Grace and Truth: A Critical Balance
In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the apostle pointed out a contrast between the Law of Moses and what is provided for us through Jesus Christ: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). This verse alludes to a topic of importance to believers—the relationship between grace and truth.
Differentiating between grace and truth
To understand the difference between grace and truth, it may be helpful to consider the difference between two types of instruction. I have worked in commercial, military, and civilian aviation for a number of years, and have flown with many instructors. In my opinion, there are two types of teachers. There are evaluators, who simply point out what went wrong. Then there are the great teachers. They not only point out what went wrong, but also explain what to do differently and provide the tools necessary so those being instructed can reach the desired goal.
Let me offer a couple of illustrations based on personal experience.
It was a dreary day. Snow was falling, and ice was building up on the airplanes. We had gone through the de-icing process, were cleared for take-off, and I began taxiing down the runway. However, as I brought the throttle up and took off, ice had started to build up on the wings again. It takes some extra finesse to fly a plane properly in those conditions, and though I did my best to handle the challenge, I crashed.
The good news is that this experience occurred in a flight simulator. I was new to that particular airplane and was learning how to fly it. The instructor behind me growled, “We’ll try that one again!” We did. He reset the program and again I taxied down the runway. This time I did a little better, but in a matter of minutes, I crashed once more. For a pilot, it is very humiliating to crash twice in a matter of minutes, even in a flight simulator! What made it even worse was that this instructor proceeded to berate me, saying that it is a bad thing to crash an airplane. Now I may be slow, but I did realize that was the case! The instructor did not offer any techniques to remedy my errors. He just said, “You did it wrong.” He was an evaluator.
A few weeks later, I flew with an instructor who had a completely opposite approach. As we practiced some complex techniques for handling emergency situations, he would quietly say, “Touch this,” or, “Turn that,” as we went through the maneuvers. In correcting our errors, he also gave us the help we needed to succeed. That instructor had the heart of a great teacher.
As the Great Teacher, Jesus not only gives us the truth, but through grace He also helps us to align to it.
The style of teaching which simply points out error could be compared to the Law of Moses. The style of teaching which also provides what is needed to reach the desired goal could be compared to the grace brought to mankind by Jesus Christ. As the Great Teacher, Jesus not only gives us the truth, but through grace He also helps us to align to it. He wants to bring us safely to the desired goal of Heaven!
Grace and truth in the life of Christ
When Jesus was on earth, He had much to say about “truth.” He quoted from twenty-four of the thirty-nine Old Testament books, reaffirming the principles of the Law and the precepts that were laid out there. He gave forty-six parables—incredible illustrations that teach what it means to serve the Lord. He taught challenging concepts like, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Matthew 5:44). Yet as powerful as His words were, Jesus was far more than just a great instructor of truth. He embodied the truth!
The Bible also records over thirty miracles that Jesus performed while He was here on earth. He was compassionate and kind, ministering to the diseased, the infirm, and the sorrowful. However, Jesus brought mankind far more than a remedy for physical ailments. Through grace, He brought the remedy for sin! He knew humanity needed a Savior, so He went to the Cross and gave His life for us. Then He rose again and ascended to His Father, where He sits today at the right hand of God, interceding for us. This was the ultimate display of God’s unmerited favor. Jesus did much more than just offer grace. He embodied grace!
Truly, “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” And grace and truth are intrinsically connected. Try for a moment to imagine truth without grace. Jesus taught the truth—what we must do to meet God’s standard—but if there were no grace to go with that truth, where would we be? We could never meet the standard of truth without grace.
Let us look next at what truth and grace do for us, first considering the roles of truth.
The role of truth
Isaiah 30:21 teaches that truth is our guide. We read, “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” Several years ago when we lived in Washington, I needed to go from Chehalis to Seattle for a business appointment. I did not have a smart phone at the time, so I looked up the address on Google Maps, copied down the directions, and set out. About an hour and a half later, when I should have arrived at my intended destination, I was in an area that obviously was not where I was supposed to be. My directions were faulty! The truth, however, will never lead us into error. It is our guide. It sets the standard; it tells us the right way to live.
The truth not only sets the standard for how we must live to be successful as Christians, but the truth will mature us if we allow it to.
The truth not only sets the standard for how we must live to be successful as Christians, but the truth will mature us if we allow it to. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, exhorting them to “be no more children,” but rather that “speaking the truth in love, [they] may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” None of us can plumb the heights and depths of truth. A verse that we have seen for years can, in a quiet time of devotion, be illuminated in a fresh way. We see something new, and it helps us grow spiritually. It is the living Word of God which is truth.
The role of grace
Now let us consider the role of grace. In Romans 5:20-21 we read, “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” While truth sets the standard by which we can receive eternal life, grace provides what we need to meet that standard. While truth establishes that we need forgiveness, grace provides the means to obtain it. In Ephesians1:7 we read, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” What would we do without forgiveness? No matter what we have done or how terrible the misdeeds of our pasts, the favor of God extends forgiveness and redemption, when we come to Him in repentance.
Grace not only saves us but it keeps us! In Romans 5:1-2 we read, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” We “stand” steadfast by God’s grace.
Grace enables us to endure trials. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul refers to his thorn in the flesh, relating, “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Although this affliction was a distress to Paul and possibly a hindrance to his ministry, he responded, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Grace is abundant, and it makes us able to meet every challenge.
Grace sustains us when we cannot understand what God is doing in a particular situation or what He is working out in our lives.
Grace sustains us when we cannot understand what God is doing in a particular situation or what He is working out in our lives. In those times, grace holds us up and helps us. For example, consider the loss of a loved one. We know intellectually that death comes to all. We understand the cycle of life—that we are born, we live, and we pass on. However, when we lose someone we love, even if that person was saved, there often is an emotional component that we do not completely understand. Why now? Why so young? Why this way? How will we keep going? Those questions may come, but grace is there to sustain us. Grace is there for whatever trial we may be going through.
Grace is not a “hit or miss” bestowment—sometimes we get what we need and sometimes we do not.
In John 1:16 we read, “And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.” Several weeks ago as I looked at this verse, that last phrase stood out to me. What does “grace for grace” mean? The Apostle was referring to Jesus when he said, “Of his fullness have all we received,” so “grace for grace” seems to indicate that the grace of God is continually available to us through Jesus. Isn’t that an exciting thought? Grace is not a “hit or miss” bestowment—sometimes we get what we need and sometimes we do not. No, we can access God’s grace at any time and be assured that He will give exactly the grace we need at the time that we need it. We do not receive grace ahead of time for a situation we have not yet faced. Like the Children of Israel who could only collect the manna they needed for that day, we need to obtain grace every day. We need communion with God continually.
Both grace and truth are needed
We have considered the fact that we could never meet God’s standard of truth without the grace He offers. Now, try to imagine grace without truth. We would be lost and aimless, would we not? There would be nothing to guide us in how to live right.
Several years ago, one of our sons was in kindergarten. My wife and I met his teacher, and found her to be friendly, warm, and engaging. She seemed perfect for kindergarteners. However, as the year went on, we observed that the classroom frequently seemed to be chaotic when we arrived to pick up our son before dismissal time. We began to realize that our son was not learning quite as much as he should have. Then it dawned on us. This very nice lady was just that: nice! The ability to control the children—to enforce some standards of behavior in the classroom—was lacking. That is what would happen if we just had grace without truth. We need both! Grace and truth work together.
Truth is the standard that guides grace, and grace gives us power to live according to the truth.
As we have seen, there are countless and extensive benefits that come through grace and truth when we consider each independently. When we put them together, there is even a greater benefit to us. Grace and truth really are the core of the Gospel. Combined, they are the good news of the Gospel. Truth is the standard that guides grace, and grace gives us power to live according to the truth.
Jesus himself gives an example of how grace and truth work together in a situation recorded in chapter 8 of the Gospel of John. Verse 3 relates: “And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned; but what sayest thou?” There is the truth. There is the standard established by the Law. The woman was taken in an act of sin, and was to be stoned. Where is grace in this scene? Look at verse 7: “So when they continued asking him, he [Jesus] lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Jesus could have responded as the Law dictated but instead, He extended grace!
The narrative continues, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” Jesus held up the truth, but He also extended grace. It is an amazing study of how He put those two together. The woman taken in adultery was forgiven that day; Jesus sent her away with the words, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
Grace and truth for the ages to come
Ephesians 2:4 not only summarizes how grace and truth operate in this present time, but also give a glimpse of the future. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
We understand some of what grace and truth mean for us today, but what will they mean out there in eternity? Can you imagine what conversations might go on in Heaven as we talk about the exceeding riches of grace and truth? Oh, what a beautiful Gospel we have! Let us take advantage of it by staying in steady communion with God, staying connected daily to the abundant blessings He offers. There are very practical reasons to do so, and as we do, God will give us victory.