The apostle John describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) Because of misunderstandings about both grace and truth, many people struggle to hold onto these two virtues without tremendous tension developing.
To resolve the tension some people develop a commitment to “graceless truth” which is good at pointing out faults and sins, but is completely ineffective at producing repentance. People on the receiving end of graceless truth generally feel like they have been spiritually mugged in the name of Jesus. They learn to avoid practitioners of graceless truth like the plague. Practitioners of graceless truth are generally dumbfounded at the inability of sinful people to “handle the truth.”
Others resolve the tension by practicing “truth-less grace.” Truth-less grace is usually a commitment to live and let live without doing the frightening work of actually looking at the fruit of our lives. Truth-less grace only works until someone sins against you in such a painful and devastating way that “live and let live” is no longer an option. Too often, at that point, the truth of their sin trumps your weak sense of grace and unwillingness to forgive rules the day.
Neither graceless truth, nor truth-less grace, are helpful in moving people from sin to salvation. What is needed is a truthful grace or a graceful truth. Jesus was able to offer grace without ignoring the truth of the bitter consequences of sin in our lives, and to speak truth without making our situation seem hopeless and irredeemable. Jesus was able to hold truth and grace in perfect harmony.
You can see Jesus offer people truthful grace/graceful truth in many of his encounters in the gospels. To the religious leaders he often spoke blunt truth – concerning their shortcomings and their hypocrisy – but at the same time he held out the offer of grace and a heart cleansed by repentance. This is clearly seen in the encounter Jesus had with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a religious leader, a member of the Jewish high court, and he came to Jesus one night to discuss the life of faith. Jesus shocked him with descriptions of spiritual life and health that were unfamiliar to him and were surrounded by mystery. Jesus pointed out that he knew truth that Nicodemus could not even imagine. Rather then being angry with Jesus and turning away, Nicodemus became intrigued and apparently started learning from Jesus. Jesus told him the truth and graciously gave him the space to grow in both truth and grace.
To “sinners” Jesus offered abundant grace, but never at the expense of ignoring their sins or implying that sin is not a big deal. This is clearly seen in the story of the woman caught in adultery. Facing strong criticism and judgment from the angry religious leaders, the woman must have been preparing herself for approaching death. Yet Jesus turned the focus off of the woman and caused the men in the crowd to look at their own lives and hearts. Rocks began to fall and convicted men began to walk away. Once they were alone Jesus asked the woman about her accusers: “Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir” she replied. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Jesus pointed out the truth about her sinful life, but offered her the grace to stop sinning and start a new life. According to graceful truth or truthful grace the most important truths about us are that God loves us deeply and we are able to receive redemption from his generous hand. That is something to share!
- Kenny Payne