This week I’m teaching at Colorado Christian University on Grace and Truth. I’m much indebted to my friend, and former teacher and elder at Flatirons, Sam Williams for the material I’m sharing with those students. Sam developed a document years ago that has shaped our church in a profound way and I wanted to share some of it with you here.
Grace and Truth
A Biblical Model for Reaching the Lost Without Compromising the Truth
Developed by Sam Williams
When John introduced Jesus in his Gospel, he did it with these words, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
John was most of all struck by the fact that Jesus embodied two qualities that he had not seen before in the same person. For most people, grace and truth are an oxymoron, two words that don’t belong together—not in the first century, or in ours.
Opposite Ends of the Spectrum
Pharisees were the party of truth in Jesus’ day. They were sticklers for keeping the law. Yet according to Jesus they “… neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23) Justice, mercy and faithfulness are expressions of grace.
The Sadducees on the other hand, were the party of grace. They were so inclusive; they believed everything and nothing at the same time. Jesus’ indictment of them was, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Mark 12:2) They had abandoned the truth.
This is not unlike the divergent positions of the liberal and evangelical wings of the church today. Liberal churches are full of grace, but have little truth. They have many ministries that reach out to the poor, rejected and underserved of our society. They pride themselves in being accepting and inclusive, but have lost their power because they compromise the truth (Scripture).
Those churches on the evangelical end of the spectrum believe and preach the truth, but it is often a graceless truth, full of condemnation and judgment, lacking compassion. Nor do they often embody truth with ministries that reach out to the marginalized of society. They care for people who are in their church, i.e. those who have accepted the truth. Accepting truth becomes a pre-condition for experiencing grace.
As a result:
o Grace without truth is sentimentalism. It lacks power.
o Truth without grace is legalism. It lacks compassion.
o Grace and truth is the power of God that transforms lives.
Blessing after Blessing
Jesus possessed both qualities, but it was his grace that particularly impressed John. Two verses later he says, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” It seems as though the order of the two words is significant, for as you look at Jesus’ encounters with the lawless (lost) people of his day, he leads with grace, and follows with truth. The blessing after blessing must have come as he watched the way Jesus dealt with people.
The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well was struck by the graciousness of Jesus when she remarked, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9) After disarming her with grace, Jesus shared the good news about a spring of water that wells up into eternal life that causes you to never thirst again. Only then did he bring up the “bad news” of her sinful lifestyle. He could have done it in the reverse order, but he didn’t.
Many present day preachers no doubt would accuse him of being “soft on sin,” not unlike the critics of his day. On the occasion when he was dining at the home of Simon the Pharisee, his law-abiding host criticized him for allowing a sinful woman to anoint his feet. The criticism was that “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39) The irony is, Jesus did know, and that’s why she felt the freedom to be in his presence. It was the grace of Jesus that welcomed her there, and the truth that brought her to the awareness of her sins and forgiveness (v 50).
Jesus did not compromise the truth by first showing grace that welcomed the sinner into his presence. Grace protected the adulterous woman from the law-abiding Pharisees who dragged her to his feet. Only after they were gone, did Jesus confront her with the truth to “go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)
Upon meeting a crooked tax collector, grace invited itself to lunch with Zaccheus. Truth brought him to the decision to give half his possessions to the poor and return fourfold what he had wrongly taken. (Luke 19:1-9) This pattern of grace preceding truth is repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry.
A Divine Strategy
Changing one’s life was never a pre-condition for coming into the presence of Christ. His straining at gnat enemies thought they could discredit him with the accusation that he ate and drank with sinners. In reality, all they did was to reveal his strategy.
What the Pharisees missed, but Jesus understood, was that the more gracious you are, the more truthful you can be. Grace creates an audience for truth. Truth cannot change the person who is not present to hear it. Churches that lead with grace see more lives changed by truth, than those who lead with truth.
Today, as in Jesus’ day, grace welcomes the seeker, while truth challenges the follower and condemns the hardened heart. The “come unto me” invitations of Jesus were addressed to the weary and heavy-burdened, the hard sayings to his disciples, and the words of condemnation and judgment to his Pharisaical critics.
The question that naturally follows is: When and where does a church lead with grace, and when and where does it follow with truth? The “when” answer is that it leads with grace when there is doubt or skepticism, and follows with truth when there is trust and relationship. The “where” is determined by the strategic purpose of the ministry or service.
Tags: Grace and Truth