Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grace and Truth

"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. And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
1 John 1:14,16-17

We often hear the phrase "full of grace and truth," but rarely stop and realize its implications for our struggles here on earth. Often times, we as humans lean towards one or another as we relate to ourselves or people in our lives. I have had a few conversations with girls about this, trying to figure out its implications for our lives. I have been reading this great book by Dr. Henry Cloud called "Changes that Heal", and I am going to share a few thoughts..

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they had both grace and truth united in one God. When they sinned, they drove a wedge between themselves and God; they lost their grace-filled and truthful relationship with God. Without grace, Adam and Eve felt shame. God saw that Adam and Eve were in a lost state, so he decided to give them direction; he gave them truth in the form of law. The law is a blueprint, or a structure, for people to live by. If offers them guidance, and it sets limits for them. There was a problem, at that time, God gave them truth without grace. Adam and Eve soon realized that they could never measure up. No matter how hard they tried to perform, they would always come up short. Truth without grace is judgment.
Law brings wrath (Romans 4:15)
The law was added so that the trespass might increase (Romans 5:20)
We are held prisoners by the law (Galatians 3:23)
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:4)
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10)

When we look at what the Bible says about the law, about truth without grace, we see that the law silences us, brings anger, increases sin, arouses sinful passions, brings death, puts us under a curse, holds us prisoner, alienates us from Christ, and judges us harshly. The law without grace destroys us. No one ever grows when they are under the law, for the law puts us into a strictly legal relationship with God: 'I'll love you only if you do what is true or right.' Getting truth before grace, or truth before relationship, brings guilt, anxiety, anger, and a host of other painful emotions.

So what about grace without truth? In the same was that truth (without grace) can be called judgment, grace (without truth) can be named license. The bible writes..
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:13)
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey- whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness." (Romans 6:15-16)
For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do- living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, carousing, and detestable idolatry. (1 Peter 4:3)
He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored. (Proverbs 13:18)

Thankfully we have a God who is a God of both grace and truth. The passage in John 1 shows both how people fail and how they are redeemed. Failure comes through the law, and redemption through Jesus. It is only through him that we can realize two ingredients of growth: grace and truth. Grace and truth together reverse the effects of the fall, which were separation from God and others. Grace and truth together invite us out of isolation and into relationship. Grace, when it is combined with truth, invites the true self, the "me" as I really am, warts and all, into relationship. It is one thing to have safety in relationship; it is quite another to be truly known and accepted in relationship.
With grace alone, we are safe from condemnation, but we cannot experience true intimacy. When the one who offers grace also offers truth (truth about who we are, truth about who he or she is, and truth about the world around us), and we respond with our true self, then real intimacy is possible. Real intimacy always come in the company of truth.

A really great example of this is Jesus and the adulterous woman in John 8:3-11. If you don't know the story, you should take a quick look :). Short summary, the Pharisees catch this woman in the act of adultery and drag her out to Jesus in front of a group of people. They think that Jesus would tell them to stone her because that is what the law of Moses commands them to do to such woman. Jesus tells them "If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone." When they heard his answer, they began to slink away, one by one. Soon, Jesus was left alone with the woman and asked her, "Woman, where are they? has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she replied. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
In this one encounter, Jesus shows what it means to know grace and truth in him. He offered this woman grace in the form of forgiveness and acceptance. He said, in effect, that she did not have to die for her sin. She was accepted and did not have to be separated from him. He also showed the power of grace as an agent to end separation from her fellow human begins as well. The Pharisees were no different from her: she was a sinner, and they were sinners. Jesus even invited the Pharisees to commune with her as a member of the human race, an invitation they declined. Grace has the power to bring us together with God and with others, if others will accept it.
But Jesus did not stop with just acceptance. He accepted her with full realization of who she was: an adulteress. He accepted her true self, a woman with sinful desires and actions. He then gives her direction for the future: "Go now and leave your life of sin." These two ingredients together- acceptance and direction- serve to bring the real self into relationship, the only way that healing ever takes place.

So what does this look like in the church, in relationships? In the book, Dr. Cloud told a story about his friend who was a recovering alcoholic. He put it this way..

"When I was in church or with my Christian friends, they would just tell me that drinking was wrong and that I should repent. They didn't know how many times I had tried quitting, how many times I had tried to be a good Christian. When I got into Alcoholics Anonymous, I found that I could be honest about my failures, but more important, I could be honest about my helplessness. When I found out that God and others accepted me in both my drinking and my helplessness to control it, I began to have hope. I could come forth with who I really was and find help. As much as the church preached grace, I never really found acceptance there for my real state. They always expected me to change. In my AA group, not only did they not expect me to change, they told me that, by myself, I could not change! They told me that all I could do was confess who I truly was, an alcoholic, and that God could change me along with their daily support. Finally, I could be honest, and I could find friends. That was totally different, and it changed my life."

This guy found that when he could be himself in relationship with God and others, healing was possible. Problems occur when the real self, the one God created, is hiding from God and others. It also challenges me to pray that God would give me a balance of grace and truth in my life. Grace and truth as the Holy Spirit continues to make me more and more Christlike. Grace and truth as I relate to others and Christ uses me to impact people.

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