Grace or Truth — Which One Do You Like Best?

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Randy Alcorn has written an interesting and very relevant book (The Grace and Truth Paradox) on the subject of the presence of grace and truth in the person of Jesus Christ when He sojourned on this earth. Perhaps the most relevant way to put his ideas to use would be in how we, as ambassadors of Christ, treat those around us. I particularly like his point that “attempts to ‘soften’ the Gospel by minimizing truth keep people away from Jesus. Attempts to ‘toughen’ the Gospel by minimizing grace, keep people from Jesus. We must offer both.” Although this is very relevant in witnessing to an unbeliever, the concept is also very important to the second primary purpose of the Christian, which is to encourage / disciple the brethren, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

It calls to mind an example in my own past. At the time, we attended a church that had strong standards of dress. I did sewing alterations in those days. A woman in the congregation came to me to have work done on her son’s pants and her own. After some time had passed, a preacher came to town for special meetings. This Christian lady developed a conviction that she should not wear pants. She still came to me for alterations. She asked me why I hadn’t said anything to her, knowing that this particular church held such standards. I told her it was not my place to determine her standards, but to help and encourage her, not condemn. This greatly helped her to know that I cared for her regardless of her choices. It was appropriate to let the Holy Spirit do the convicting in her life. I had the grace to refrain from criticizing a behavior that wasn’t my business. It was between her and the Lord.

In dealing with a lost individual who was having trouble at work and with relationships, I listened for a while. I knew the underlying issue was neither work nor relationships so I asked her, “How is your spiritual relationship with the Lord?” She admitted it was not what it should be. That led to a series of thought processes, inquiries, prayers and consulting that resulted in a solid conversion. The grace part was listening, but the bottom line truth needed to be said and it reaped good results.

Taking this principle, let’s look at how the Lord dealt with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). He showed grace when He, a Jew, spoke to a Samaritan who was also a woman. Jews did not go through Samaria or have dealings with them because of an old feud over religion and ancestry. As the conversation progressed, He emphasized truth when He camped on her sin — living with a man who was not her husband. Both were necessary to bring her to conviction and then salvation.

The Lord’s use of parables illustrate the combination of both truth and grace. First comes the story to which the audience can relate. Then comes the truth within the story itself. “Those who have ears” will hear the truth in the illustration.

I know of some Christians, and I use the term loosely since I can’t see their hearts, that will stand on a street corner holding up a sign about sin or judgment, but will not speak kindly about the Gospel to individuals. Remember, it takes both grace and truth to obey Christ.

What if your blind neighbor was about to walk into the street in front of a car? Would you “gracefully” refrain from warning her because she might get upset and lash out at you? Or would you “truthfully” run over, shout, and get her attention to save her life no matter the inconvenience?

In a previous example I mentioned a dress standard. Whether appropriate or not, you decide. I am not pushing either way. However, in our current society, there is a lot of talk about toleration. Alcorn says this about grace vs. tolerance: “Low standards are not the same as grace. It’s toleration of sin. Grace never lowers the standards of holiness. Jesus raised the bar, not lowered it.”

For example, the standard on murder in the New Testament as stated by Jesus, is that if you call your brother a fool or are angry with him unjustly, you are committing murder in your heart. To lust after a man or woman is adultery. In today’s culture, we’re not supposed to condemn any behavior an individual thinks is right for him. That is not grace or truth. It’s refraining from telling the Biblical truth. It’s neglecting to warn of the impending judgment to come.

How easy it is to shout out criticism to others and tell them what is wrong with their life! Look at the instruction in Matt. 7:3-5. We are so quick to want to help a brother fix his own life when ours may have even bigger problems to which we are blinded. Correction is not necessarily inappropriate if we have our own ducks in a row. However, nagging someone else about something we ourselves are guilty of is out of line. Face the truth about yourself first (let every man examine himself — II Cor. 13:5). Then with grace and truth and love you can help others to see what they need.

For example, don’t urge others to use Scripture as their guide if you don’t. If you urge others to know the Word and don’t memorize it and think on it night and day yourself, your words are empty.

In dealing with the lost, we are admonished to make moral distinctions (Matt. 7:6) so that those who reject Christ’s invitation do not treat precious things as cheap. In our present day culture, the slightest remark against someone is thrown back in our face as being judgmental. That’s really a subject for another article, but needs some mention here. To say that a lost person will go to hell, which is a solid Biblical pronouncement and not my own invention, is seen as cruel and unloving. The truth must be stated. How we do so is crucial. Individuals do not like to think that there is such a place as hell. They try to make us silent with their cries of “Intolerant! Judgmental!”

Alcorn says, “We easily confuse what we want to be true with what actually is true. . . All of us have a theology. The only question is whether it’s true or false. Much teaching today is popularity-driven, not truth driven.” The question , “Why would God send people to hell?” is the wrong question. Alcorn says they should be asking, “How could a holy God send sinful men to heaven?” His answer is that people don’t fully grasp how serious their offenses are against a holy God. When an individual recognizes how utterly holy and righteous God is and how wretched and sinful he is, the rescue from hell becomes very dramatic and consequential.

If we are to be a follower of Christ, we have a responsibility to warn people of the coming judgment and the cure for escaping it (the Gospel). The truth about hell is reasonable. It was created as a place of punishment for the devil and those angels who allied themselves with him. Right now they are having their heyday on the earth. A time will come when they will be cast into hell which was designed to contain them. Those people who deny the truth of the Gospel, rebel against repenting of sin and turning to Christ in faith. They will share the same fate as those demons.

We live on this planet because God designed it to be that way. We breathe His air and never pay Him for it. He lets our heart beat 100,000 times a day to keep us alive and we never thank Him for it. He designed a marvelous intricate body in which to live and we take it for granted. We think and work against Him every day. He is trying to get our attention and we ignore Him. To see ourselves from His perspective, as the sinners we are, is to know that hell is not unjust but deserved by those who deny God. How full of grace He is to provide an escape!

Quite frequently on the street, we hear people say that they do not want to believe in a God that would send people to hell. Changing the truth to suit their own desire doesn’t change the truth of the Bible. If there is no hell and everyone is going to heaven, even if on different paths, then what did Jesus die for? And what kind of heaven would that be, full of continually rebellious sinners? That sounds more like hell. Jesus himself says He is the only way. There are not multiple ways to God. There is only one and that is through Jesus Christ. Heaven will be filled with those who desire to be followers of Jesus.

Here’s what Robert Murray McCheyne (b. 1813—d. 1843) said: “O, sleeping souls; it is high time for you to awake. You are living in a dream. Every Christless man will find at last that he has been dreaming. Ah, the time is coming when you shall find that your following after gold is but a golden dream. . . Like a man condemned to die (and many of you are condemned already), he dreams of home, of his wife and children; of freedom and pleasure; but, ah! He awakes by the toll of the death-bell, and he finds that — behold it was but a dream! Now, unconverted men, you are taking a sleep; but, like the man, you will awake from a bright dream to a bitter reality. Dear friend, I often think when I look to your houses as I pass along, and when I look in your faces, that ministers are like watchmen — they see the fire and they give the alarm. Many of you are in danger as one in a burning house. Sometimes you wonder at our anxiety for you. Sometimes you say, ‘Why are you so harsh?’ O, poor soul! It is because the house is on fire. O, then, can we speak too harshly! — can we knock too loudly at the door of your conscience?”

God does not send people to hell. He makes heaven available to every person. If the individual continues to reject God, he consigns himself to hell. The result is to spend eternity there with the devil and his angels. It won’t be a great big party with all of his friends, either. There is punishment for rejecting God’s gift of salvation and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I appreciate the insight Alcorn has on our modern culture. He says, “ Instead of the world’s apathy and tolerance, we offer grace. Instead of relativism and deception, we offer truth. . . If we minimize grace, the world sees no hope for salvation. If we minimize truth, the world sees no need for salvation. To show the world Jesus, we must offer unabridged grace and truth, emphasizing both, apologizing for neither (Col 1:6).”

So how do we gracefully point out the truth? Ephesians 4:14-15 says to speak the truth in love. We must not be as children unsure about doctrine, but ready and able to speak truth (Eph. 4:25). That means we need to know the Gospel and the Scriptures. We cannot effectively communicate what we do not know well. Put off the old lifestyle. Be regularly renewed in our minds (Rom. 12:1,2). Speak what is edifying, not what is angry or bitter or evil. Choose words carefully. Control the tone of voice. Show concern, compassion, emphasis, and earnestness with voice and manner.

Be able to use examples to illustrate truth. Be ready to explain the Gospel fully in a reasonable way. Carefully lay the groundwork for why we need a Savior. Know how to politely turn a conversation from the secular to the spiritual. Keep on point. Listen when it is prudent and productive, but don’t get distracted from dispensing truth. If your listener continues to monopolize the conversation and you can’t get a word in edgewise, consider leaving a tract and moving on. An individual who will not listen will not hear what he needs to know to repent and turn to Jesus.

So you see, we are not scolding or nagging, but offering truth with sincere care for the sinner’s soul. Speak it in love and sincerity (grace), but plow the ground first with the need for a Savior (truth). Sometimes, strong passion in the voice or body language is seen as anger. Work to be earnest but kind at the same time. If we could be like Uncle John Vassar and have tears running down our faces, perhaps they would no longer accuse us of being harsh. Let them hear the tears in your voice and see it in your manner.

Look for the one who is earnestly searching for the Lord. They will hear what we have to say. Others need the warning, but sometimes leaving a tract is all we can do. Look for every opportunity to speak up for the Lord. Pray that He will guide us to those who want to know. Now is still the time for laboring and harvesting, not resting. Remember that Jesus exhibited the traits of grace and truth. As His followers, we should do no less.


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