Learning is a matter of taking small steps forward, but then backing up so that you can take a bigger jump, clearing the mark of your previous understanding. We go forward so that we can go back to go forward again. I’ve been thinking about this with what I’ve learned about truth, for instance. I first learned that truth was a standard, a quality I could give to something or someone else—small steps forward. But then I read about how Jesus is the truth (John 14:6). I had to backpedal. “So, hold on . . . truth isn’t just a standard?”—backing up. “But then that means knowing the truth is really a relationship!”—the bigger jump. Learning is beautiful, isn’t it? Not just the end goal, but the whole process, the forward-back-forward.
I was reminded of this when I came across the following lines from Vern Poythress’s Truth, Theology, and Perspective (p. 108).
For any human being, redemption requires something more than that the human being know facts about God. There is guilt, liability, and demerit, which weigh us down and which have to be dealt with. We have to face the punishment of death, which, without redemption, will come in our future if God does not undertake to redeem us from the punishment. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). We need God to save us. We need a man to be united to us, to substitute for us, and to bring us out of our misery. Our savior must be God, in order to have the power to save us. He must also become man, in order to substitute for us as our sin bearer. In addition, we need to be born again, to become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
The relation of these lines to truth may not be obvious. But look where the passage begins: redemption involves more than knowing facts about God. Don’t we often assume that there is a direct or even exclusive correlation between facts and redemption, as if knowing more about God is equivalent to becoming more like God? Is that how truth works? Is redemption mostly a matter of learning about God, that forward-back-forward movement that happens inside the walls of your brain?
Truth Runs Deep
Of course, redemption involves learning, as does salvation. We need to hear the truth about God in order to receive it (Rom. 10:14–15). But the mysterious reality that truth is ultimately a person (John 14:6) and not a principle means that learning more about God isn’t enough. Redemption is learning into God. It’s growing into the Christ-shape he has for each of us.
This turns our understanding of “truth” on its head, since we often associate that word with “facts,” which is similar to my initial understanding of truth as a standard (the standard classifies the facts). And it’s true that godly people occasionally read a book about their faith in order to grow and mature, a book that contains biblical facts about who they are and what God has done for them. But even such books are limited in what they can do for our redemption. For a book to have a hand in your redemption, it has to move from head to heart, from fact to function. It has to change us. That, after all, is what Jesus did, and Jesus is the truth.
The truth, in other words, runs deep. And we still don’t get it, do we? We keep thinking that truth means mental illumination. But what if it’s much more than that? What if truth means what Scripture says it does? What if it means regeneration?
Truth, New Life, and Change
Break down the word regeneration. Re + generate, “generate” coming from the Latin generare but also closely related to genesis, from the Greek word gignesthai, meaning “to be born.” Regeneration is a re-birth, a second genesis, a new beginning. I love the connection between this meaning and the “beginning” language used of both creation (Gen. 1:1) and the Son’s role in it (John 1:1). These are both linked with Jesus as the truth. “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). That’s true of creation, but it’s also true of re-creation, or regeneration. “In our beginning was the Word.” “Our beginning” here is a reference to our rebirth in Christ (John 3). But since the Word is also the truth (John 14:6), we could say, “In our beginning was the Truth.” Truth, the person of the Son, is bound up with our new life, our eternal life. But he’s also bound up with our development and growth. His Spirit, “the Spirit of truth” (John 16:13) is with us for our new stages of infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, and so on. Truth is at the inception and throughout all the stages of our new life.
Truth (Jesus Christ), in short, doesn’t just give us new life, a second birth; it also shepherds that new life. It makes us grow and change over days, months, years, and decades. Poythress wrote, “redemption requires something more than that the human being know facts about God.” It requires much more. It requires growth and change. That’s what truth does; that’s what Jesus does. His Spirit brings rebirth, but it also brings change and growth.
Are you starting to see how important truth is, how far it goes beyond “the facts”? Truth, my friend, is going to change you. And it’s going to keep changing you. Truth is the person who gave you a new beginning, middle, and end. Redemption is a matter of knowing him more intimately, not simply learning more about God.
This is how I’ve been learning into God lately. Poythress’s book has reminded me that truth goes well beyond the facts. It goes right to the core of who you are and who you’re becoming. To know the truth is to know God in relationship, to deepen with him, and to see just how involved he is in every facet of your new life.
So, I think I’ve just learned something about learning. That whole forward-back-forward movement doesn’t just happen inside the walls of my head. It happens to my entire life.