The more I study how to defend the Christian faith, the more i’m confronted with the relationship between grace and truth. As a follower of Jesus, it makes sense that I’d come upon this relationship more and more as I continue to follow his example. John 1:14 says: “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This “word” (Logos) in the context of John chapter 1 is of course referring to Jesus Christ. If I follow Christ and seek to have all my thoughts taken captive to obey him as my mind is being transformed by renewal into his likeness, then I had better be full of grace and truth as well.
Most Christians will understand the call to be filled with grace and truth but here’s a quick syllogism to drive the point home.
Followers of Jesus seek to be like Jesus
Jesus is full of grace and truth
therefore: followers of Jesus seek to be full of grace and truth.
Ok? Ok. Simple enough. We know the job description but do we know how to carry out the job? We may be familiar with the “know that” of our call but perhaps we aren’t familiar with the “know how” of being filled with grace and truth. I think we have trouble with the “know how” because of a fundamental misunderstanding in the relationship between grace and truth.
I was recently in Orlando for the Cru new staff training and I was able to leave there with a ton of wisdom gems that I mined from the various speakers. One of the Cru speakers said something that sparked up a paradigm shift for me. He said something along the lines of “grace and truth are not on a spectrum, they’re on two different planes.” Do you get it? No? Well let’s flesh this out.
A common cliché among Christians is the idea of grace and truth being on a spectrum. Whether you’re aware of it or not, when you say things like, “you’re heavy on truth but you need more grace” you’re thinking along the lines of a Truth/Grace spectrum like this:
Grace is on one side of the spectrum and truth is on the other, and the goal is to be somewhere in the middle right? If you’re kind of a hard, stern person then your probably more concerned with truth and you may need to move on down the line, adding more grace with your truth and over time you’ll get closer to the middle. If you’re soft and squishy on the left side of the spectrum you’re probably more concerned with grace and caring for people but you shy away from speaking hard truth to people when they need it. Well, simple fix, you just scooch on over towards the middle, adding truth as you mature.
This idea of the relationship between grace and truth is a hard one to balance, at least it was for me. I would do all sorts of grace/truth chemistry in my head trying to figure out the proper solution, too much truth and the message is acidic, but not enough truth and it’s basic which can be just as harmful. There were times where I was so concerned about getting the right ratio that I just didn’t say anything at all.
Now you can see why the Cru speaker’s words were so helpful for me. My old paradigm, the grace/truth spectrum can now be replaced with what I believe is a more accurate one: the Grace/Truth Venn Diagram.
I think this diagram is more helpful. We can see the grace sphere and the truth sphere. They are not on a gradient but rather they are two separate planes.
When they intersect like this you can have grace without truth, truth without grace, and grace and truth.
Jesus is filled with grace and truth, so lets black out the areas of truth without grace and the areas of grace without truth.
What we have left is not a grace/truth spectrum or gradient but grace and truth are perfectly diffused in this middle area. Anywhere you take a cross section in this area you will find grace and truth together in the same ratio. This is a more accurate depiction of Christ being full of grace and truth.
With this new visual in mind we can look at Christ’s actions in the gospels with a more clear understanding. He wasn’t lacking in grace when he made an impromptu whip to chase the money changers out of the temple. He wasn’t lacking truth when he decided to eat with a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, a wee little man, and a wee little man was he! In all of his actions, words, and thoughts, Jesus is filled with grace and truth.
As followers of Christ, we are to be filled with grace and truth as Christ was in his time on earth and as he is now while seated on the throne in heaven. We are to speak truth in a gracious way. That means we don’t discount, curtail, or diminish the truth that we are called to speak. We are indeed called to contend for the faith delivered to the saints (Jude 3), to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5a) and to honor Christ as we are always prepared to give a defense to those who ask for a reason for our faith (1 Peter 3:15). And at the same time we are to let our speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how we are ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:6). And we are to give our defense with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
Christ Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith, he is the goal and the prize. We look to him for guidance and wisdom, he is our example. He didn’t oscillate back and forth on a grace/truth spectrum, he was filled with grace and he was filled with truth. His speech, his thoughts, and his heart was saturated with grace and truth. We, as his followers, are to follow his example by speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4:15).