Balancing Grace and Truth

Reposting this, since my feed did not go out on December 30th. 

Recently on my Facebook timeline, there was a discussion about grace and truth. I made the statement that I was glad that the public debate about the GQ interview with Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, and A&E’s subsequent suspension of him, was prompting the moral majority of Christians to speak out about their beliefs. Speak out they did, with a united voice heard around the world. People opposing, instead of tolerating, sin.

I also said Christians have erred on the side of grace resulting in sin not only being tolerated, but legalized. We know the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” but abortion is legal and called a “woman’s choice.” The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin and marriage is between a man and a woman, but homosexual marriage is becoming legal and called a lifestyle choice. Sin has always been a choice, that’s why God sent His Son to earth to offer us grace…not grace to keep on sinning . . . but grace to choose to turn from our wicked ways, seek forgiveness, and accept eternal life with Christ. An undeserved second chance to live a righteous life— the balance of grace and truth.

Truth or Grace

  • “You’re late!” A greeting to the last arriving meeting members. Truth but no Grace.
  • “Where are you going to live?” A response to a Christian who announces she’s going to live with her boyfriend. Grace but no Truth.
  • “That dress looks terrible on you.” Truth but no Grace.
  • “It’s alright. No problem.” A reply to a friend backing out on an important commitment. Grace but no Truth.
  • “You are going to hell if you keep up that behavior!” Truth but no Grace.
  • “Ok, I understand…” Said to the friend you babysat for numerous times, but when you ask to do a trade, she’s too busy. Grace but no Truth.
  • “Congratulations!” A gay couple tells you they are getting married. Grace but no Truth

Balancing Grace and Truth

Ephesians 4:15 says for us to “tell the truth in love.” What does that really mean, and most importantly, how do we do it? Not Grace or Truth or Grace versus Truth, but Grace and Truth. Yes, they can occur simultaneously, but it takes work. Displaying both grace and truth is a delicate balance, and often, we err towards one side or the other.

When faced with a sinful situation, many Christians fear sounding judgmental so their response is full of grace, but evades the truth. This can appear to condone the sinful behavior. Or, we’re so shocked or appalled at the sin we know God hates, that we slam the person with biblical truth. Very few are receptive to a condemning approach.

I tend to err on the side of wanting the truth told, but not knowing how to present it in a grace-filled manner. How do we not condemn, but not condone? How can we tell the truth, but still extend grace?

Follow Jesus’ Example

Randy Alcorn wrote an excellent book on this topic, The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding with Christ-like Balance. Randy points out that the early church drew thousands to Jesus by copying the only model they had at the time…Jesus himself. Today, we often ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” Those people knew what Jesus would do. We could arrive at a number of adjectives describing the character of Christ that would let us know what He would do today, but Randy suggests all reduce to two character qualities…yes only two!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…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 1:1,14.

Jesus was full of both grace and truth all the time. Not grace one time and truth another time, Everything He did and everything He said embodied both character qualities. Notice that grace comes first in the verse because it was a new concept to the early Christians. They knew about the truth of the law from the Old Testament, but the grace of forgiveness that Jesus brought was brand new to them. 

Even in Jesus’ days, with his example to emulate, some like the Pharisees still chose to rely only on truth, and we know them as legalists. Jesus pointed out that the law could only reveal sin, but the grace of Jesus Christ could remove it.

We want others to know Jesus by what they see in our life, but then we have to ask ourselves what do they see in us? Are we full of grace and truth? Does it seem like a paradox sometimes? It shouldn’t. Randy points out that grace without truth, or truth without grace, are like a bird without one wing.

He Told Me Everything I’ve Ever Done!

In John 4:7-26, Jesus encountered the “woman at the well” who was living in sin. Jesus didn’t hesitate to point out to her the truth of her sin, yet he offered her a way out by grace. He didn’t run from the truth because it would embarrass her or put her on the spot. He simply stated the truth, but assured her He was The Way to grace. And what was the result of Jesus confronting her with grace and truth? The woman left her sinful life and became one of the first women evangelists (John 4:28-30).

No Bait and Switch

Communicating with grace and truth is not telling someone something flattering, then zinging them with truth. That bait and switch approach is never effective. They feel manipulated and tricked. Have you ever had that happen to you where you wonder: Did they just compliment or chastise me? Telling the truth should never cause confusion. It needs to be clear and concise.

Grace doesn’t mean sugarcoating, That’s not what Jesus would do. The passage in John 4:7-26 is a pattern for displaying grace and truth like Jesus. Notice Jesus didn’t first compliment the woman, then slam her with the truth. He first asked her a question, “Will you give me a drink?” which was a display of grace since Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans. The remainder of the passage is an example of Jesus telling the truth with grace. He confronted her with the truth of her sin and offered her the grace of forgiveness and eternal life.

What About You?

Check yourself with Randy Alcorn’s “Two Point Checklist” to help determine if you are a grace and truth Christian.

1.  Are nonbelievers uncomfortable around you?

It could be you are erring on the side of legalistic truth. People were drawn to Christ, who was both grace and truth, but ran from the Pharisees who had only the ‘truth.’

2.  Do all nonbelievers like you?

A red flag that you are erring on the side of grace. The true spirit of grace is that you love enough to tell the biblical truth and share the Gospel.

 Truth without grace:            Destroys          Crushes

    Grace without truth:             Deceives          Cowardly

Grace and Truth together:    Draws              Christ

God’s truths are guardrails in life to prevent us from going over the cliff into the sinful abyss, not tools for beating us over the head. A means of rescue, not a weapon. Truth can release someone from bondage or rescue him or her from certain death. When we choose to bypass truth and go straight to grace, it’s no longer grace. Offering someone grace without the truth—the guardrail that protects and sets us free to know the true grace of Jesus—is sending them over the cliff in a loving way.

A quote from Randy’s book:  “Truth without grace breeds a self-righteous legalism that poisons the church and pushes the world away from Christ. Grace without truth breeds moral indifference and keeps people from seeing their need for Christ. Attempts to “soften” the gospel by minimizing truth keep people from Jesus. Attempts to “toughen” the gospel by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus. It’s not enough for us to offer grace or truth. We must offer both.”

This is something most of us will spend a lifetime trying to achieve and only Jesus was perfect at it, but the Holy Spirit will help us if we ask. Tricia McCary Rhodes writes in Taking Up Your Cross about Jesus’ grace versus the truth of our inadequacy, “To be humble is to live always with poignant awareness of God’s extravagant grace poured out in exchange for our complete inadequacy.” And isn’t that the TRUTH!

“If we get it wrong about Jesus, it doesn’t matter what else we get right.” —Randy Alcorn

Phil Robertson

Comments

  1. Lynda Stevens says:

    Wonderful article and just the reminder I needed today! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Janet Thompson says:

    You’re welcome Lynda. Nice to hear from you!

  3. Carol Gorman says:

    Janet, reading this makes me wonder about the best way to communicate with my sister. My nephew is sick, and he doesn’t have a definite diagnosis yet. She didn’t return my call week before last. Finally she called Friday night to express concern for Dave. I wrote her what I considered to be a spiritual email with all the support I could think of. I offered prayers from us, and told her we have prayer warriors at church. She is a believer, but doesn’t attend church. Am I communicating with her the right way, with Grace and truth?

  4. Janet Thompson says:

    I wouldn’t know if you spoke in grace and truth because I don’t know what you said in the “spiritual email” or phone message. I wouldn’t read too much into her not calling back…it’s probably a stressful time. Carol, remember this is a public forum and what you write can be seen by everyone reading this blog.

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