The first chapter of the Gospel of John describes the coming of the Messiah, who was “full of grace and truth” (v. 14).
What a wonderful insight into Christ’s message to a fallen world! And a lesson we should take to heart in our interactions with others.
Jesus embodied perfect grace and perfect truth. But most Christians fail to strike a balance between grace and truth, emphasizing one or the other.
“Truth without grace breeds a self-righteous legalism that poisons the church and pushes the world away from Christ,” Randy Alcorn wrote in The Grace and Truth Paradox, “Grace without truth breeds moral indifference and keeps people from seeing their need for Christ.
“Attempts to ‘soften’ the gospel by minimizing truth keep people from Jesus. Attempts to ‘toughen’ the gospel by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus. It’s not enough for us to offer grace or truth. We must offer both.”
Tim Keller defines the gospel
Jesus set a standard for grace and truth none of us can reach, only strive to attain, but the late evangelical leader Tim Keller gave us a more realistic role model.
When Keller died in May, secular media outlets such as the New York Times, the New Yorker, and The Atlantic wrote thoughtful, sometimes glowing, assessments of his legacy. A writer in The Atlantic called him “one of the 21st century’s most influential and revered church leaders.”
One of Keller’s favorite sayings captured the essence of truth, grace, and the gospel. “The gospel is this,” he said. “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
Keller, of course, had his critics, but reflections on his passing often mentioned his kindness, even to people who disagreed with him.
Practicing what he preached
Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest and columnist for the New York Times, remembered attending a debate between Keller and a secular humanist almost twenty years ago. When the secular humanist struggled to make a point, Keller helped him clarify what he was trying to say.
How many people would do that? Yet, far from compromising Keller’s influence, his graciousness enhanced it.
Warren marveled at the way he reached out and encouraged her, even though they had different views about women’s roles in the church. She closed her column by saying how much he would be missed.
“Yet he’d be the first to say that the same grace that transformed him is available to us all, even now,” she concluded.
Grace and truth during Pride Month
Jesus offered grace, not condemnation, to sinners, and so should we. If we want to win hearts and souls, we have to show people that we care. Truth alone is rarely enough, especially when people don’t believe in absolute truth.
When you disagree with someone, do it with civility. “Don’t attack or insult,” Arthur C. Brooks wrote in Love Your Enemies. “Don’t even try to win.” He added, “Almost no one is ever insulted into agreement.”
Preston Sprinkle, author of the Grace/Truth books on faith, sexuality, and gender, pointed to Jesus’ approach to tax collectors as an example of how to treat LGBTQ+ people.
“Some Christians have a hard time accepting gay people,” Sprinkle wrote. “Maybe that’s because we think that if we show acceptance, it will look as if we affirm same-sex relations. Jesus wasn’t worried that his acceptance of Zacchaeus might somehow show that he was soft on sin. . . . Biblical love accepts people as they are and then loves them into the people God wants them to be.”
Sprinkle continued, “When it comes to people outside the faith, whatever their sexual orientation, we’re called to talk about and embody the love of Jesus. The good news of Jesus Christ is not about sin management. Think about it. Even if you were able to convince someone to stop sleeping around—assuming, of course, that they’re sleeping around—abstinence won’t save them. Only Jesus can. We’re saved by faith, not sexual purity.”
How did the Sinless One condemn others?
Jesus reserved his harshest words for the religious leaders of his day.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” he said. “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matthew 23:13–14 NIV).
One day, while Jesus taught at the temple, religious leaders tried to trap him into choosing between grace and truth (John 8:3–11). They brought a woman caught in adultery before him and asked him what to do with her. Jesus had a reputation for showing mercy to sinners, but the religious leaders told him that the Mosaic law called for her to be stoned.
Jesus began to write on the ground—no one knows what he wrote—then straightened up and said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7).
As they left one by one after reflecting on their own sins, he asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (v. 10).
She said, “No one, sir.”
And Jesus responded, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11).
Jesus, who was without sin, could have condemned her.
Instead, he offered the path to redemption.
So should we.