"P" is for Perspective - Part 4

By: Craig Mercer

September 3rd, 2021


The words grace and truth carry tremendous realities. However, they are often flattened and reduced to nice-sounding truisms. Our familiarity with the terms can potentially cause us to miss out on the robust, life-giving, and perspective-altering realities they were intended to convey. What we value shapes our priorities, and our priorities (1) influence our practice.


For example, it is important to note that grace often makes us uncomfortable when the truth is our primary value. Conversely, truth makes us uncomfortable when grace is our primary value. If we're not careful, we can find ourselves in either of these ditches. Our call is not to divorce nor elevate either, but to embrace both as equally resplendent and vital for lasting change and understanding how to see and engage God and others. Let us begin by exploring what grace and truth are and then how these characteristics of God should shape our perspective and practice. (2)


What we value shapes our priorities, and our priorities influence our practice.

The Greek word for grace is charis (with a hard "ch," like Karis). At its core is the idea of unmerited favor or gift. However, in the ancient context where Jesus shows up, it was used to describe the practice of giving a gift to someone a person deemed worthy.(3) Jesus transforms that transactional understanding and turns it on its head by seeking out the social outcasts, marginalized, and the sick.(4,5) "God's grace means God's goodness toward those who deserve only punishment."(6,7) We see this extravagant benevolence pulsating throughout all of Scripture.(8)


This is captured beautifully in Deuteronomy; "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord, your God, has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you…." (9)


God's grace is unfettered, unmerited, and relentless towards us in our fallen state.(10) Words tend to fall short of capturing the radical nature of His grace!


God's grace is unfettered, unmerited, and relentless towards us in our fallen state.

"Grace is more than just leniency and unconditional acceptance. Divine grace is God's relentless and loving pursuit of His enemies, who are unthankful, unworthy, and unlovable. Grace is not just God's ability to save sinners, but God's stubborn delight in His enemies—yes, even the creepy ones. Grace means that despite our filth, despite the sewage running through our veins, despite our odd addiction to food, drink, sex, porn, pride, self, money, comfort, and success, God desires to transform us into real ingredients of divine happiness."(11)


Grace infuses hope into the dire and challenging circumstances we often face, and to consider that this is God's natural disposition towards us is astounding and life-giving.


So what about truth? Is it that important? It is critical to acknowledge we all

live according to an idea of truth, either real or perceived. Everyone is living out of

their concept of truth or absence of it (we all have a theology). God has declared

himself the source of truth, "I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say

to the offspring of Jacob, 'Seek me in vain.' I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what

is right. Grudem captures this well, "God's truthfulness means that he is the true God,

and all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth."(13)


It is critical to acknowledge we all live according to an idea of truth, either real or perceived.

What we need to consider are the implications and effects of rejecting absolute truth versus embracing it. Take the law of gravity, for example, which is the force that attracts a body toward the center of the earth or toward any other physical body having mass.


Let's say you decide to reject the traditional idea of it and convince yourself it doesn't matter. This will not change the reality of gravity's existence, which you will painfully experience if you step off a high-rise building! If you decide to redefine gravity, that also will not change the reality of gravity, and you again will have a painful collision with it once you step off the building! The only healthy way is to accept what has been established and seek to learn how to wisely submit to the law of gravity. This will enable you to jump safely off the building because you now have a parachute! The implications are much more severe when it comes to eternal matters!


It is important to note that as a result of common grace (14,15) we have the opportunity to learn from all that is around us even if it does not does not directly come out of Scripture. As Calvin observes; "All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it, for it has come from God." (16)



It is important to note that as a result of common grace we have the opportunity to learn from all that is around us even if it does not does not directly come out of Scripture.

So when we fuse these two realities together we see the beautiful picture of a God of gracious 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.”(17) The most accurate, full, authoritative, revelation of grace and truth is a person, not a dictionary definition! God is not calling us to submit to an abstract concept of truth but the person of absolute truth. It is important to remember truth alone as a concept does not change you, but truth as a person can transform you!


God confronts us with Jesus, not a lightning bolt. Therefore, the gospel guarantees you are never going to encounter God's truth without His grace, or His grace without the truth.


“Attempts to 'soften' the gospel by minimizing truth keep people from Jesus. Attempts to 'toughen' the gospel by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus. It’s not enough for us to offer grace or truth. We must offer both.”(18)


God confronts us with Jesus, not a lightning bolt.

So, how should engaging the God of “gracious truth” shape our lives and those we sojourn with? It recalibrates our relationships.


We all have a natural disposition to lean in one direction over the other, thus skewing the image of God. (We must beware of this tendency, and invite God's help.) If you are truth-oriented, you will run the risk of being dogmatically black and white and will tend to slip into moralism and often be quick to judgement and harsh in the delivery of your perspective. “Truth-oriented Christians love studying Scripture and theology. But sometimes they’re quick to judge and slow to forgive. They’re strong on truth, weak on grace.”(19)


If you are a grace-oriented person you will run the risk of being averse to taking a strong stand on issues and will often run the risk of enabling others because you tend to be reluctant to be direct and firm. “Grace-oriented Christians love forgiveness and freedom. But sometimes they neglect Bible study and see moral standards as 'legalism.' They’re strong on grace, weak on truth.” (20)


Our friends and counselees need the whole counsel and presence of God, not just the part we find easiest to incarnate and bring attention to. We misrepresent God when we do not carry this out. When you bring truth without grace or grace without truth you are not being an ambassador for the king.(21)


God is fully both, at all times. In His most truthful moment, He is fully gracious. When He is most gracious, He is fully truthful. Truth was never intended to be expressed or experienced outside of the walls of grace. Grace regulates how we express and administer the truth! “Truth without grace breeds a self-righteous legalism that poisons the church and pushes the world away from Christ.”(22) A Rule of Thumb for growing in Grace and Truth is captured well by worship leader Bob Kauflin, “Do what God clearly commands; don't do what God clearly forbids; use scriptural wisdom for everything else.”(23)


In His most truthful moment, [God] is fully gracious.

God invites us on an incredible journey to know Him and make Him known. Having our perspective regularly examined and recalibrated is vital for growth. I want to leave you with the words of C.S. Lewis,


"…The great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him."(24)


Thanks be to the God of Gracious Truth!



References:

  1. 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

  2. “…it’s the difference between studying and communicating the theology of grace and sitting down (and still) and having face-to-face, transforming communion with the God of all grace—making unhurried eye contact with him. It’s the difference between knowing propositions and being known by a Person—between theological vocabulary and the vocation of knowing Jesus.” Smith, Scotty. The Reign of Grace: The Delignts and Demands of God's Love (p. 7). Howard Books. Kindle Edition.

  3. When we say "gift," the ancients would have said "charis." It means the same thing. Rich people in the ancient world often gave charises, or gifts, to other people. They would donate charises to their hometown: a fountain in the city square, a statue of Zeus next to the courthouse. They would give a charis to someone in need of food or shelter. The wealthy were eager to give gifts to people. Why? Because the ability to give a charis showed (or showed off) that they had the means to give. Sprinkle, Preston M.. Scandalous Grace: A Book for Tired Christians Seeking Rest (p. 21). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.

  4. Luke 19:19 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

  5. Matthew 9:10-13And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

  6. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020), 239.

  7. Grace as God’s goodness especially shown to those who do not deserve it is seen frequently in Paul’s writings. He emphasizes that salvation by grace is the opposite of salvation by human effort, for grace is a freely given gift. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23–24). Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020), 239.

  8. Exodus 34:6–7 "The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."

  9. Deuteronomy 7:6–8

  10. Romans 5:15-1715 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

  11. Sprinkle, Preston M.. Scandalous Grace: A Book for Tired Christians Seeking Rest (p. 20). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.

  12. Isaiah 45:19

  13. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020), 233.

  14. A term used to describe the goodness of God to a sin-cursed world, not including salvation. John Murray defined common grace as “every favour of whatsoever kind and degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God” (Collected Writings, 2:96).

  15. Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

  16. John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 300–301.

  17. John 14:6

  18. Alcorn, Randy. The Grace and Truth Paradox (LifeChange Books) (p. 17). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

  19. Alcorn, Randy. The Grace and Truth Paradox (LifeChange Books) (p. 16). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

  20. Alcorn, Randy. The Grace and Truth Paradox (LifeChange Books) (p. 16). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

  21. Isaiah 61:1–3"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn"

  22. Alcorn, Randy. The Grace and Truth Paradox (LifeChange Books) (p. 17). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

  23. Bob Kauflin, https://thinktheology.org/2013/10/02/3-guiding-principles-for-planning-your-worship-liturgy/

  24. Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 133). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.



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