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When the Apostle John introduces us to Jesus in his gospel, he describes a man who was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). For most of us, it’s incredibly difficult to wrap our minds around the idea that someone could simultaneously embody both ideals. Our reality and our experiences in life tend to point us to an “either/or” and not a “both/and” expression. Many errors in churches, culture, parenting, marriage, dating, and the like can be traced back to an over-emphasis or absence of either grace or truth.
As we dive into today’s spiritual exercise it will be incumbent on you to examine your own beliefs and actions. Do you tend to be more of a grace person or a truth person? As we have already seen this week, Jesus was the master of both as He dealt with a variety of people in myriad circumstances. If we really desire to be like Jesus in all of life then we must wade into this difficult and often messy duality. If we begin to stray in either direction then we inevitably make the mistake of diluting and even missing Jesus completely. In order to help you self-diagnose your tendencies, examine the descriptions below.
Overemphasis on Grace
Grace is perhaps the best news for those of us who are in Christ. It means that God doesn’t count our sins against us, but rather has given us the righteousness of Jesus. Grace is beautiful. It draws us into forgiveness, invites us into relationship, believes the best and creates a soft place for us to land. Without grace we couldn’t possibly hope to understand the love and mercy of God. Grace reminds us that it’s okay to not be okay.
If we stray into an overemphasis of grace absent truth, though, we actually diminish the totality of the gospel. Consider the words of Jude in his epistle, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for the condemnation, ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Jude’s warning reminds us that grace without truth can often become passive or implicit approval of sin. If we are not careful we actually begin to enable and tolerate sin—the same sin that cost Jesus his life and for which He came to save us. This idea of “cheap grace” is a significant error. It’s an error that Dietrich Bonheoffer denounced when he wrote, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Overemphasis on Truth
If grace proclaims that it’s okay not to be okay, then truth reminds us that it’s not okay to stay there. Without truth we are lost. In a prayer on our behalf, Jesus once asked His Father to “sanctify them in truth…” Truth is black and white; right and wrong. Truth reminds us that we stand before a perfect, holy God with objective standards. When He issues commandments He is revealing to us something about His very character and nature and He is showing us our designed purpose for existence. The truth of God is an invitation to be like Jesus beckoning us to respond in surrendered obedience.
Like anything else, truth can be mishandled. Jesus’ most severe critiques were directed at the Pharisees, who supposedly knew the Bible and knew God the best. Truth without grace inevitably leads to self-righteousness. It draws us into harsh legalism. Those around us may tend to feel judged and condemned because our hatred of sin draws us into hatred of sinners. The world of the self-righteous can be described as “us vs. them.” We become the person that decries the spec in everyone else’s eye, but unable to see the log in our own.
Embracing Grace AND Truth
As you reflect and meditate on what we have learned today, spend a few moments examining your own life. Do you need to grow in grace or truth? No doubt, we all have good reasons for seeing the world the way that we do. The way we do things makes perfect sense to us. Our challenge, though, is to embrace the messiness of the fullness of grace and truth. Without both, we are missing something essential. Take your cue from Jesus, who called our sin out for what it was, but then He paid for it.
Grace and truth are both necessary. Neither is sufficient….We who are truth-oriented need to go out of our way to affirm grace. We who are grace-oriented need to go out of our way to affirm truth. –Randy Alcorn
Questions and Reflection
- Are you more of a grace person or a truth person? (Hint: ask those closest to you to weigh in on this.)
- Take a few moments to contemplate grace and truth. What positive impact have both had in your life?
- Do you see any of the ‘errors’ of too much grace or too much truth demonstrated in your own life? If so, reflect on a few times when you saw that most clearly. Could doing things differently have impacted outcomes?