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Truth and Error: How to Tell the Difference

We learn about a thing by experiencing it. Babies learn sweet from sour, hot from cold, and wet from dry by experiencing these things. Even so, we learn spiritual truth by experiencing it in God's word, which is truth (John 17:17). Our use of God's word enables us to readily distinguish between truth and error. Haddon Robinson relates the following story that illustrates this point:

A Chinese boy who wanted to learn about jade went to study with a talented old teacher. This gentleman put a piece of the stone into the youth's hand and told him to hold it tight. Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun, and almost everything under it. After an hour he took back the stone and sent the boy home. The procedure was repeated for weeks. The boy became frustrated — when would he be told about jade? — but he was too polite to interrupt his venerable teacher. Then one day when the old man put a stone into his hands, the boy cried out instantly, "That's not jade!"(Biblical Preaching, p. 102).

In Hebrews 5:12-14, the inspired writer is addressing Christians who were not mature enough to tell the difference between right and wrong. He admonishes them with these words:

"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."

There are two words in the text that shed much light on our current topic. The first is the word "unskilled" and it means "inexperienced." The Hebrew Christians had not progressed and developed because they did not have enough experience in the word. As a result, they were like children who cannot discern right from left; they were spiritual babes who could not tell right from wrong. The second word to consider is the word "exercised." It comes from the Greek word "gymnazo" from which we get our word "gymnasium" — the place where athletes practice and train. Those who regularly use God's word have their senses trained to "discern both good and evil."

Why is it that some brethren don't seem to be able to identify obvious error when they hear it? Why are so many Christians bogged down in their spiritual lives by moral relativism and compromises with the world? Can we not tell the difference between good and evil? Could the root of the problem be that we have had no meaningful experience with the "word of righteousness"?

My friends, may we this day resolve to hold God's word in our hearts — to study it, meditate on it, and practice it — so that when we're given something else we will be able to simply exclaim, "That's not truth!"