A. Truth, a theme of the lessons
1. On Good Friday Jesus said that he came into the world “to bear witness to the truth,” and “everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice”. Pontius Pilate responded by saying, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38).
2. Today’s lessons pick up this theme. In the gospel, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “The Spirit of truth” and says that the Spirit will confront the errors of the world, and lead the disciples into “all truth.” That it, the Good Friday confrontation with Pilate extends out into the world through the presence of the Spirit in the church.
3. The epistle says that God the Father “begat us with the word of truth.” The word of truth and the Spirit of truth work together in us the same way as at the creation. God created by his word through the Spirit. As we receive the word of truth, the Spirit of truth recreates us according the pattern of God’s word.
B. External and Internal Truth
1. The Spirit of truth leads us to understand who God is though the revelation contained in the Bible. Tradition in essential to this revelation. The tradition of the church is the timeless witness of the Spirit of truth that guards us against error. If we think the Spirit is leading us into some truth but discover that all Christians of a previous age were led to believe something quite different, we know the spirit that is leading us is not the Spirit of truth.
2. The Holy Spirit also leads us into the truth about ourselves. The Spirit confronts our sin and leads us to repentance. The Spirit helps us to face painful truths about ourselves—such as past mistreatment or regrets—and leads us to redemption and healing. We are able to face the truth about ourselves because of the truth we learn about God. We can face our sins because God will forgive them. We can work through our grief, sorrow and anger because the Comforter is with us to give us strength. The truth about God changes the truth about ourselves. Our sins and wounds become the raw material for God’s new creation.
C. The relationship between external truth and internal truth
1. External truth can be used to avoid internal truth. Nonbelievers often say they don’t believe the revealed external truth about God because they don’t want to accept the revealed internal truth about themselves. They will say, “I don’t believe that Jesus is the Son God”—not because that proposition is intellectually implausible, but—because to accept that truth means to accept his claim on their whole being. If Jesus is the Son of God, we must do what he says. To say Jesus is not God removes the threat.
2. Religious people also use external truth to keep from facing the painful internal truth. Some Christians overemphasize minor theological points to avoid self-examination. If I can keep the focus on some point of doctrine or some way that the world “out there” is not measuring up to God’s standard, I can avoid the mirror and my own interior work.
3. St. James exhorts us to “receive with meekness the engrafted word.” This means to receive the fullness of truth revealed in the Scriptures and the tradition of the church, and also to receive and accept the internal implications of that truth for our lives. It is quite possible to say we believe the truth about God, and even to make a bold stand for that truth, but to resist that same truth in significant ways in our interior lives. It is possible to say we stand for the truth, but to allow that truth to give way to the demands of momentary happiness or success in the world.
4. The Christian life, in its day to day practice, is a process of surrender to the truth. It is a progressive operation in our lives by the Spirit of truth, through which we come to know more and more about God and more and more about ourselves. Our defenses are slowly broken down, and we are gradually changed by grace. Our role in this process is to grow in faith, which mean to grow in our surrender to the truth, to stop fighting against God, “to receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save our souls.” This is how we, in the words of the Confirmation prayer, “daily increase in thy Spirit more and more until [we] come unto [God’s] everlasting kingdom” (Confirmation, BCP 291).