Category Archives: Grace and Truth

A series of posts based on my Bible study, the Grace and Truth Paradox, by Randy Alcorn.

Grace and Truth: A Hope and a Need…

Today is the final day of study in my current study, The Grace and Truth Paradox. I’ve really enjoyed this study, because it looked at something that seemed so simple and explained why it’s not only more complex than it might seem, but it’s a much more important concept that most give it credit for. And it pushed me to express unlimited grace as well as uncompromised truth to others around me.

Today’s lesson started off with an example from scripture. In Matthew 18:23-25, Jesus told the following parable:

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.

This parable gives an excellent parallel that I think we often miss. There are three main characters – the master, the servant, and the servant’s peer who was indebted to him. The servant owed what equates to millions of dollars (10,000 talents) to his master, yet the master took pity on him and forgave his debt completely. Then, this same servant found his peer that owed him what amounted to only a few dollars (100 denarii), and refused to forgive him his debt. The master, after hearing about this, brings in his servant and reimposes the debt on him, punishing him until he is able to pay it. Obviously there is some exaggeration in this story – a master would most likely never lend millions of dollars to his servant. But it serves a purpose of showing how we must extend grace to others if we expect God to extend grace to us. The sin debt between God and us is huge – like “millions of dollars” huge – when compared to the offenses/debts our peers owe to us. If God forgives us this debt, we must find a way to forgive others.

In John 8:1-11 it tells another interesting story of grace, but with a twist:

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Here, Jesus teaches an excellent lesson on grace to all those around Him. But at the same time, He never compromises truth. The truth was that the woman had sinned, and Jesus didn’t let that go unnoticed. He told her “…leave your life of sin.”

I think as Christians, we have come across to the world as either overly gracious or overly truthful, but we haven’t done a great job at expressing both of these concepts in harmony. Most of the world thinks that we are intolerant, judgmental, and forceful with our faith. Much of the history of the church is stained with atrocities like the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, which were carried out by men who focused wholly on truth and not at all on grace. This isn’t what the Bible teaches, and this isn’t what Jesus was all about. It’s important that we remember to express grace in our transactions with people, so that we are shining who Jesus really was on them. At the same time, we must not condone people’s sinfulness (or our own, for that matter!). We must find a way to balance these concepts.  Because, as Randy Alcorn put it in today’s lesson,

“If we minimize grace, the world sees no hope for salvation.
If we minimize truth, the world sees no need for salvation.
To show Jesus to the world, we must offer unabridged grace and truth, emphasizing both, apologizing for neither.”

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Grace and Truth: A Perfect Balance…

During the first week of this study, we talked about how Jesus was great at showing grace and proclaiming truth at the same time. He was able to perfectly balance these two seemingly contradictory concepts. We looked at John 1:14, which says “The Word [Jesus] 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” (emphasis added). Directly after proclaiming that Jesus was “full of grace and truth,” the Apostle John then writes about 2 very different stories in John 2. The first one is this:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now. This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:1-11)

This story is a great illustration of the grace that Jesus expressed out of nothing more than thoughtfulness and kindness. He obviously didn’t do it to bring attention to Himself or even to bring Himself or the Father glory. It says that no one but the servants, his disciples, and his mother, knew that he had performed the miracle. If he were wanting to display the truth of His all-powerful nature, He would have done it before all the guests. Something else I find interesting is that Mary, Jesus’ mother, obviously already knew that Jesus had the power to do this miracle, and she obviously already knew that He was going to do it, regardless of His objections, since even after He objected she still directed the servants to do what He said. This tells me that she knew this gracious side of Jesus very well already. Few people know someone better than their own mother – she knew Jesus was full of grace before He even had much of a public ministry.

Right after this story is finished, John then tells another story with a very different twist:

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:12-22)

Here, in the very next passage, in the same chapter of the book of John, it tells a story of a very different Jesus. He is no longer acting graciously – now He’s making whips, turning over tables, and yelling for the money changers to leave the temple area. If someone had seen both of these scenes, the wedding miracle at Cana, and this scene at the temple in Jerusalem, they might think Jesus had multiple personality disorder. But this isn’t the case. Jesus’ character included grace, but it also included a passion for the truth that is God’s Word. Scripture said that He would be consumed with zeal for the house of God, and this truth was expressed through this cleansing act of chasing the money changers out of the temple area. This was nothing more than another expression of the character of Christ, who was full of both grace and truth.

Balancing grace and truth is hard. Whenever I successfully show grace to someone, I often neglect the truth of God’s Word and am either too lenient on their actions or too concerned with hurting their feelings. Whenever I successfully express the truth to people, I often come across as judgmental or uncaring. But until I am able to successfully balance these two characteristics, I will not be a good representation of Christ in this world who needs to see Him so badly. So, pray for me to get better, and think about how you are doing at showing grace and expressing truth in every situation.

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Grace and Truth: The Uniqueness of Grace…

The following story was told by Phillip Yancey in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? (see here):

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

Grace. The unmerited favor of God. God giving us blessings that we don’t deserved. As I mentioned in one of yesterday’s post, “grace is perhaps the most unique, marvelous, outrageous, and special thing to ever come about.” No other religion in the world includes such a concept as grace. Buddhism has the eightfold path, which explains that through practicing these 8 areas of mental and ethical development, one can reach a higher mental and spiritual state. It requires human action. Hinduism has karma, or the belief that “good begets good, and bad begets bad.  Every action, thought, or decision one makes has consequences – good or bad – that will return to each person in the present life, or in one yet to come” (see here). It requires human action. Islam teaches that “at puberty, an account of each person’s deeds is opened, and this will be used at the Day of Judgment to determine his eternal fate” (see here). The number of good deeds must be more than the number of bad deeds. Islam requires human action. Judaism, of course, has the Old Testament Law, which requires ethical behavior and animal sacrifice in order for the human side of the Covenant to be kept. It requires human action. No other religion says that, by only the actions of God Himself, we as His creation may be saved. This is unique to Christianity

The uniqueness of grace is, to me and many others, the most compelling argument for Christianity’s authenticity. Humans, with our extreme propensity for pride and self-obsession, are always trying to work our way to salvation. Even after being presented with the gospel, which is the good news of God’s grace, and even after accepting it, we still spend much of our lives trying to work off our debt to God. I think that is why every other religion, which I believe are man-made, have the works-based principles that they do. Only Christianity says God’s grace is free, unconditional, and available to any and everyone. That kind of statement is outrageous, but it’s also comforting. It proves that God loves us, and if the most powerful being in the universe (or outside the universe??) loves little old me, I can’t help but to love Him back.

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Grace and Truth: Longing for Grace…

In an attempt to catch up on my studies from last week, I am going to do 2 posts today from my lessons from The Grace and Truth Paradox. My earlier post today was from the last lesson from last week, which focused on truth. The week before that focused completely on grace. This week’s studies focus on balancing grace and truth.

As a great example of balancing grace and truth, today’s lesson shared the story of the prodigal son. Allow me to share this passage from Luke 15:11-32 with you here (please forgive the length):

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

The thing to notice here is which character in the story we most identify with. If we are truth-oriented, we probably most identify with one of the brothers. Even the younger brother who had lost all of his inheritance living in sin expected a harsh truth when he returned home. He told his father “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The older brother was also truth-oriented, getting angry when grace was shown to his sinful younger brother – as we talked about before, truth-oriented people tend to get mad when grace is shown to unbelievers, because it makes their so-called ‘righteous’ acts seem unnecessary. On the other hand, the father in this story displays complete grace. He celebrates at the return of his son, even if the son didn’t deserve anything more than a thump on the head. And when the older brother voiced his jealousy, the father said “everything I have is yours.” He showed grace to both sons.

Grace and truth are perfectly balanced, and neither one requires a compromise of the other. Randy Alcorn put it this way in today’s lesson:

“A home full of grace is also full of truth. Why? Because grace doesn’t make people less holy, it makes them more holy. Grace doesn’t make people despise or neglect the truth. It makes them love and follow truth. Any concept of grace that leaves us thinking that truth isn’t important is not biblical grace.”

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Grace and Truth: The Whole Truth

I’m not sure if this happens in real life, but on TV when someone is in court and they are sworn in, they are asked something like this:

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

I’ve never given much thought to the idea of giving the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But after today’s lesson of the Grace and Truth Paradox, I realized that when someone omits a part of the truth – in other words, they don’t give the whole truth – they are in effect not giving the truth at all. A good example of this is, although it’s as sunny as can be outside, I tell my daughter “It’s raining!!!” She replies with something like “really?” And I then say “yeah, it’s definitely raining somewhere…”  By saying it’s raining, I may not be outright lying – it just doesn’t happen to raining where we are. I have omitted a part of the truth, and without clarification, it isn’t really true at all.

This same principle is in effect when we look at grace and truth. As we’ve discussed in the last couple of posts, God’s Word is absolute truth. As a follower of Christ, we must take it for what it says and keep it’s authority in the center of our minds when we read it. We must take its words to be like the very words of God, straight from His mouth to our ears. But if you’re anything like me, when it comes to sharing the truth from God’s Word with others, you are quite tempted to skip the parts that seem like bad news and move only to the parts that give the good news. I mean, the word gospel means “good news,” right? Unfortunately, by doing this, we are only sharing a part of the truth, and without sharing the whole truth we are not really sharing the truth at all.

So what does the whole truth entail? It means that we must share the consequences that go along with sin before explaining the salvation that comes by grace. Take these passages from Romans:

  • “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10)
  • “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference…” (Romans 3:21-22)

The bad news: no one is righteous, no one does right in the sight of God. The good news: by faith in Jesus, we are made righteous in the sight of God.

  • “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
  • “[All] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24)

The bad news: everybody has sinned, and therefore have missed the mark and failed the standard set by God in His Law. The good news: these same sinners (us!) are justified before God through His grace.

  • “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a)
  • “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b)

The bad news: because of sin, we are cursed to die, both physically, and without Christ, spiritually. The good news: God has provided a gift of eternal life to us through Christ.

There is both bad news and good news associated with the truth of God’s Word. If we only share the good news of salvation through Christ, people won’t understand why it’s good news. They may understand the consequences of eternal life, but if they don’t know the consequences of sin, they won’t grasp the grace of God. God’s grace is perhaps the most unique, marvelous, outrageous, and special thing to ever come about – and by diluting the truth to those we share it with, we are withholding more than just a partial truth from them…we are withholding part of His grace as well.

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Grace and Truth: Absolute Truth…

A little dialogue between you and me:

You: Wow! Is this your 3rd post for today?
Me: Yep, it sure is.
You: Why so many posts today?
Me: Well, I took what the locals around here like to call a vacation last week, and I got a little behind on my Grace and Truth study that I was doing. I’m attempting to catch up so that I can finish it up this week and start something new next week.
You: Did you photoshop this mustache onto a picture of yourself?
Me: Yeah, and it’s not even Photoshop Fail Friday! But is it that obvious?
You: Oh… Well… It looks… Well… Good… I guess…
Me: Thanks! I thought so, too!

Mustaches almost never look good. I’d say approximately 31% of men wear a mustache at any given time, and only about half of those look good. Only guys who do the whole wrap-around goatee thing are able to pull a mustache off. In fact, mustaches are stupid. I’d say anyone that has a mustache is severely missing the point of our God-given ability to grow hair on our faces. And that, my friends, is the absolute truth.

Now, I hope you first realize that I am totally kidding about mustaches. Honestly, I’m just bummed because I can’t grow a mustache, and even when I try, my hair is the same color as water, so you can’t even see it. I could let it grow for weeks and weeks, until it’s so long that it droops over my entire mouth and acts like those blue strips of cloth that you drive through in a car wash for my food. Maybe my food would be cleaner that way, but you still wouldn’t be able to see my mustache. No, what I was spouting off about in the previous paragraph was not absolute truth, even if I proclaimed that it was. It was an opinion, nothing more, nothing less. It may have been what I believed to be true, but that doesn’t make it absolute truth.

So, does absolute truth exist? Some people say no. According to Randy Alcorn in this lesson of the Grace and Truth Paradox, people often give these kinds of answers:

  • “There is no such thing as truth.”
  • “Truth is whatever you sincerely believe.”
  • “What’s true for you is true for you, and what’s true for me is true for me.”

But regardless of what man says, there is an absolute, never changing truth – God’s Word. The Holy Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testament, are without error, and are about as consistent as you can get for a document composed of 66 separate documents, written by something like 40 different people, over a period of over 1600 years. That kind of unity points a single author, not a group of authors, which to me is the most compelling of all the arguments for the Bible being divinely inspired.

The Bible declares itself to be absolute truth. Psalm 119:160 says:

The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever. (NKJV)

And in comparison to the permanence of God’s Word, anything that comes from mankind is destined to pass away (1 Peter 1:24-25):

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

So how do we handle this absolute truth? For one, rejoice in finding the truth as opposed to celebrating the search for it. Many people (myself included) really enjoy the academic pursuit of truth by studying God’s Word and seeking spiritual knowledge. There is nothing wrong with academically pursuing the truth in God’s Word, but if you take Jesus’ parable of the shepherd who lost 1 sheep and left the 99 behind to find it, you’ll see that Jesus says that “when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home…” (Luke 15:5, emphasis added). We should be the same with finding the truth – we should place more stock in the end result of finding the truth than in the process of searching for it. Secondly, we should share it. In that same parable, Jesus said that the shepherd “calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’ ” (v. 6). We should be just as eager to share the joy of finding the truth of God’s Word as the shepherd was to share his joy in finding his lost sheep.

I’m one of the worst when it comes to sharing the truth of God’s Word with others. I like my little comfort bubble of searching out the truth for myself, thinking about how it relates to me, and then going on with life. But if everyone was like that, the only real, absolute truth wouldn’t get spread (since God has chosen to spread it through messengers and witnesses such as ourselves). And the beauty of that truth will change a lot of lives – probably even more than the beauty of my fake mustache.

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Grace and Truth: A Comparison of Truths*

A couple of weeks ago, I was given an assignment by my boss. It was extremely time-sensitive, so he wanted me to jump on it quickly. Instead, I decided to finish writing a blog post, and then got started on it. A few minutes after finally starting on the assignment, he emailed me and asked how it was going. Knowing that I should have already started a while ago, I lied and replied that it was moving along, and that it shouldn’t take much longer. Of course, it did take quite a bit longer, since I had just started, but out of some sense of self-preservation I thought it best in a moment of quick decision making that I should make myself look more productive than I really was. I lied in order to keep from getting in trouble. And I immediately felt bad about it.

Why do we do this? When left to our own devices, why do we forfeit the truth for our own hand-crafted lies? In my situation, I was afraid of getting in trouble for not doing what I was supposed to do. Perhaps in another person’s case, they want to look good in someone else’s eyes, or they want to gain another advantage or avoid some other hardship. Whatever the reason, today most people tend to act like the Israelites in the times spoken of in Judges 21:25, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

We live as though there are multiple truths* out there. There is God’s truth, which is given very explicitly in the Bible, and then there’s our own truth, which we tend to live by on a day to day basis. If you noticed, I put a star after the word truths in both the title and in the sentence that begins this paragraph. Quite honestly, there is no such word as truths. There is only one truth that exists in any situation. Perhaps a better word I could have used is the word ways. There are multiple ways to live, but there is only one truth by which we can compare our lives. God’s Word is absolute truth, and nowhere in Scripture will you find any reference to anything less than that. Man’s ways, on the other hand, are not that simple. Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” When left to my own devices, the way that seems right to me at the time is probably not the right way. Every once in a while I may get it right, but my human nature will usually lead me to death. Only using the standards in Scripture will you find absolute truth. And only by living according to those standards will we find life.

The truth is the truth. And a lie is a lie is a lie. The path of truth is very narrow, while the path of lies is wide and easy to find. Jesus said “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14). When you have something small hidden among something large (think needle-in-a-haystack), it requires effort to find it. If we do things as they seem right at the time, we are following a broad path. But if we put forth the effort to know the truth as outlined in God’s Word, we’ll find the proverbial needle, and it will point right to a narrow little gate. And that gate leads to life.

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