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.
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.