“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
There is a tension in the Church concerning how to balance grace and truth.
Some of us like to major on showing love though grace. We believe in second chances. We read the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 8, where he does not condemn her but tells her to go and sin no more, and we try to love like that. This kind of love is pleasantly surprising, like falling off the roof and landing on the trampoline. We hope that people will be changed by the grace we have shown them.
Sometimes we try to use grace too much, and we allow sin to go unchecked in lives around us without ever confronting it. Sometimes too much grace leads us to approve of sin.
Some of us are experts at showing love through truth. We believe in letting people know what is right and what is wrong. We read the stories about Jesus scolding the hypocritical Pharisees, warning them of their folly and directing them to a better way, and we try to love like that. This kind of love is shocking, a slap in the face that brings you to your senses. We hope that people will be changed by the truth we have told them.
Sometimes we try to use truth too much, and we allow being right to become more important than loving people who are doing wrong. Sometimes too much truth causes us to push people away from Jesus.
I guess that is why Jesus is full of grace AND truth. He is a truly wonderful balance of telling us what we need to know and being patient with us until we can do it. He understands human weakness and still holds us to a standard of perfection. He understands because he became flesh and pitched his tent here among us for a little while.
Of course, that means that we are expected to be full of grace AND truth as well. It turns out that this can be pretty challenging for us most of the time. Christians make the news all the time for giving too much truth without any grace. These are the Christians who are pushing the world away from the Gospel. We definitely must avoid this brand of Christianity at all costs, because the love of God is absent in it.
I’m more familiar with the other end of the spectrum though. While the truthy Christians get all the attention, my experience says that most Christians are much more comfortable with showing grace (i.e. never speaking up at all). Political correctness has walled in our language so that it has become a social sin to call something a moral sin. Being a good Christian who is full of grace is becoming equated with being accepting of every sin, lifestyle, and religion even when they oppose truth in Scripture.
Even in the church, we are much more comfortable with allowing people to wallow in a semi-converted cycle of failure and repentance, because we’d rather show grace than actually place expectations on them for how they should live. We don’t want to offend them, so we let them be. This is a dangerous trend for the Church. We won’t have strong leaders if we don’t have high expectations. We are not answering Christ’s call to discipleship if we are not pushing each other to pursue perfection. We need Christians who are being filled with the Spirit, sanctified, and changed.
So, how did Jesus do it? How did he keep his balance and not fall too far toward either truth or grace? I think I learned how a little better this week while I was at work.
I’m janitor for my dorm at grad school. It’s quite the glorious job, one that everyone is envious of. Oh wait, that’s not true at all. It’s a dirty job of cleaning up after 20-something year olds who leave trash out and sometimes get the toilet really nasty. Most of the time I don’t mind, but some days, like last Monday, I got fed up. Maybe it was because it was my last day at work for the semester. I really wanted to tell some guys the truth that they are adults and that I shouldn’t have to clean up so much mess, but I stopped myself. Better not to offend, I thought. Better to be patient and longsuffering.
But, because I’d already been thinking about this tension of grace and truth, I questioned whether that was the right thing to do. Maybe I should tell them what they are doing, and that the rules posted on the wall say they should do something else. Maybe they would listen. Or maybe they would ignore me, and then I would be madder than before. What would Jesus do in this situation?
Then I realized that I probably wasn’t on track to act like Jesus at all. Sure I was annoyed, but everything I wanted to do centered on how people would respond to ME, what they would do for ME. However, I think the balance of grace and truth calls me to consider what I can do for them. I think Jesus would tell people the truth about what they could do to be cleaner, because it would help them (although this really is a silly example. Cleanliness is rather unimportant in the grand scheme of things.) But he would balance that truth with grace, a grace that continued to clean up after them, whether the messes were big or small. Nothing would ever get done if he told them the rules and stopped cleaning. Nothing would improve if he let them go on in dirtiness without ever asking them to improve.
This is the heart of love- that Christ came and taught us the true way to live, and then in grace he died for us while we were still sinners, while we were still failing to grasp his truth. Grace didn’t wait for a response to the truth. Truth didn’t resist grace because it wanted to have things its own way. Both were present in Christ in perfect balance when he lived and died here on earth.
Somehow Christians must learn to walk in this same balance. We face lots of issues in the world today, and we stand to hurt ourselves, our voice, and our place of influence in this world if we respond to those issues only with grace or only with truth. In grace alone we have no legs to stand; in truth alone we trample on the broken.
Grace and truth. Think about those two qualities. How can Jesus use them in balance in your world? How can you show both to your family, your co-workers, your dorm-mates, your neighbors? How can the Church embody grace and truth to bring fuller life to saints and sinners alike?
I’m convinced that this is a key balance the church must find if it wants to maintain its influence in the future of this world. Let us each be full of the grace and truth that was found in Jesus. Let each of us be set on fire by the Spirit and dwell in our own little worlds full of grace and truth.