Our Guide Into Truth (John 16:12-15)

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There was time when truth was simple. We were taught certain things at home, in school and at church that were pretty much consistent with each other and provided us with a degree of certainty about life. In our post-modern times, however, that has all changed. We are surrounded by a wide range of different ideas about who we are, our place in the world and what life is all about. This isn’t a bad thing because it can open us up to a much fuller and richer life in a lot of ways. However, working out what is true or not becomes a lot more complicated when a wide assortment of ideas and worldviews present us with conflicting messages.

One of the tools people use to work out what is truth for them is what they experience. When different voices give different messages about what is true, then people can rely on their personal experience to help them decide which can be trusted. For example, if an advertisement for a particular type of drink is telling me that one product tastes better, but another ad is telling me that their product has more flavour, then the best way to work out who is telling the truth is to try each of them. Our experience of those products will help us decide which is truth.

John talks a lot about truth in his gospel. If you’re wrestling with questions about truth, it’s worth reading John’s gospel and listening for the times when John refers to truth or raises questions about truth. It tells us that people were struggling with what was true in Jesus’ day as well as our own. Throughout his gospel, John points to Jesus as embodying God’s truth for us. then, in John 16:12-15, Jesus promises to send the Spirit of truth who will guide his followers ‘into all truth’ (v13a NLT).

It’s important to recognise that there are different kinds of truth, so we need to understand what sort of truth Jesus was talking about. For example, mathematical truths such as 2+2=4 are different from historical truths, such as Captain James Cook discovered Australia (which was what I was taught as a child, but which we know now isn’t the whole truth). Philosophical, religious and spiritual truths are different again, so we can’t just use ‘truth’ as a blanket term for every kind of truth.

When Jesus promised that the Spirit of truth will guide us into ‘all truth’, he was talking about the truth about God, our relationship with God, and how that relationship can shape the way in which we understand ourselves, others, our world and our place in it. One of the reasons why the Bible is such a large book is because this truth can be understood in a variety of ways and from a number of different perspectives. However, the basic truth of the Bible into which the Spirit of truth guides us is the good news of Jesus.

One way this truth can be expressed is what Paul writes in Romans 5:1 – ‘since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us’ (NLT). Through Paul’s words, the Spirit of truth guides us into the truth that we have been made right, or justified, by Jesus through faith in him. What this means is that everything that was wrong or broken about us has been put right through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. Because we are made right again through faith in Jesus, we now have peace with God. God is not angry, disappointed or unhappy with us. God isn’t ignoring us or is apathetic towards us. Instead, because of what Jesus has done for us, we are in a new relationship with our Creator who accepts us, loves us, values us and cares for us as we are. As I said, the Bible communicates this truth in lots of different ways, but it is the good news of God’s unconditional love and grace for us in Jesus which is the truth the Holy Spirit guides us into.

We need the Holy Spirit to guide us into this truth because faith in the gospel doesn’t come naturally with us. There are people I know who have been part of the church their whole lives who still live with a deep sense of guilt or fear. We all need the Spirit of truth to be guiding us into the truth of God’s grace and love so we can live free from guilt, fear, shame or regret, and find the joy, peace, love and hope that Jesus gives us through the Holy Spirit.

As the Spirit of truth guides us into the truth of the gospel, then he also begins to guide others into the truth of God’s grace through us. Earlier I talked about how our experiences help to shape our understanding of truth. As the Holy Spirit guides us in the truth of the gospel, it shapes our relationships and faith communities so people can experience the reality of grace and Christ-like love in us. Through our relationships with each other, the words we speak to and about each other, and a culture of grace in our churches, the Holy Spirit can guide people into the truth of God’s grace by giving them the experience of grace. However good my messages, the church’s worship or our programs may or may not be, if people don’t experience the reality of the gospel in their relationship with us, then it won’t be true for them. However, when people are experiencing grace in relationship and community with us, then the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of God’s grace through us.

This becomes especially important in our ministry with the younger people of our congregation. What the Growing Young conversation essentially is about is how we can give others, especially our younger people, an experience of the truth of God’s grace in their relationship with us and our congregation so the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of the gospel. In a world where our young people come into contact with so many different ideas which claim to be true, when they experience the truth of God’s grace and love in relationship with us, then the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of the gospel and it will become true for them in a life-changing way.

Talking about truth is hard because there are any different kinds of truths and everyone thinks their version of the truth is the right one. I’m really thankful that Jesus promised to send his Spirit of truth to us to guide us into the truth of God’s grace and love for us in Jesus. As the Holy Spirit guides us into the truth of the gospel, the Spirit of truth will also grow and equip us so that he can guide other people, our young people especially, into the truth of the gospel.

More to think about:

  • How do you generally understand ‘truth’? Do you see truth in a simple way or as a more complex idea? Can you give an example of that?
  • To what degree do your experiences shape your understanding of truth? Are there times when your understanding of truth has depended on something you experienced? Have you ever believed that something was true even though your experiences gave you a different message?
  • In what ways have your experiences in the church or in life shaped your views on the truth of the Bible? In what ways have they been good or helpful? How might they have not been good or helpful?
  • How do you understand ‘the truth of the Bible’? What does that mean to you?
  • What is your view on thinking about the ‘truth of the Bible’ as specifically the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us? Is that too narrow? How can it help you understand the rest of the story of the Bible?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to believe in the good news of Jesus? Can you explain why?
  • Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit to guide you into God’s truth? If you have, what happened? If you haven’t, would you be willing to try it?
  • How can you help someone experience the truth of God’s grace and love by showing them grace and Christ-like love today?

Coming Together, Moving Forward (Romans 3:19-28)

reformation-sunday-01A lot was happening in the world in 1966. The war in Vietnam was escalating, as were protests against the war. The Soviet Union successfully landing an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. The Beatles released the songs Yellow Submarine and Eleanor Rigby, and the Rolling Stones released Paint it Black. Closer to home, Harold Holt replaced Robert Menzies as the Australian Prime Minister and our currency changed from pounds, shillings and pence to dollars and cents. And 1966 was the year the Lutheran Church of Australia came into existence.

Lutherans had been coming to Australia since 1838. However, from 1846 Lutheran congregations began to separate from each other because of differences in doctrine. In 1921, a number of these groups came together to form the United Evangelical Church in Australia (UELCA), which was still separate from the Evangelical Church of Australia (ELCA). Conversations between representatives of these two churches began in the 1940’s and led to their union which was formally recognized on 30 October, 1966. The united Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) was born.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this event and give thanks to God for five decades of a common witness to the gospel as the LCA, we can wonder why these divisions came about and lasted so long. However, in our own time we are also facing issues that have the potential to divide us as sisters and brothers in Christ. For example, questions on ordination, the work of the Holy Spirit, and human sexuality are currently being debated in our church and, some think, could potentially break apart the unity that came about fifty years ago.

What is at stake is not just the existence of a human organization, but our witness to the gospel. Jesus said that people will know that we are his disciples when we love each other the same way that he loves us (John 13:35). When we are torn apart by controversies and arguments, how are we perceived by those around us? Does the world in which we exist and to which we are called to witness see the love of God in our human institutions and relationships?

One reason why the last Sunday in October was selected to acknowledge the formation of the LCA was that it symbolised the roots we all share as Lutherans. Reformation Sunday is a time to remember where we came from and why Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg 499 years ago. Luther was pointing to the good news of Jesus which we heard in this morning’s readings, that God ‘makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus’ (Romans 3:26 NLT) and that Jesus sets us free from the power of sin, death and the devil (John 8:32) in our lives. This is the good news that brought about reform in the church 500 years ago, and to which we are continually called back in our own time and place.

The gospel is what brings us together as Lutheran Christians in Australia and is at the heart of our identity. No matter what we might agree or disagree on, no matter what might threaten to divide us, it is this same faith that was at the centre of the Reformation which also needs to be at the centre of our common identity and purpose. We have good news to bring to the people who live in our city, our nation and beyond our borders. This good news gives us a sure sense of who we are, what we are worth, and what we are here for. The gospel gives us everything we need to fulfil God’s purposes as we serve others in our mission and ministry as God’s holy and redeemed people.

One of the greatest challenges we face as Lutheran members of the Christian family is how will we pass this good news on to people around us, to our children and grandchildren? While we debate issues such as ordination, the work of the Holy Spirit and human sexuality, we also need to remember that the way we discuss these issues gives us the opportunity to witness to the gospel. If we are able to find a common identity and purpose in the gospel, and treat others who see things differently in the love that Jesus gives us through the gospel, then people will see his Spirit at work in us. If our goal is to continue the work of those people who fought for the union of the Lutheran Churches in Australia by providing a united witness to the gospel, then the way we go about these discussions have the potential to display the self-giving and sacrificial love of God that we encounter in Jesus’ death and resurrection to our society and our young people.

I am thankful for the Reformers who were faithful to the gospel 500 years ago, and who called the church to be faithful in its witness to the gospel to the world. I am thankful to previous generations of Australian Lutherans who overcame their differences to unite and work together in their witness to the gospel in Australia and overseas. The good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection brings freedom, hope and love for all who believe. No matter what we might disagree on, what brings us together with God and with each other is his grace to us through Jesus in the Holy Spirit. In this faith, let’s commit to living in God’s grace with each other, so that our community, our neighbours, and our young people will see the love of God in us as Jesus’ disciples.

More to think about:

  • The name ‘Lutheran’ can mean different things to different people. What do you think of when you hear the name ‘Lutheran’?
  • Some say that we are living in a post-denominational era where most followers of Jesus would prefer to be called ‘Christian’ than given a denominational label. What are some advantages of focusing on what Christians have in common? What are some advantages of recognizing & acknowledging differences that exist between us?
  • How important is it for Christians to discuss our differences in love for our witness to our world & the next generation? How might we be able to do that while still looking for God’s truth together?
  • What do you think is the biggest issue facing the church? How might focusing on the good news of Jesus help us find God’s path for us through that issue?
  • What do you hope your church will be like in 50 years time?