Integrating Truth and Grace

July 24, 2016

Categories: Grace,Integrity,Truth

I had a conversation with a friend the other day about Christianity and gay marriage. I held a more liberal position, and my friend held a more conservative position. He was wrestling with the issue, and was interested in reading more and trying to understand the other perspective.

As we went our separate ways, one of the things he said stayed in my mind. He wanted to seek out the truth, and he said, Truth and grace do not and should not be at the expense of each other.

I think the concern about balancing truth and grace is common for Christians (including myself), so I think it is worth unpacking. The idea behind balancing truth and grace is that both are important. The Bible says that Jesus came full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). The thinking goes, if you stray too much on the side of truth, you can’t help people understand God’s love and mercy for them. But if you stray too much on the side of grace, you might just let people stay stuck in a pattern of sinful behavior, free to do whatever they want.

This struggle is very real for Christians who have difficulty supporting gay marriage. Most Christians agree that we shouldn’t be mean and exclude people who are gay—that would be a failure of grace. But for some Christians who believe that the Bible teaches that gay sex is a sin, saying gay marriage is acceptable to God would be a failure of truth.

I started to think about the balance between truth and grace. I thought about truth and grace like a seesaw, with truth on one side and grace on the other. It seemed as if Christians were often trying to balance the seesaw perfectly. Sometimes we would move too far to one side, and sometimes we would move too far to the other side. It always seemed to be a struggle to balance the seesaw.

Then I thought about Jesus. Jesus was full of grace and truth, but when I read the Gospels, his life doesn’t feel like a seesaw, bouncing back and forth between truth and grace. Instead, what strikes me most about Jesus is how integrated he was. Truth and grace merged seamlessly together in the person of Jesus.

One of the most interesting ways that Jesus integrated truth and grace had to do with how Jesus engaged with the law. The law was very important for the Jewish people. The law was a set of guidelines that set apart the Jews as the chosen people of God. The Jewish people followed the law religiously.

When you look back on how the Jewish people engaged with the law, however, you see the seesaw between truth and grace I talked about earlier. The commandments were important to follow. But people couldn’t follow them perfectly, so grace was important as well. There was a complex system that outlined the sacrifices that needed to be made for individual and collective sins. The focus would be on truth and following the law, interspersed with a change in focus to grace through the sacrificial system. Once the sacrifice had been made and the sins had been forgiven, the focus changed back again to truth and following the commandments.

Jesus offered a different, more integrated relationship between truth and grace. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

Jesus then goes on to give several examples of how his teachings go beyond the letter of the law. For example, the law says not to murder, but according to Jesus, the root issue is anger in one’s heart. The law says not to commit adultery, but according to Jesus, the root issue is lust in one’s heart. The law says to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but according to Jesus, you must love even your enemy. According the Jesus, the law should be merged with the principle of love.

Jesus offers a similar principle when one of the Pharisees asks him about the Greatest Commandment. Jesus replied, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

In an intriguing turn, Jesus connects the law and love. We obey the commandments by loving God and loving our neighbor. Jesus merges truth and grace. The truth is grace—we are completely loved and accepted by God, so we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

I’m not sure we will ever be able to fully integrate truth and grace in our own lives. But if you find yourself struggling in your life on a seesaw between truth and grace, it might be worth thinking about whether there is a way to merge or connect truth and grace in your life.

Discussion: How integrated are truth and grace in your life? What is one step you could take toward connecting the two? How do the life and teachings of Jesus on truth and grace impact your struggles with controversial issues such as gay marriage?


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  1. Jennifer Martin July 24, 2016 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    This is something I’ve been studying the past month or two as well. Not so much what is the reality of grace and truth but what is our role as fellow believers in modeling grace vs. truth. For years I really leaned more towards the truth side of things. I worried that hearing how much God loved us week after week at church with not much challenge would never lead people towards a full life with God. If they weren’t being discipled well then how would their lives really glorify God? So then we started a very intentional discipleship group. We met several times a week, had gender specific small groups that really dug into what specifically God was saying to us and how we could best follow God and be led towards more growth. We spent a year really pouring into these people and they really did become like family. It was a rich season of spiritual growth and spiritual fruit and really solid relationships…that is, until I felt God leading me somewhere they all “knew” was wrong. They all thought they held the truth. I understood that their viewpoint was a common one but they didn’t have all of the facts and they were misinformed. They turned on me and instead of the group continuing to foster a “listening” ear towards God they started demanding that I listen to them instead. They ended up being entirely unhelpful to me in the season in which I needed them to be supportive. There was a lot of conflict and a lot of anger and frustration towards me that really made me curious. How much of the truth and conviction piece is supposed to come from other believers? So I started studying Matthew and every single interaction Jesus had with a person or a group of people to see how He handled interacting with them. Did he walk up to people and call out their sin or did he show mercy and grace? I haven’t finished yet but in the first fifty some interactions almost all of the individual interactions were healing, loving words, invitations, etc. Jesus didn’t need to walk up to people and name their sin. By being different and by inviting us towards Him and away from the things that keep us from Him He can expose our sin (or need for grace) without ever shaming us. He maintains holiness, sure, in His life and in His kingdom through boundaries and invitation. I’m not sure the truth coming from other sinful people is ever going to truly compel one to change. Only a holy God can do that. The commentary for Matthew 7:1-6 specifically said that God commands us not to judge another human being because we NEVER have all of the facts. ONLY God has all of the facts needed to judge another. So, all that being said and in response Matthew 5, I don’t think the bar has been lowered since Christ came but the righteousness greater than the Pharisees is only accomplished through His death. We are all sinners in need of grace and as you said we will never perfectly balance truth with grace in this broken world but fortunately we have a redeemer who is the lens through which we are viewed by God and He alone can balance the two.

  2. Joshua Hook July 25, 2016 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story Jen-sorry you had to go through that group experience. It sounds really tough! Cool study you are doing looking through all the interactions Jesus had.

    I also have a book recommendation for you if you haven’t read it already:

  3. Use Love as the Lens - Joshua Hook October 5, 2017 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    […] sermon was focused on the tension many Christians feel between grace and truth. You might have experienced this tension in your own life and […]

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