The Puzzle and the Balance of Grace and Truth
From "The Bible Advocate" - Jan/Feb - 2015, a publication of the Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver, CO. USA.
The Gospel of John opens with a preamble that contains a puzzle that calls for balance. Soaring for eighteen verses, the preamble introduces us to the Word who was with God and was God in the beginning. It reaches its zenith (v.14) by saying that this divine Word took human form (Jesus), that His glory was seen (God's Son, our Savior and Lord), and that He was "full of grace and truth."
Now grace is a lovely word. It has an elegant and irresistible appeal to it. More than any other word, grace speaks of God's love, mercy, acceptance, and forgiveness all packed into one. Sooner or later, most of us come to sense how much we need the riches of God's grace.
Truth is another awesome word — just as lofty but less lovely than grace. Echoing of all that's right, holy, just, and good, calling for justice and judgment, truth can set you free—or it can condemn you. We all want it, but not too much of it.
Some churches claim to be strong on God's truth but don't leave much room for His grace. Other churches talk a lot about grace but don't show much zeal for truth. These two words are enough different that they are often seen as mutually exclusive, if not contradictory — a paradox. How can Jesus or His followers be full of them both? That's the puzzle.
The grace-and-truth puzzle is related to, but not identical with, other Bible paradoxes. Each of the Bible pairs below is closely linked. They must be rightly distinguished, never fully separated. Here's the balance:
Law and gospel: The law says "do"; the gospel says "done."
Trust and obey: The gospel says "trust"; the law says "obey."
Faith and works: The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe (i.e., have faith). Good works and obedience to the commands of God and Christ are evidence that faith is alive and working through love. We are not saved by faith and works but by a faith that works.
Standing, walking: We stand 100 percent right with God — justification — by faith, as Christ's righteousness is ever imputed to our account in heaven (Romans 3, 4, 5). Our walk with God — sanctification — is never 100 percent right, although Christ's righteousness is increasingly imparted to our hearts by the Spirit (Romans 6, 7, 8).
* You are, you ought: Indicative verbs declare what God has done for us in Christ and who we are in Him (Ephesians 1, 2, 3; Colossians 1, 2). Imperative verbs command our response to God's grace and our walk in the Spirit (Ephesians 4, 5, 6; Colossians 3, 4).
* New covenant: Sins are forgiven in Christ and remembered against us no more (Hebrews 8:12; 10:17); God's revealed will (i.e., His commands) is written on our hearts so that we desire to obey — from the inside out (8:10; 10:16).
* Grace, works: We are saved by grace, not works; we are created for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
* Forgiveness, repentance: Jesus didn't condemn the sinner woman but told her, "Sin no more" (John 8:11).
Each of these has its proper place in Scripture, and in life.
Through careful study and thought, we can be clear about the role of each.
Like God's moral law, truth upholds all that's right, holy, just, and good. Grace finds its universal need in the reality and truth of that law, but finds its greatest glory while redefining truth in personal terms (see p. 18), apart from human obedience.
How do we become people of grace — of love, acceptance, and forgiveness toward others — while also becoming people of truth, pursuing the highest levels of right understanding and faithful response to God? By practicing good balance. By holding ourselves to the highest standard, yet cutting a lot of slack for everybody else. By imitating Jesus the ultimate Man, full of grace and truth.
Truth-oriented Christians love studying Scripture and theology. But sometimes they're quick to judge and slow to forgive. They're strong on truth, weak on grace (p. 17).
Grace-oriented Christians love forgiveness and freedom. But sometimes they neglect Bible study and see moral standards as "legalism." They're strong on grace, weak on truth (p. 17).
Jesus wasn't 50 percent grace, 50 percent truth, but 100 percent grace, 100 percent truth (p. 16).
— Randy Alcorn
The Grace and Truth Paradox:
Responding with Christlike Balance