Have you ever heard someone described as “tightly wound”? Usually, it is a negative appellation. If someone is “tightly wound,” they are stressed out and may overreact very easily. They may be very tense, anxious and highly reactive. It is difficult for someone who is tightly wound to relax.
But when it comes to the Christian and truth, as Paul tells us here, we should all be wound tight—by and to the truth of God. If this is true of us, we won’t be tense, or anxious, or highly reactive—and we will be able to relax.
We should be tightly bound, both by and to the truth of God. In this study, I want to help us to embrace afresh the truth that tightens, that we might leave here tightly bound.
Previously, we focused our attention on the primary arena of spiritual conflict: our affection for God. Jonathan Edwards argued that we always choose what, at the moment, we most desire. We could just as well say that we choose to do what, at the moment, we most cherish. And Satan knows this.
Revelation 12:7–11 offers an insight into the spiritual warfare that exists between Satan and the people of Christ. And how do the people of Christ there overcome? By truth. “But the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (v. 11).
Satan assaults our view of God. If we question his goodness, then we will most likely choose against what he desires for us. This is why the preaching of the gospel to ourselves is so important. As we do so, we experience his love afresh and our affections are stirred to loving devotion and therefore to loving obedience.
But note something very important here: This response was motivated by confidence that what they were clinging to is true. They were facing life and death choices (“they did not love their lives to the death”). In other words, they were willing to die because of their conviction concerning the truth of “the blood of the Lamb” and because they were persuaded of the truth of “the word of their testimony.”
In the words of Paul, they had girded their waist with truth; that is, they were tightly bound to God’s authority, and their affections were protected.
Our days, principally, are no different than this picture in Revelation 12. Second Timothy 3:1–5, while written to Timothy in a specific time period, apply very much to our own day:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
(2 Timothy 3:1–5)
The devil is a liar and a murderer, and his primary target is the church of God. He accuses God to us and us to God. He slanders God’s character to us and, though he may often tell the truth about us, he slanders our standing before God in Christ. He aims at messing with our affections for God, which primarily comes by messing with our sense of God’s affection for us. He works to drive us away from the truth as it is in Jesus (4:21) by aiming to falsify the word of truth of the gospel (1:13).
It is for this reason that the first piece of armour we have received from God is the belt of truth.
The tense and the participle form of this phrase indicates a couple of things.
First, by this participle, Paul is telling us that the means by which we stand is, first of all, by the belt of truth. We are not left to our own devices. Rather, we have been provided with all that we need for the fight.
Second, by the aorist tense, Paul indicates that this is something that has already occurred at some point in the past. This, it would seem, would have occurred when we were first converted.
When you and I were first converted, we were in love with the truth of Christ and his gospel. For the first time, we were truly free. We could not keep quiet about it. We had an appetite for the truth of God and, all of a sudden, the error of our former life became so obvious. We saw the lies of the evil one for what they were: the lies that sin satisfies; the lies that to know God is a bore; the lies that life is meaningfulness because it is purposeless; etc.
Yet, with the new birth, came a whole new appreciation for the reality that there is such things as truth—and that it matters. So we put it on. Our affections were stirred by the authority to which we submitted.
As we consider what it means to gird ourselves with the belt of truth, we need to look at several truths that emanate from this text.
We Must Be Prepared by Putting on Truth
Paul begins his description of the armour of God by this reference to the belt of truth. I believe that the order of the armour is significant.
The picture here is that of a soldier drawing together his long undergarment as he prepares to suit up for battle. The tightening of the belt was essential for both securing the sword for battle and for removing any encumbrance that might hinder the soldier as he marches forth to war. Whatever Paul means by “truth,” he wants the church to tighten up with it; to be bound tightly to it.
The Christian soldier can only be prepared to face the enemy of God, and therefore the enemy of our souls, if he has secured God’s word to his conscience, and if she have removed the encumbrances of falsehood that might trip her up in battle. Let me summarise: If we Christians will be prepared for victory in battle, we must be both truth-filled and truthful. As Lloyd-Jones said, “There is really no hope for us in this fight with the devil, and all his wiles, unless we possess, and are possessed by, the truth.”
What is Truth?
There is some debate about what Paul means by “truth.” Is he speaking of truth objectively, that is the truth of God as revealed in the word of God? If so, is he referring to the same thing as the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (v. 17)? Or is he speaking of truth subjectively? That is, of truthfulness or “sincerity of mind” (Calvin)?
First, I would assert that these pieces of armour should be interpreted first and foremost objectively. In other words, these are the experience of every Christian. We are armed by God, clothed with Christ (4:24), and empowered by God because of the gospel. This is objectively true of the Christian.
Nevertheless, there is also a subjective aspect of this. The Christian is responsible to do something with what he has been given. So it is with truth.
The Christian is to be filled with truth and then to sincerely, and with integrity, be truthful.
But, again, what is this truth? It is the entirety of the truth of God as revealed in his word and ultimately in his final revelation of his Son. It is the truth as it is in Jesus. But is this the same equipment as the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God? Yes and no. It is the same word, but here Paul is speaking of an overall, comprehensive, commitment to the word of God, whereas the sword of the Spirit refers to a specific use of the word of God. Let me illustrate.
When Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1–11), he wielded the sword of the Spirit—the word of God—and the devil fled. We too are to so respond. So we learn Scripture and apply it.
But why did Jesus use the Scriptures? Because he was committed to the truth of God. He was confident that God’s word is the final authority when it comes to life and godliness. Because of his trust in God’s truth (his own truth!), he applied it in a specific situation. And, as we will see in all of these studies, this is precisely what we are to do.
A Very Present Danger and Very Powerful Solution
When it comes to our approach to God’s truth, the Bible, we may fall into the subtle trap of using it as a mantra. So we memorise Bible verses without thinking of the bigger backdrop of God’s authority and then mindlessly quote them. When my children were very young, one of my daughters was afraid of the dark. I encouraged her to memorise Psalm 56:3: “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you.” But in order for this verse to be meaningful, there needed to be an underlying conviction that it is grounded in and is representative of truth: truth that God is real; truth that fear can be overcome; truth that God cares; truth that you have a claim on this promise; truth that this is even a promise! In other words, the individual words of Scripture are believable only because there is, in fact, something that is really true. Truth exists. For the Christian, in the words of Francis Schaeffer, we have “true truth.”
The solution to such mindless memorisation is found in the conviction concerning God’s authority—as revealed in his word. In fact, it would not be an overstatement to say that this is what Paul is teaching concerning this first piece of armour. We must prepare for battle against wrong and erroneous and illegitimate authority by being bound with and bound to and bound under God’s authority. The battle for our affections (previously) is intimately connected to the battle for authority. The authority of God in Christ makes all the difference in the world—both this world and the world to come.
Salvation is an Authority Issue
When we submit to the authority of God in Christ, we become tightly bound to truth, which puts us on the path to freedom. Perhaps the clearest passage that proves this is John 8:31–47.
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be made free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill me, because my word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”
They answered and said to him, “Abraham is our father.”
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.”
Then they said to him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of myself, but he sent me. Why do you not understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to my word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”
But this matter of authority and freedom is precisely the rub. We live in an anti-authority age. But then again, under Satan, this has always been the case. And yet, ironically, there is no shortage of voices claiming authority.
There are many who claim to speak with authority. They speak as though they know what they are talking about. They speak with an authoritative tone and with great certainty. They sound authoritative. But the greater question is, do they have legitimate authority?
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, that great Welsh preacher who was also a medical doctor, tells of a time he was travelling on a train to preach somewhere. A man on the train started convulsing in an epileptic seizure. Panicked passengers insisted that the driver stop the train and that they rush the man to the hospital. Lloyd-Jones strode over to the man and declared loudly that there was no need to stop the train. In fact, the man would probably be upset if they did so. The seizure would stop within minutes and the man would be fine. Everyone listened. It all went as Lloyd-Jones said. Reflecting on the situation, he recalls that he never actually informed anyone that he was a doctor, but because he clearly spoke as one with authority, who knew what he was talking about, everyone listened.
Today, many are speaking with great “authority” on all kinds of matters. “Authorities” tell us that there are various genders you can legitimately choose from. We are told that you can sleep with whomever you want, whenever you want. Religious authorities affirm many ways to God. Those with pretended authority insist that there is no final judgement, or that there is no God. Christians are told that the church is the final arbitrator of the truth, that they cannot be assured of their salvation, that they can live without accountability to others, and that they can be saved by their works. But such authority is no authority at all, because it denies the ultimate authority of God. As Lloyd-Jones helpfully notes, “What is needed today is not merely a note of authority, but the authority which leads to the authoritative statement.” And this authority is none other than God himself, as revealed in his word and in his Son.
We can conclude that the Christian is one who has embraced the authority of God as revealed in his Son. The gospel, in other words, is an authority issue. Until we submit to God’s truth as it is in Jesus, we are still bound to sin, to self and to Satan. But once we have been born again, and subsequently believe the word of the truth of the gospel, we are bound to be free by being bound tightly to the truth!
Jesus dealt with many who placed their own authority above that of God’s truth (cf. Mark 7:6–13). Paul was once like that himself, holding to traditional self-righteousness. Christians, on the other hand, are those who bow the knee to Jesus Christ (Psalm 2:10–12). They do so because they are persuaded of his authority. And they continue to be tightly bound because they are persuaded of that authority. They are like Timothy, of whom Paul wrote,
You have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions…. you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:8–17)
It will be helpful at this point to make a few important observations.
First, let us note that true freedom is inseparable from boundaries.
My daughter and son-in-law have three children. When they go to particularly busy places (airports, etc.), they have a leash of sorts for each child. The leash attaches to the child’s wrist, and it gives the children some freedom to run around, but within limits. That is a picture of how true freedom works.
In the garden, Adam and Eve had great freedom, but also a restriction: They were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
God’s word is a law, which itself implies restriction, but it is a law of freedom (James 1:25; 2:12). God’s law is holy, just and good. Thank God for rules! Thank God that the Christian hears the voice of truth telling him what to do—and what not to do.
The well-dressed soldier of Christ is tightly bound to truth, and is grateful for the freedom that follows.
Second, biblical truth offers freedom from confusion. As Boice notes, “It is dangerous to rush into battle without having the great doctrines of the faith fixed firmly in our understanding.” The law of liberty gives us the ability to think clearly as we charge into battle.
Third, God’s truth affords is freedom from deliberations. That is, with a firm commitment to truth, there is little need for deliberation about a lot of things.
Consider the example of David’s three friends. When Nebuchadnezzar demanded that they bow down to worship his golden image, they replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:16–18).
Do you see that? “We have no need to answer you in this matter.” In other words, “we don’t even need to think about this. There is no question here, and therefore no need for an elaborate answer.”
There are some things that we can approach in the same manner. Where will you be in the Lord’s Day, Christian? Will you or will you not be a Covenanter member of a local church? Will you divorce your wife? Will you get drunk or abuse drugs? Will you commit adultery? Will you steal from your neighbour? All of these matters, and plenty more, are firmly settled in the truth of God’s word. There is no need to consider these things; the answer is obvious.
It is precisely at this point when we are deliberating that which is clear that we are in danger. I can remember in my early twenties when certain denominations started debating the validity of same sex relations. It was clear to me, as young as I was, that that was the beginning of the end for those denominations. Time has proven that to be the case.
Fourth, God’s truth provides freedom from fear. Because the Christian has prepared herself for the battle by being bound tightly to the truth as it is in Jesus, she is freed from needless fear about her heavenly Father’s care for her; freed from fear of condemnation; freed from fear of the final judgement. In other words, perfect love, fuelled by the authority of God’s truth, drives out fear.
Fifth, biblical truth offers freedom from folly. Our affections are determined by the authority to which we submit, and that this will affect whether our choices are wise or foolish. John urged,
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
(1 John 2:15–17)
Evil in Eden was all about authority and affections. As long as Adam and Eve loved God supremely and submitted to his authority, they remained without sin. As soon as they questioned his authority and desired something more than him, they fell into sin.
Hugh Heffner died recently. Heffner once boasted that he single-handedly changed the world’s moral outlook on sex outside of marriage. He did so by rejecting God’s truth and authority. Sadly, Heffner, if he did not repent on his deathbed, went straight to hell. We should be cautioned: You will spend eternity with the authority and affection you follow. If it is the wrong authority, you will find that the promise of “affection” was a Satanic lie.
So, in the light of the above, we need to realise that we must be prepared to stand, having gird our waist with truth as we false the onslaught of falsehood.
We Must be Persuaded if We Will Put on Truth
The Christian is persuaded that there is a thing called truth, that it belongs to God, and that is revealed in God’s Word and ultimately in God’s Christ. The apostle Peter exhorted his readers: “Gird up the loins of your mind … as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in your conduct” (1 Peter 1:13–15).
Peter was addressing the same theme as Paul: how to live for the Lord in the midst of a world opposed to the Lord. And it begins with preparing our minds. We must be persuaded in our minds that the Bible that dictates our behaviour (that which is holy) is in fact truth. We must be persuaded that it is true truth.
There is a very real battle for the mind. So, what are you doing to win this battle? What are you feeding on? What are you reading? Whom are you listening to?
But perhaps you are asking, how do we become persuaded? We will examine some of the practicalities in greater detail in an upcoming study, but for now let me introduce some ideas.
First, we need a firm presupposition. God is God and we are not. His word is therefore true. Assume it, accept it, and act upon it. The Bible assumes that God exists (Genesis 1:1) and tells us that we cannot please God if we reject this assumption (Hebrews 11:3). We must be convinced that the Bible is indeed inspired and inerrant and therefore assume it’s truth. We need to trust the truthful voice of the truthful Shepherd. We need to be bound tightly to his side!
Second, we need faithful preaching. Preaching, biblically speaking, aims at both revelation and transformation. That is, it reveals God for who he is in the Bible, and aims for this revelation to transform the lives of God’s people. This is Paul’s argument in 2 Corinthians 3:12–18:
Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
When I preach, I always remind myself to preach to people a passage, not merely a passage to people. That is, I must remember that I must focus on the people to whom I am ministering, not merely on dissecting the text before me. If I do not preach to the people, my exegesis of the passage has failed in its intended goal.
Faithful (that is, truthful) preaching builds us up in the truth. It does so by revealing and explaining the truth, by exhorting us to be bound to the truth, and by emboldening us that it is the truth. This is how Paul exhorted Timothy:
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.
(2 Timothy 4:1–5)
The truth of God is truth about God that comes from God. We need to hear this! Especially in a day in which people do not believe!
Third, we need focused and fortifying partnerships. We need to help one another to be grounded in the truth, to be bound both by and to the truth. We do this because of our affections, for both the Lord and for one another. If we love one another, then we will want to “liberate” one another in accordance with John 8:32. Sinful attitudes, sinful behaviours, and sinful theologies enslave people. Let us love one another (after having loved the Lord!) enough to “free” one another from the bondage of sin. Connect with (relate to) one another, read with one another, remind one another, pray with (reinforce) and for one another, and rebuke one another.
We Must Be Practically Putting On Truth
Finally, and in accordance with our being persuaded of the objective truth as it is in Jesus, we must then subjectively respond to this truth. We must do something with it.
As Foulkes observes, this participle is, “conveying the sense of a deliberate personal action.” The church is called to be truth-filled, but the result of this is that we will be truthful. We will be sincerely committed to living out the truth. “Paul’s point is that truthful character, along with a knowledge of the truth, holds one together in the fight.” (Hughes)
William Hendriksen put it this way: “By this truthfulness is meant sincerity of mind and heart; removal of all guile and hypocrisy. There must be ‘truth in the inward parts’ (Ps. 51:6).”
We must persevere in this, otherwise we are not disciples of Christ (John 8:31). But if we do persevere in this truth, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). So, let us submit to his authority as revealed in his word. As we do so, our affections will grow and his authority will become that much sweeter to us—for our good, to his glory.