God called Jeremiah to confront the nation concerning the loss of its moral compass. They had been miraculously delivered from slavery in Egypt, taken to a new land, and given a constitution by which they were to live together. The center of their constitution consists of 10 commands which were to rule their lives. The moral influence of the nations around them corrupted their values and led them astray. God then sent the prophets to point the way back. The people would not hear them but continued on the deadly downward slope leading to destruction. Jeremiah was called to be one of the last prophets to proclaim God’s truth and call the people to repentance. God knew what the outcome would be. Jeremiah 7:27-28 tells us, “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.’”

This is the shocking indictment that God gave Jeremiah concerning the leadership in Israel. It was specifically directed to the religious leaders of the day: “Truth has perished!” This indictment “would make a suitable epitaph for our own post-Christian culture. Truth has vanished from our homes and our preachers’ lips.” Ryken tells us, “One writer who has taken up the lament is Os Guinness: Contemporary evangelicals are no longer people of truth.… A solid sense of truth is foundering in America at large. Vaporized by critical theories, obscured by clouds of euphemism and jargon, outpaced by humor and hype, overlooked for style and image, and eroded by advertising, truth in America is anything but marching on. With magnificent exceptions, evangelicals reflect this truth decay and reinforce it for their own variety of reasons for discounting theology. Repelled by ‘seminary theology’ that is specialized, professionalized, and dry, evangelicals are attracted by movements that have replaced theology with emphases that are relational, therapeutic, charismatic, and managerial (as in church growth). Whatever their virtues, none of these emphases gives truth and theology the place they require in the life and thought of a true disciple.” Ryken goes on to say, “Guinness is right. We are not people of the truth, and we do not live among people of the truth (cf. Isaiah 6:5). We have truth decay in the same places Jeremiah could detect it.”[1]

I first came across the phrase “how we live is more important than what we believe” on a chalkboard outside of a coffee shop last year. I shook my head, thinking the baristas should stick to coffee making. Since then, however, I’ve seen the idea pop up in all kinds of places. The evangelical church of today lives by that creed. They hold all kinds of social outreach programs: feeding the hungry, housing the poor, caring for those who have lost loved ones, helping the addicted, and a number of other social causes. Whereas these things are all good, I don’t think they are as important as what a person believes. They might win favor with the community and give one a sense of “doing good.” They do nothing to secure one’s eternal destiny. Christians, atheists, and people with all kinds of other beliefs help the homeless, give money to charities, participate in environmental causes, fight child abuse, advocate for crime victims, and much more. From a Christian perspective, how you live cannot be more important than what you believe—what you believe determines where you will spend eternity. God so loved the world that he sent His only begotten Son. Whoever “believes” in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

[1] Ryken, Philip Graham. 2001. Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.