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3.4 | truth and grace
III | TRUTH
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” // John 1:17 ESV
I’ve heard it said that denying the truth doesn’t change the facts. When truth is absolute, it is unchangeable. All of us at some time will be confronted with absolute truth. Gravity is a fact. We may not fully understand how it works, but we factually know that gravity exists, and it acts on everything on earth. Denying the force of gravity does not change the existence of gravity. We don’t have to believe in gravity for it to apply to us. Gravity may not be my truth, but it will become my truth immediately if I jump off a building.
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In college, I took a theology class with a professor named Samuel Thorpe. At Oral Roberts University, some older adults would take college classes with us undergraduates. At one point, we were discussing what it meant to be a “godly” person according to scripture. An older woman in our class spoke with sincerity: “I believe the true measure of godliness is cleanliness. That’s what the Bible says.” Dr. Thorpe looked at her and said, “Can you tell me the reference?” She responded, “It is in Proverbs.” He said, “Look it up. We’ll wait.”
One minute goes by, then three, then five. Cringe-worthy silence. Finally, Dr. Thorpe says, “It’s not there, is it?” She responds, “I must not have the right version.” Dr. Thorpe advised her to stop looking because it wasn’t in any version of the Bible that he knew of. He then educated us that the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness” is from 17th-century Victorian moralists who believed that laziness represented a lack of respect for ourselves and God. Perhaps a good thought, but still not in the Bible.
Dr. Thorpe said, “If your beliefs don’t line up with the Bible, throw out your beliefs; don’t throw out the Bible.”
It made me think of times in my life that I had cherry-picked scripture to justify my stance or opinion, just as I had suggested my dad was doing in that critical conversation that started my journey to write this book. I can recall using the Bible as a crutch to show how right I was. We all do this. I love to throw out the Bible. I want God’s plan to fit into a narrative I think I’m in control of. Not only am I not in control of the narrative, but I’m not even the main character.
The story of humanity told through Scripture is the story of God and his plan for us. At best, we are supporting characters who get mentioned for a chapter or two and then we are written out of the storyline to make room for those who come after us. We are supporting characters who are meant to assist the main character in their quest.
That means I’m not Batman. I’m not even Robin. I’m like a random police officer that the heroes invited to come with them. If I’m a supporting character, I can’t create my own narrative. That’s often what we try to do with scripture: craft our own story and then try to make that the story God is telling.
The more we read Scripture, the more we will realize something. The rules of the Kingdom are foreign to what we know – or often want. God doesn’t agree with us and he’s never going to. His Kingdom is not of this world. If we want to have a Kingdom worldview, we have to agree with him, not get him to agree with us.
John 8 says that only the truth that Jesus gives us through Scripture will set us free. John also tells us that grace and truth both came through Jesus. Paul supports this in Ephesians 4:
“This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”
// Ephesians 4:13-16
Some people are amazing at truth. They mostly seek to “tell it how it is.” These are the same kind of people we might find on a street corner holding a sign reading “God hates ______ [insert sin here].” These people are skilled at admonishing people to “turn or burn.” In other words, turn away from your sin or burn in hell. The truth of Scripture by itself can scare a lot of people. Pursuing truth in this way leaves people feeling that God is hateful, homophobic, and bigoted, just like some of the Christians who believe in him.
There are people, in contrast, are highly skilled at grace. They will make us feel like everything is OK. Often, people who lean too hard into grace have found a way to justify cohabitation without marriage. Or they find a way to present a version of God who supports same-sex marriage, even though Scripture is clear on sex outside of marriage, same-sex relationships and other forms of sexual immorality. I had a friend who once said, “There’s nothing more fun than the grace of God.” And people primarily focused on grace will prove that statement. A misunderstanding of grace is what leads people who call themselves Christians to act, think abd believe the same as non-Christians.
Jesus and Scripture are not solely about truth. Truth is important. But so is grace. As we pursue truth, we must be reminded that the greatest gift Jesus has given us isn’t truth, it’s grace. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4 to speak the truth but to do so in love.
You may have heard of the term “sin.”This term makes us think of criminal acts, evil, debauchery and desecration. However, that’s not really what this word means. Sin comes from archery, and sin means “you missed what you’re aiming for.” I believe that most of us what to be good, moral and ethical. But we’ve also all had moments and times in our lives where we weren’t and aren’t despite our best efforts. Sins are more than mistakes. Sins are the mistakes we make on purpose. If we never acknowledge our sins to God and choose to live life God’s way, we will find ourselves in hell. Sin leads to eternal consequences. Despite the truth of hell, we also must know that God’s grace is a gift, and we can’t earn it. We should start the conversation with the gift of grace, not the hammer of truth.
We must also admit the tension between grace and truth. Paul calls this love.
We will be tempted to speak only the truth: seeing our life mission as casting down all lies and falsehoods.
We will be tempted to be too graceful: settling for feelings and opinions instead of standing on truth.
God wants us to walk in balance. Not all grace, not all truth. Grace + truth.
When we add grace and truth together, we are loving. Grace + truth = love.
Objective truth does not deny subjectivity. The existence of facts does not deny our feelings. When we value objective truth, we make our feelings of those facts secondary to the objective truth. Knowing the truth does not give us the right to invalidate, attack or ignore people, their feelings, or their subjective truths. We must absolutely be focused on the truth. But we should also be careful about how we assert the truth.
There are people who don’t yet know the truth. They believe that their feelings are facts. How can we help them? We looked at Ephesians 6 at the beginning of this book. Remember: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). Our fight is never with people—individuals, groups or otherwise. Our war is spiritual and ideological. If we follow Jesus, we’re supposed to help people think better in a loving and graceful way.
If our only goal is truth, we never get saved.
“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” // Ephesians 2:4-5
Being saved from the worst parts of ourselves comes only through grace. We must accept God’s gift of grace, but we also must be willing to give that same gift to others. Truth doesn’t save anyone. Only grace does.
If truth is medicine, grace is the spoonful of sugar that helps it go down. People will frequently reject truth, but they will rarely reject grace.
If our only goal is grace, we never get free.
‘“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”’ // John 8:32
When we accept the objective truth of Jesus and Scripture, we experience the freedom that God designed us for.
If we claim to want a Kingdom worldview, we have to buy into it all the way. No half measures.
Grace should lead us to truth. Even with a spoonful of sugar, medicine will still taste bad. Even if it tastes bad, we’ve still got to take it. The only thing that makes us better is the dose of truth that we need.
As I mentioned in the second chapter, the question “What is truth?” deserves its own chapter. Since we have addressed that omission, here is the chart comparing the two worldviews in full.
These differing definitions of truth are separated as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). A Kingdom worldview sees truth as absolute, bedrock and based in Scripture. A Critical Theory worldview sees subjective truth as the only truth that exists.
The more we discuss these worldviews, the more we will see how incompatible they are. We can’t take parts of the Kingdom and add them to Critical Theory, and we can’t take parts of Critical Theory and add them to the Kingdom.
Now we have come to a place where we see that the Kingdom worldview conflicts with Critical Theory and other worldviews. How can this conflict be navigated? How did Jesus respond to people that didn’t align with the Kingdom worldview?
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” // Matthew 9:36
The word compassion there means to suffer with someone else. With or without Critical Theory, the world is a hard place to live. There are almost infinite worldviews, theories and ideologies people have created as a way of trying to understand the world and make it better. Humans are flawed, and so are the worldviews we create. Those of us in the Kingdom are duty-bound to speak the truth. But we are also similarly required to do so with love and compassion. We are to connect with a person before we correct them.
Most of us going through difficulty already know the truth. While we have the truth, we often don’t have people around us who care for us. That’s how Jesus responds to people in the midst of their difficulty, and that’s how we as Kingdom citizens must respond too. The truth is of vital importance, but let us not forget that grace is too.
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