One of the greatest tensions in God’s kingdom is that between grace and truth. Theologically, this should not be the case. God’s truth is both an expression of His grace, and a means of bringing people to that grace. Grace describes all good gifts, flowing from the throne of God. We can trust that everything we receive from heaven is good because God is truthful and true. God is truth.
Yet, when it comes to kingdom work, and the difficult task of leading people out of sin’s darkness, we feel the tension. The story line goes something like this: “How do we uphold the truth while showing grace to sinners?” Granted, we are all sinners. But there is a difference between admitting our battle with sin and choosing to live in it. In the New Testament, when Jesus met sinners, He showed grace but also called them into a new life.
It is this call to a different walk that can be lost in our effort to promote the kingdom. We focus on Jesus’ words to the accusers who stood ready to stone a sinful woman: “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone!” But we neglect His final words to the accused: “Go and sin no more.”
The Bible contrasts the kingdom of darkness with the new life we live in Christ. “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13-14) And again, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Rom. 13:12-14)
Can there be any doubt that Jesus calls us to leave our sin behind when we make our commitment to follow Him? Since we have received His grace, we want to live in His truth. To borrow from the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 6:1, why would we want to continue to sin just because we know we are covered with grace? To do so is akin to being careless with fire because we live next to a fire station, or taking unnecessary risks with power tools because our neighbor is a doctor. The grace of God isn’t an excuse to go on sinning. It is an opportunity to be made new, turn from sin, and discover why we were created.
This all makes sense until we find ourselves working with someone entrenched in sin, and we struggle to show them Jesus without pushing them away. In other words, we struggle to find the balance between speaking the truth and showing grace. While we remember these are not natural polar opposites in the Bible, they do seem to take this position when we apply them practically.
I wish to submit a thought in the midst of this tension that might not be popular, but as they say, “Here goes.” I propose one reason we experience tension between truth and grace is because we are lazy in sharing both. Before you leave me, allow me to explain. In matters of truth, we cannot ignore what God has said. It is easier to overlook truth when it meets with opposition, but we cannot simply push biblical teaching into the background because we don’t want to do the hard work of exposing sin. Granted, we must be sure our understanding of truth isn’t laced with personal preference. Yet, truth is truth, and whether we embrace it or resist it, we must deal with it.
But we cannot work hard at truth without working hard at grace. Would we really run as great a risk of pushing people away from Jesus’ truth if we loved them the way Jesus loved them? There is no doubt, if we work hard at telling the truth, but don’t love, people will presume we hate them. And if we work hard at love, but forget the truth, the people we care about will assume it doesn’t matter how they live, as long as they feel good about themselves.
Jesus ministry was intense in both grace and truth. That’s why his disciples rarely, if ever, experienced a dull moment. That’s why some sinners walked away from Jesus and legalists tried to kill Him.
I can’t tell you how to strike the balance between grace and truth in your work for the kingdom, but I do feel compelled to remind you the kingdom of God is very different from the kingdom of darkness. If we are going to help others see the difference we can’t be lazy; not with our minds or our hearts. If this sounds difficult, then I have succeeded in making my point. Jesus never said sharing His message with the world was going to be easy. But He did say it was urgent.