Romans 9:1 “I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit.”
I want to consider with you the utter and total truthfulness of the Bible. How few subjects are as crucial as this one? Can we trust the Bible or not? I often say to you that the best reason for being a Christian is that it is true. Jesus Christ is God the Son and the Saviour of all who believe in him – and it is true. He died to propitiate the wrath of God towards us sinners – and it is true. He rose from the grave on the third day, triumphing over death – and it is true. We can do everything he asks us to do through his enabling grace – and it is true. He has all authority in heaven and earth, and one day he will come again to raise the dead and judge all mankind – and it is true. The challenge of the Christian message that confronts you is whether you are going to accept the truth of Christ, or reject it and stick to lies, and face the consequences.
Have I got this right? Am I imposing on Christianity claims it does not make? Let me draw your attention to the fascinating words of the apostle Paul in our text. There are four or five statements he makes here which are gripping.
- PAUL CLAIMS TO SPEAK THE TRUTH.
You may have met a very good man, a righteous man, someone to whom telling a deliberate lie would not only be extremely painful but virtually impossible. His regard for veracity and truthfulness is so high that even to his own hurt he cannot but tell the truth always. Falsehood is something utterly repulsive to him. He is deeply convicted of the vileness of the sin of lying. His yea is yea and his nay is nay. If he has said that something is so and so . . . then it can be guaranteed that that is most certainly the case. You have the highest regard for such a man, and thank God that in public life there are such men of moral stature today. You’ve met them, both men and women, of total and utter integrity, and not a few of them. Most of them were Christians, while others have been influenced by Christianity in their parents’ generation. Though they are not yet disciples of Jesus Christ themselves, yet they are unyielding, according to their light, in the commitment they’ve made to the Ten Commandments. Those are non-negotiables.
The importance of telling the truth is often underlined in the Bible. In the ninth of the Ten Commandments God tells us, “You shall not give false testimony.” In the early church there were once a husband and wife named Ananias and Sapphira who did just that about the price of a piece of land they’d sold. They told the church they’d brought the entire sum they’d been given for the land to the congregation as a gift from them both for the spread of the gospel of Jesus. It was not so; they had kept back a part of it for themselves. They were lying to the church, and not just to the apostles but to God himself, and severe judgment came upon them. A man was visiting a church in Walworth, London, and over tea in the home where his friends lived their children were being asked to say what the morning sermon had been about. The children had prepared their answers and they all spoke well. But that afternoon the youngest, a four year old boy, wanted to speak and they were all pleased with his desire. He said, “I heard the preacher saying that it was no disgrace to be poor, but it was a disgrace to tell lies.”
You remember the possible terrible consequences of telling lies. There was a man named Naboth who had a vineyard and Jezebel’s husband king Ahab, ached and sulked to have it for himself, but Naboth could not dispense with what had been in his family for centuries, even for the king to buy it. So Jezebel persuaded men to lie, saying that they’d heard Naboth blaspheming. So he was arrested, tried and condemned to death and the king got his vineyard. Fearful consequences attend bearing false witness. You remember the same accusation was made by liars in the trial of our Lord. Bribed witnesses declared that they’d actually heard Jesus of Nazareth blaspheme and on their evidence our Lord was found guilty and condemned to death on the cross. So much hangs on telling the truth. The apostle Paul spoke the truth. He did so as a Jew, as a leading Pharisee who magnified the law of God. Concerning the outward righteousness of the law he could say that he was blameless. He was not a liar.
What could Paul gain if he went about deceiving people by inventing falsehoods about Jesus Christ? How did he profit from telling such ‘lies.’ He certainly didn’t become rich did he? He was a virtual pauper all his life. What did his alleged ‘lies’ bring him? He tells the Corinthians that he had “been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Cors. 12:23-29). I am sure that most of us would agree that Paul was not a conspirator and deceiver, that he had no political or revolutionary agenda in speaking to people about Jesus Christ as he did. Paul genuinely believed that what he had to say to them was the truth, and it was for that Paul suffered so much.
So let’s listen for a moment to Paul’s testimony. If it is true . . . if what he tells a court that this actually happened to him – and it did happen to him – then everything changes for my life too, for I have to deal with the same God who dealt with Paul. You will find his defence recorded in Acts 26. Paul is on trial and he is speaking to his judge King Agrippa. You know when a man stands on trial in the USA he says with his hand on the Bible something like this; “I swea
r by Almighty God that the evidence I give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” It is a solemn statement isn’t it? So this is how Paul spoke before this court of law; “I beg you to listen to me patiently. The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O King, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them. On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O King, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Then I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the Lord replied. “Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:3-23).
You must face up to these words and decide whether what Paul said to King Agrippa and the court was true or one lie after another. If it is true then, I say, it has the greatest consequences possible for your life. Paul is saying that Christ rose from the dead to shine that resurrection light into the darkness of the death that lies before you and before all of us, and that you should believe in Christ, and repent of the sin of unbelief, and turn to God. Then you have to prove that you’ve really done so by a new kind of living, with a quality of goodness and patience and kindness and service about it. I am not asking you to leap into the dark but to respond to what the message of the apostles is – true truth.
- PAUL CLAIMS TO SPEAK THE TRUTH IN CHRIST.
You see this claim, how astonishing it is, not only that he speaks the truth, but he speaks it in Christ. He’s not speaking the truth merely as a righteous and truthful individual, giving his own observations from his own experience and by his evaluation alone. He’s not promoting his views by his own eloquence and oratory. His letters and sermons don’t come to us by his positive thinking, and his powers of persuasion. The truth that Paul speaks of course comes from a very brilliant mind and from a holy man of total integrity, but his message also comes to us through his union with Jesus Christ, in other words, the explanation of why Paul’s letters and preaching come to us as they do is this – he is one with the Lord Jesus. Christ is in him and he is in Christ. So the statements of Paul also have all the authority of Jesus behind them.
God’s concern is that his beloved Son (who humbled himself to the death of the cross, and was subsequently highly exalted by God), should henceforth be adored and worshipped as Saviour in all the world and through every generation. So God is determined that men and women should hear accurately and truly what his blessed Son once and for all achieved. God won’t let his Son be forgotten, or ignored, or misunderstood in any generation, ever! The people for whom Jesus suffered and died shall and must hear the truth. So the gospel message comes to them through the Scriptures, through Paul and the other apostles. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Roms. 8:32). The living God has sent his only begotten, his well-beloved Son, to the cruel cross on Calvary, where his blood has been shed and his body has been broken, in order that we rebel sinners might be saved and pardoned and redeemed. God, who has done that for us, is not going to leave us without a true grasp of what happened in the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. God had given us the greater – redemption, atonement, full pardon, reconciliation, propitiation all in the blood of the Lamb of God. Then that achievement of mighty Christ is a guarantee that God will certainly do the lesser – that is, he will give us the gospel message. What is greater, the event of a man laying down his life for his friends or the event of people being told what happened in that act of sacrifice? The act itself, of course, is far great than the message explaining it, but without the message explaining it the valour and grandeur of the sacrifice will be unknown. God has given his Son and spared him not, then he will certainly give favoured sinners the message about redemption accomplished and applied.
In the Upper Room Christ told them that he would make sure that the true and real message got out to the world. He said to the apostles, “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (Jn.16:13&14). The apostles would be helped by the Holy Spirit in drafting the message. They would write exactly what the Lord Jesus wanted them to write. There was a time on the Isle of Patmos when the apostle John was about to write something but he was told, “Don’t write that.” God was superintending the whole process of what he wrote. The whole world was confused and in darkness needing the truth. “I will take the truth to them all,” Jesus says, “My apostolic word
will come to them by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and Peter – by the New Testament.” Christ will meet our need for truth by the Holy Spirit and in union with the apostles whom he leads into all the truth that we find in the Bible.
Jesus tells those men that when we Christians listen to the apostles we are actually listening to him! When we receive their words we are also receiving Jesus’ words. He will deliver us from confusion and ignorance by bringing his own truth to us, not only as he promised but as Christ deserves. Doesn’t he get the glory as men and women become his disciples? Isn’t that also God’s intention in inspiring his apostolic word?
I never grow weary of reading some words written by an acquaintance of mine, Michael Phelan of Brighton. I have never met him but I have spoken to him on the phone and reviewed his books. In these words he is describing going one day into a charity shop where he idly picked up a book with an interesting title. It was called, Good News for Modern Man. This is what he said, “When I first began to read the Scriptures, it was in total isolation from any Christian individual or organization. I didn’t even know that the book I had purchased, entitled Good News For Modern Man, was a New Testament. As I read its pages, I was drawn more and more deeply into the heart of its teaching until I reached a definite point where an event of recognition occurred. Without the aid of any other human, immediately and comprehensively, I was granted the realization that what I was reading was absolutely and eternally True. The impact this recognition made upon me was life-changing, and brought a feeling of joy combined with wonder and awe. For me, there could be no going back: from that moment on, I knew I was reading words that forever were true, and must be lived by, and, if need be, died for. This most potent power of the Scriptures, of witnessing for the Truth of God, is for me a genuine property or attribute of the Scriptures, and is equally present in all Scripture” (M.W.J. Phelan, The Inspiration of the Pentateuch, Twoedged Sword Publications, 2005, p.17). You understand what I am saying, that the Lord redeems us on the cross, but he also reveals to us what he has done on Calvary by bringing the apostolic message of Scripture to us
Paul tells us that he speaks the truth in Christ. He and Christ are one; there is no membrane that you can slip between them, and we can see from other parts of his writings how self-aware he was of that reality. In his first letter to the Corinthians he is instructing them about such things as public worship, and about the role of women in the church. It is the conclusion of his instructions that is fascinating from the perspective of our text. He addresses these words to anyone in the church who challenges Paul’s teaching; “let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (I Cors. 14:37). What Paul had said to the church, Jesus was also saying to the church in those same words. All the authority of the Son of God lies behind what Paul has written.
So I am saying that Christ is glorified when all over the world there are spots of light growing and spreading as people are illuminated and converted by the message of Scripture. The truth spreads through Asia and Africa and Europe and the Americas. The truth comes to favoured sinners from Christ himself, from this great Mediator who died for us and now lives for us, to whom the apostle Paul is joined by the Spirit of Truth who indwelt and inspired him. From him and the other apostles the light was going to spread out and out to the ends of the earth so that in distant Wales 2,000 years later a new generation would be gripped by the truth of the words of the prophets and apostles. Can you imagine God being mean-spirited and reluctant to tell us clearly about his beloved Son when he had once sent his Son to that cruel death to save us because he loved us? Can you imagine him telling us, “You’d better sort out for yourselves all these theories about Jesus. Work them out for yourselves, what is true and what is false. Maybe you’ll get it right.” Rather can’t we expect God’s love for us to be prodigal? Wouldn’t bringing his pure truth to us be such a loving God-like thing for him to do? If he has given us the greater gifts of forgiveness of sins and a new heart, then certainly he will give us the true message about that salvation! Such blessings will belong to all the people of God in Christ Jesus, that is, they are not given to any elite, to the cardinals and bishops and councils of the Roman church, but to every single person in Christ Jesus. Are you in Christ Jesus? Then God will give you his truth. Jesus has promised that his people would not walk in darkness but that they would have the light of life.
- PAUL PROFESSES THAT HE IS NOT LYING.
“I am not lying” he adds. He wants to make the veracity of his words unquestionable. His enemies weren’t politically correct. They were very blunt. Paul told people about Christ raising the dead, and commanding the winds and the waves and healing lepers and they shouted out, “Liar! Liar! All lies!” That is what is being thought today, that all the New Testament says about the Lord Jesus is fantasy and falsehood, but is it not said as such because of political correctness. Paul had to say, “I’m not lying” often. Even here in the New Testament we find him saying to the Corinthians. “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised for ever, knows that I am not lying” (2 Corinthians 11:31). And he told the Galatians, “I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie” (Gals 1:20). Again he told Timothy, “I am telling the truth, I am not lying – and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.” (I Tim.2:7). So on four occasions he tells congregations in Rome and Greece and Asia Minor as well as to one man, “I’m not lying.’ Because if he is lying then we are wasting time in studying deceit and Pauline ego in these chapters in the letter to the Romans. But if these words are truth then what better place could we be found today than gathered round the Word, and what better book could we be studying than the truth of the Bible?
“I am not lying,” said this servant of God. because the God whom Paul served did not lie. Numbers chapter 23 and verse 19 “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil?” Can you conceive of it, that the Creator of this world is a liar, that in cosmic deception he made and sustains everything, mocking us with his lies? That would plunge us into despair, that for ever we were to be humiliated by the great Deceiver! Not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus made the world but Satan! No! Thank God that this is not the case. How different is the God of the Bible! You know how John’s gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all thing
s were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:1-5). Not cosmic darkness the creator; not a cosmic liar, but one in whom was life and the life was the light of men. This is man’s problem – they love darkness rather than light and so cannot comprehend the glorious light of his truth. “Yes,” you say, “But to err is human. We make mistakes.” That is so, but the issue is this can God so superintend the life of the author and the process of composition and inspiration that the writers of Scripture, prophets and apostles – finally write down exactly what God intended them to write, to the jot and tittle, as Jesus believed?
So you appreciate how Paul (who suffered horrifically year after year through talking to Jew and Gentile about Jesus) was horrified at the accusation that his message was all lies and jest. “I am not lying,” he says here. Is he just referring to this limited theme in this new chapter and the preceding chapter? He is describing how heart-broken he is for this unbelieving fellow countrymen and that was true, just that. Here he’s not lying; he does weep for them. However, on other occasions he will readily lie and deceive! Will he? Surely Paul cannot limit the telling of truth just to speak of his grief! How did he live each day? Glorifying God and enjoying him, walking in the Spirit, presenting his body as a living sacrifice to God and speaking the truth in love always. That was the orbit in which he moved – 24/7! It was the orbit of union with his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. That constrained him in every single thing he said and did. He spoke the truth always, night and day, because he was joined to the one who said, “I am the truth.” That was the spring out of which gushed all his affections and morals and words. Godet the French Christian says about these words, “In the eyes of Paul there is something so holy in Christ, that in the pure and luminous atmosphere of his felt presence no lie, and not even any exaggeration, is possible.” Imagine you are conscious that the unseen Jesus is with you in a room with some other people, and then someone asks you an embarrassing question. Could you say to Jesus, “Put your fingers in your ears for a moment while I tell this man a white lie”? Of course not, if you adored the Lord Jesus who had given his life for you. He is more important to you then even your wife or mother or child.
I was reading Psalm 63 and thought of how this beautifully expressed Paul’s own song of worship to the personal God whom he loved. You know this mighty psalm, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. They who seek my life will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise him,” That is the ardour and devotion of Paul, God’s servant and lover isn’t it? But it hasn’t quite ended. There are eight more words with which the psalmist ends the psalm and they are these, “while the mouths of liars will be silenced.” Paul’s pen was not silenced. He has eight more chapters of Romans to write, and God’s ‘Amen’ to Paul’s affirmation, “I am not lying” was the command of God given to the Holy Spirit, “Go and help my servant Paul write eight more chapters of his letter to my people in Rome.” But Paul is still unfinished. He protests more of his truthfulness . . .
- PAUL’S CONSCIENCE CONFIRMS THAT WHAT HE SAYS IS TRUTH.
Because Paul was a man, not a naked ape, he had a conscience, because all men and women made in the image of God have a conscience. All of you reading these words have a conscience. That is my supporter and advocate as you hear me speaking, telling you that what I say is true.It is God’s great monitor and it commends us when we do right and it rebukes us when we do wrong. It is God’s deputy, God’s spokesman, God’s ombudsman, God’s spy, God’s preacher. It is the oracle of God. It is the torch of Jehovah and the battery never runs out. When Paul was tempted to distort, and embellish, and exaggerate, and invent, and fail to speak the truth then his conscience was alerted and the hazard lights in his mind started to flash. “Do not deceive, Paul,” his conscience would tell him. Conscience distinguished between truth and error in his words and life. He had a very sensitive conscience. He tells us that to defy his conscience was like kicking into a goad – a sharp pointed instrument that drew blood. He hated the pain, the need to go on his knees to God and confess his sin. Paul kept a clear conscience, like the Scottish covenanter Donald Cargill who could say before they martyred him so cruelly, “I have a conscience as sound and quiet as if I had never sinned.” He shared with Paul a conscience void of offence before God.
Paul affirms to the Roman Christians that he spoke to them the truth, “My conscience confirms it.” That’s right, Paul. Amen, Paul. He had the delight of a good conscience.. It was a soft pillow for him while in his cold prison. Of course there are deluded consciences. Some consciences are too pernickety. They condemn what God does not condemn. Then there are other consciences that are deluded and unenlightened. There is the conscience of the cannibal. He has a warped and a dull conscience. Our consciences are never to be violated and always educated by the Bible, by the teaching of Christ and his prophets and apostles. Let me quote to you Billy Graham. He says that most men follow their consciences as they follow a wheelbarrow. They push it in front of them in the direction that they want to go. How true! What folly! What good is such a conscience? It simply applauds your prejudices. Truth is confirmed to be truth only when your conscience is taught by God. Truth and a good conscience are the two wings of the Christian rising and moving and climbing to heaven.
- PAUL’S CONCIENCE WAS EDIFIED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
Paul had more than a conscience edified by a Pharisaic respect for the law, he had a conscience enlightened and taught by God. The Spirit who raised Christ from the dea
d was in Paul. The law of the Spirit of life had set him free; he walked in the Spirit. The Spirit, he tells us in the previous chapter, testified to his spirit that he was a child of God. He illuminated Paul’s mind; he strengthened Paul in his vocation to be an apostle; he kept him going through all the beatings and lashings, and imprisonments and starvations. He helped Paul to understand the nature of God and redeeming grace, so that what Paul taught was exactly what God wanted him to write in his letters. So that little Christians living in Wales 2000 years later might know God, and know of God’s provision, and know what God wanted them to believe and how they were to live. What Paul wrote was Spirit and was life. His letters are all God-breathed because of all the ways the Spirit of God had led him, the various providences good and painful that he had endured, such as the teaching he had once had from Gamaliel as a young man, then what the Lord had taught him as a young Christian in the solitude of Arabia, and then what the other 12 apostles shared with him about their experience of Jesus, and what he learned from the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit used all of that to strengthen his mind and his conscience so that what he wrote here in his letter was transparently true.
So Paul spoke the truth. The words that are before you today are true. Paul spoke them joined to Jesus Christ so that his words are also Jesus’ words. Believe them for Jesus’ sake. Paul was not lying. He had a pure conscience in what he teaches us. Paul could have borne any affliction rather than be burdened with a guilty conscience. His conscience was so influenced by the Spirit of God that what he said and wrote was the voice of God the Holy Ghost. Then believe what the Bible says. Believe in the Jesus Christ of the Bible to find peace with God, knowledge of who you are and where you are going.