I have been learning that once you have spent any amount of time around people you will discover two realities about relating with them.
The first reality is that a lot of harm is done in the name of “truth.” Some people use truth like a hammer. More than a few people in life seem to enjoy measuring others by their own standard of truth. Have you ever had someone start a conversation with you saying, “I need to tell you something in Christian love?” They think they are giving you the truth in love, but what usually follows is neither Christian nor loving. Even Mary Poppins had a tape measure she used on people to see how they measured up! All of us have been beaten over the head with someone’s “truth.” Experiences like this have left many people cool to the idea that there is truth we all need to adhere to. For many people telling someone the truth and being judgmental might as well be synonyms.
The second reality is that grace is very easily abused. This fact has led people to pen such proverbs as, “If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.” You forgive your son or daughter for coming home late, and the next night they come home later! You put in the extra hours at work to get a project done, and when it’s finished your boss questions your commitment when you want your hours to go back to what they were before. Experiences like these have left many people, even many Christians, wondering whether being gracious is worth it. It sometimes seems that being forgiving and gracious cause more headaches than they solve.
In our book Forgiveness is Tremendous, Charlie Jones and I wrote,
There is a difference between compassionate righteousness (grace and truth) and judgmental righteousness. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ“ (John 1:17, NIV). How important is the order of those words? Notice it is grace then truth-truth surrounded by grace. Truth without grace leads to hopelessness. Truth with grace frees us to embrace and love the Truth, Jesus Christ.
That may sound nice on paper, but is it possible to live in real life? Does God expect us to live our lives in the truth, working at being righteous and holy, while at the same time being gracious and forgiving?
Many Christians struggle with why God would expect us to follow the Law if we are free from its consequences because of His grace. Why should we work to excel at living out the Ten Commandments if we are forgiven?
Another line of questioning I often hear is, “Is it our place to hold people accountable for their theology? Thoughts and attitudes? Words? Relationships? Isn’t that God’s business? What right do we have as sinners to hold other sinners accountable to truth and righteousness?”
Of course for every person asking those questions there is another exclaiming how can’t we hold people accountable! If we don’t, aren’t we ignoring sin? Isn’t it true that we not loving people as best as we could by tolerating behavior that we know is bad for them? Are we loving God less by not standing up for the truth and righteousness?
Understanding how truth and grace fit together is something that all of us is something all of us wrestle with. And if we are going to grow in our faith into maturity in Christ this is a lesson we need to be committed to learning.
The Word 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 (John 1:14, NIV).