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.–John 1:14
Jesus–referred to here as “the Word”–came with glory reflecting his Father in heaven. Part of that reflection was in the grace and truth he expressed. Henry Cloud (previously referenced here) was the one who showed me how these work together, through his book Changes That Heal.
There is a productive, fruitful dynamic tension between grace and truth. Truth is the standard; grace is more relationship and freedom oriented. They are complementary, though, not contradictory.
Jesus lived out truth first by being true, by his utter integrity. He spoke truth in confrontation, he spoke truth in teaching, and he lived what he spoke. He lived out truth by setting the standard and living up to it. He is (as the verse quoted above hints) the Word, the expression of God, and a true representation of God’s character.
Truth in at least one sense is a hard, unyielding kind of thing. You can’t get it to change its mind, nor can you persuade it to be something other than what it is. Reality is what it is. Cloud clarifies* the importance of facing reality for what it is, including
The truth about ourselves: our strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures, opportunities, and limitations.
The truth about the world, that it is what it is and we can’t magically change it.
The truth about God, that he is Creator and King, and has a claim on us
To dwell on the obvious, truth is a good thing. It gives solidity to reality. But it can also produce pain when we collide with it–especially when the truth we slam into is the truth of our own inadequacies and failures.
Grace is relationship-oriented. It opens the door for forgiveness, for acceptance in spite of faults. It is what can soften the blows of reality and truth. Yet it cannot stand without truth; it would be like trying to erect a skyscraper out of jellyfish skeletons.
It would not be quite right to say Jesus balanced the two. Better to say he expressed them both fully. One great example is his extended encounter with the woman at the well in John 4. He pointed out her sins quite frankly. She must have been embarrassed. Actually, though, before that point she must have been somewhat confused at his willingness even to talk to her. There were cultural and racial barriers in that day that normally would have prevented such a conversation even from beginning. Thus Jesus demonstrated his orientation toward caring relationship, even while he was insisting on dealing with the realities of her life. By the end of their conversation she understood that he was the one who could free her from her sin, and could show her (and her people) how to worship God truly.
Grace and truth were both expressed on the cross: sin had to be paid for, and it was; but he took our payment upon himself.
I have two very quick applications to draw from this. First, we ought to express grace and truth in our relationships with each other. That means recognizing the truth about ourselves, and being open to what others have to tell us about it. It’s often easy to hide from our own realities. It also means helping others see what is true and deal with it squarely. At the same time, grace impels us to remember that we’re all in the same condition: we need help, we need love, we need forgiveness; sometimes we just need to be given a break!
Especially if I have a difficult issue to work through, I’m going to look for counsel from someone who lives out both grace and truth: truth so I can see the realities I’m dealing with, and grace to help me with the walk through them.
Second application: thank God for his truth! What kind of world would it be without some solidity to it? And thank him for his grace, too, for we who cannot meet God’s true and just standards on our own must rely on his grace in order to have any hope at all.
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