel over there.

Greg: That’s my second time there, looking forward to that.

Melinda: Yep, just wanted to mention those things coming up. Now let’s get to the questions. The reason people are really listening. Slide these things in there while you are listening, waiting for the stuff you really want. First question is from Carlo3999. If truth is what matches reality and Jesus said that he is the truth, what was he really trying to communicate?

Greg: Well, the word “truth” has a couple of different ways of using it. The standard way we use it is when it matches reality. Like I say there is an iPhone on the desk. If there is, then my statement is true. If my belief or my statement or my thoughts or ideas fit the way the world it really is, then my statement is true. But sometimes we use the word “truth” to describe the most important things about reality. People say what is the truth?

I think this is what Pilate was referring to when Jesus said that I am of the truth and everybody who is concerned about truth will seek me. It isn’t because Jesus is going to give them all of these accurate statements about mundane things. It’s because when people ask about the deepest questions of reality of meaning and why am I here, etc., etc., that’s the Truth capital T that they are speaking of. That’s what Jesus was referring to and this is why I think Pilate said, “What is truth?” It isn’t like he doesn’t know what the word means, correspondence with reality. I think what he was getting at is what is the big truth? What is the big meaning of things? Who could know such a thing? He was just shrugging Jesus off.

When Jesus says, “I am the truth,” he embodies the meaning of life I guess is the way I would put it. It’s interesting in that discourse he identifies truth with a couple of different things. This is the upper room discourse John 13-17 and it’s his last time with his disciples. He says, “I am going to send you ...”

Melinda: Before his death.

Greg: Before his death that’s right.

Melinda: Several weeks after his resurrection.

Greg: Yes. It’s a Good Friday.

Melinda: Only Thursday. I’m sorry.

Greg: That’s right. You know what I am talking about. The point was in that discourse he says, “I am going to send you the Spirit of Truth.” So the spirit is the Spirit of Truth and then he says, “I am going in a way.” They say, “Show us the way? We want to go with you.” He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” He wasn’t redefining ... I have heard some people say, “Well, see, Jesus actually redefined truth and now truth is ...”

Melinda: Right post-modern Christians like to say that.

Greg: Yes, truth is a person and I think that’s not what he was getting at. He was using the sent truth in a different sense there, “I am the way. I am the truth. I am the light. No one comes to the Father but through me.” That’s the way that is all construed. The most important thing in reality is being restored to the Father. That is what the truth is, Pilate. The truth is there is a God and we are in rebellion against him and we need to be restored to him or else we are going to be accountable to him and I am the one who can accomplish that for you. I am the truth and people who love truth will follow me. That’s what Jesus was getting at.

Now it’s interesting is when he gives his final prayer in John 17, he says, “Thy word sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth.” Now he’s referring to the concept of truth in a little different way. It is the content of the things we are supposed to know that are resonant in the Word that help transform us. When the post-modern types a couple years ago were saying, “Oh no, truth is not correspondence like you are doing.” That’s the modernist view. Truth is a person and then they cite that passage. I say, “No, no, Jesus was confused.”

If you read the whole passage, first he says, “Truth is the spirit,” then he says, “I am the truth,” and then he says, “Oh no,” The word is the truth. He finally landed on the right place. I am just making a joke, of course, because I think they are mischaracterizing the whole point there. Truth has different senses depending on how it is being used and Jesus was using it in those different senses in the upper room discourse.

Melinda: Question number two comes from Beatcat on Twitter. How do you show respect in another country or to other religious people without compromising our beliefs? If you are visiting another country, especially another country that’s dominated by a particular religion how do you show respect without compromising?

Greg: Since he is Beatcat, I can sell, “Well Daddio,” I think this depends on the circumstances. We want to show deference to people and their customs if possible as far it depends on you to “Be at peace with all men” and there are different phrases like this “Give no reason for offense in anything.” These are different phrases that apply generally to this “Eat everything that is put before you, asking no questions for the sake of conscience.” There is a sense in which we try culturally to fit in as much as possible, until we are required to do something or asked to do something that is a violation of our own convictions.

For example, I have noticed this and thought about this because I read about Mount Everest and the climbing and I used to be a mountain climbing instructor many, many years ago. When I read about the climbers making their assent there is a place they stop and it’s a Buddhist country, so I understand it. There is a place where they say prayers and put flower petals or plant a flag or do something, but it’s part of a religious ceremony to confer the goodwill of the spirits in the area, so maybe it’s spiritist. I thought, “Gee, it would be nice to go along just as an overture,” but that’s actually participating in a religious service.

That is not just going through some motion and that’s where I would draw the line. I would say, “I can’t participate in that because I am a Christian. I am a follower of Christ and I don’t want to get anywhere near participating in a foreign religion that might offend him.” I think that would be the guideline. I think if you go to a Muslim country and the decor is the propriety, based on their religious convictions, is that women cover themselves, then I think it would be sensitive to them and considerate of them...

Melinda: Not cause offense.

Greg: For the women to cover themselves in a way that is deemed appropriate in that culture. Modesty is culturally determined. In some cultures you can expose a lot of flesh and it would not be considered immodest, even exposing ankles in other cultures would be considered a sexual titillation of sorts. That’s what we want to avoid.

I think this is what Paul might have been getting at when he was talking about having long hair and the length of hair and apparently temple prostitutes had short hair and for whatever reason. When you saw a person with short hair, they were a temple prostitute. That was their business and this was their custom or the pattern... What’s the word I’m looking for? The fashion that they followed.

At that time Paul said, “Don’t cut your hair short because then you are going to look like a prostitute and we don’t want Christians being confused with prostitutes,” and so there’s a deeper principle there I think that applies. In our sensitivity with other cultures we want to blend in in a way that seems appropriate, but we don’t want to participate in substantive religious activity that goes against Christianity.

Melinda: Last year I went to a Buddhist funeral from my neighbor who passed away. There was actually a very large crowd and Nancy was a wonderful woman, very friendly. I was sitting in the basement with at least half the people attending and we were watching on the screen and the family and the other people upstairs were going past the casket, taking incense, throwing it on the fire, which is part of their ritual of appealing. Then I realized people from our room were going up. Basically, it would have stood out if I had not gone, but as I went along the front I did not pick up the incense and throw it on the fire because I felt that was actually participating then in their rituals. But I showed my respect to Nancy and I took my seat again. I draw a fine line there.

Greg: Correct. You are showing respect in an appropriate way but then not crossing the line in terms of religion. It strikes me that a question someone could ask in this circumstance with regards to this activity, you can ask what does this mean? When you do this particular thing what does this mean? If they say, “Well, this is our way of showing honor and respect,” like maybe we kneel next to the coffin and say a prayer. Well, we could kneel next to the coffin and say a prayer and we can say our prayer, not their prayer. If what this means is we are leaving this food here because when she goes to the afterlife she will be able to use it. This is like ancient Egyptian religion was like this and Buddhist and that might be an Animist practice though because there is a lot of Animism that is mixed in with Buddhism. Even so, Animism is more like a spirit-worship type thing. It’s a very primitive religion of primitive people, try to manage and control the spirits.

When I lived in Thailand they had these little things on the property that looked like bird houses, but they were actually spirit houses. Since some man moved in and built his house on the property the spirit used to live in, they would make a little house for the spirit and then they would put food out there for the spirit. That’s an example of the spiritism that gets worked into what is officially Buddhist religion in Thailand.

Melinda: Several years ago I went to another funeral for another neighbor who was Roman Catholic. When I got there I realized the whole service was actually a rosary and the prayers were being offered to Mary. That was another example of where I felt I wanted to show respect, but I also could not give the mistaken impression that I was praying to Mary. I sat and I stood when they stood, but I did not bow my head because I felt that would indicate I was praying along with them. Next question is from Jason Alfunk. Was Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17:21 answered?

Greg: Well, I am turning there now but I think that’s where Jesus prays that we will all be one and let me just look it up here. I can see why someone would ask a question if that is the verse. John 17:21 is ... I will start in verse 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone.” He is asking that they be sanctified in truth. He says, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in me through their word,” and I actually wrote here in my own Bible, Jesus prayed for me and for you, Brooke, and for you, Melinda, for all other Christians. That was directed to all those who would believe in him through their, the disciples’ words, even though it has been passed down many generations.

Then verse 21 “That they may all be one even as you Father are in me and I in you. That they may also be in us so that the world may believe that you sent me.” The answer to that question is I don’t think it has been answered in the full yet. Some things get answered over time. This may be answered in the final resurrection.

There is a point here about “That they may believe that you sent me, they are oneness, so that others would see it.” That seems to be a prayer request regarding Christians on this earth before the resurrection. Here I’m just going to make a distinction that there are lots of people who are identifying themselves as Christians and are avid members of congregations that they are not Christian at all. I would say that I am spiritually one with people of all kinds of different denominations. People who know who deeply love the Lord and don’t make the particular distinctions or differences in our doctrines, the parochial concerns a big deal as long as we are part as Lewis described in Mere Christianity. He actually got that I think from someone else.

The point is there is this foundational thing and there is a lot of oneness with regards to that. I think sometimes you see a lot of bickering between “Christians,” people who are not Christians at all, but they identify themselves as that. It’s hard for us to figure out who is who sometimes and that’s why God said, “Don’t try to uproot the tares.” In Jesus’ parable, “Don’t try to uproot the tares before their time.” When Jesus returns he will divide the sheep from the goats to mix a metaphor here.

It may be that that prayer has been answered a lot more than people think because of Jesus was talking about his disciples not about Christendom. That all in Christendom would be one. Most in Christendom I do not think our Christians. Of those that identify themselves as Christians with some kind of Christian denomination, this is anecdotal. I have not taken a poll. I don’t know their hearts, but I think most of them are not Christians.

Are you saying most people who show up in church on a regular basis don’t know the Lord? My response is I think that’s the case. That’s not the case in the churches I show up in on a regular basis because the kinds of churches that would ask me to come out are probably the kind of churches that have the convictions theologically that qualify them properly as Christians. But there are a whole bunch of other churches that don’t and I think those numbers outweigh the numbers of true Christians, but I could be wrong on that.

Melinda: Thank you Greg. That’s it for this episode, folks. You can post your questions to Greg on Twitter use #STRask, the name of the podcast. We post new episodes on Mondays and Thursdays. I am Melinda the Enforcer with Greg Koukl for Stand to Reason.