John 1:14-17 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
John paints a picture for us here that describes Jesus as being FULL of grace AND truth. You see it in verse 15. You see it repeated in verse 17. The word “full” or “fullness” is found here in three places. If you and I want to live like Jesus did, if we want to replicate His character qualities, we need to desire to be FULL of grace AND truth.
We probably all lean towards one more than the other. Some of us place a high priority on the truth. We see things in black and white. Choices are clear, and consequences are even easier to see. Some of us place a great value on grace. We want people to be OK. We want them to feel safe around us. We don’t want them to feel shame or condemnation. Some of us may feel the tension of trying to balance the two, making truth and grace situational. In some instances, we gravitate towards truth because that is what WE THINK the situation calls for. In other instances, we bend toward grace because of compassion or sympathy for someone.
Jesus was always equally full of truth and grace. He didn’t exercise one more than the other because life’s situations call equally for both. Jesus showed us that truth cannot be dispensed without grace and grace cannot be offered apart from truth. Truth and grace are not in competition with each other. There is no such thing as graceless truth or truthless grace. Both are necessary and neither is sufficient on its own. Both are necessary for our transformation.
We tend see grace and truth as tensions to manage, as things to balance. Picture a tightrope walker, holding a balancing bar with grace on one side and truth on the other. With every step, in order to stay on the tightrope and not fall, the aerialist adjusts the bar to the left or to the right depending on which step he or she is taking. Sometimes the bar tips to the grace side, and at other times the person is steadied by lowering the truth side. This is a flawed picture of moving in grace and truth as one must never be lowered to raise or emphasize another. Once you lower truth, you compromise grace. Once you devalue grace you diminish truth.
A better picture would be an equestrian who rides a horse with both feet firmly planted in the stirrups. There is a centering, a grounding of that person who rides securely and without compromise or concern that he will be thrown off balance. To be like Jesus is to live full of grace while also living full of truth.
I suppose we gravitate toward the stories of Jesus that align with our particular bent, with our particular preferences. We may focus on the fact that Jesus was 100% grace. We may want to highlight how He welcomed sinners, how He sought out tax collectors and prostitutes and spent time with them. We may love the verses that tell us about the compassion He had on the crowds and how He fed them when they were hungry. We might like the picture of Jesus welcoming the children. It warms our hearts to think of Him reaching for the lepers, healing the blind and the lame. We have great hope when we think about how Jesus welcomed all and loved all, how His grace didn’t discriminate.
Others of us, however, may be drawn to the stories of when Jesus set people straight, when He righted wrongs, when He took care of business by calling people out, when He demanded justice. We admire His tenacity with the religious leaders of the day who were hypocrites and self-righteous. He obeyed the law and set high standards for His followers. He didn’t pull any punches with the disciples. He didn’t sugar coat that Sermon on the Mount. What He had to say was often hard to hear, but it didn’t keep Him from saying it. Some of us are drawn to that kind of Jesus.
But John says, Jesus came from the Father full of grace AND full of truth. He was all grace. He was all truth. He was both all of the time. We need to seek to live with the same commitment to grace and truth that Jesus did. If we are quick to judge but are slow to forgive, we aren’t full of grace. If we water down God’s Word so that people don’t get offended by it and don’t have to feel bad about their sin, we aren’t full of truth.
Probably the clearest example of Jesus demonstrating grace and truth in fullness and without compromise of either is when He stood up for and then stood His ground with the Woman who was caught in adultery. John tells the story in his gospel in chapter 8:
8 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The Jewish Law said she should die. She was guilty as charged. When asked by the religious leaders if she should be put to death, Jesus didn’t even answer that question. I like that about Jesus. He didn’t let the religious leaders set the agenda for the conversation. HE decided what they were going to talk about. He decided what they would reflect on, and it wouldn’t be the sin of the woman. It would be their own sin.
Let me just stop and say that sometimes we need to evaluate what we will respond to and not let ourselves be drawn into the traps that are set for us every day by the enemy. Verse 6 says they were using the question as a trap for Jesus. They weren’t after the woman in this story. They didn’t care about her. Their concern wasn’t even for the law or that it had been violated. They were after Jesus, but Jesus wasn’t about to let this woman become a casualty of their disdain for Him. Listen, like Jesus, we don’t need to take the bait in these situations, but we need to seek to respond to what is truly called for in the situation. Truth calls us to deal with things as they are and not as someone is trying to make them to be. This situation called for Jesus to address the religious leaders. In this scenario, they were the ones in the wrong. In the adultery situation, the woman was definitely in the wrong, but in the accusation scenario, where the religious leaders were exploiting the woman’s sin to try to trap Jesus, they were in the wrong. And so, being full of truth, Jesus exposed the truth.
He gave them permission to stone her and invited the ones who were perfect, who were without sin themselves, to pick up the first stones. In that moment, they had to look inward at themselves. By walking away, they were admitting that they were in the wrong. If anyone had the right to stone anyone, it was Jesus. He was without sin. He did have the right to judge the woman’s heart as well as the hearts of the religious leaders. He had the right to bring judgment against both the religious leaders and the woman.
He first showed grace and truth when He didn’t discipline the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and evil intent, and He helped them see the truth about themselves. Jesus’ demonstration of grace and truth gave those religious leaders an opportunity to examine themselves, to change their approach, and to see who Jesus really was. Jesus hadn’t come to be heavy handed. He had come with an open hand, extended to anyone who would follow Him. He exposed them and allowed the truth to condemn their actions. They weren’t in a position to legislate judgment on the woman. They, too, stood condemned before Jesus.
Jesus then addressed the woman. Jesus, the One who had the authority to condemn her extended grace. He said He wouldn’t put her to death. He wouldn’t hold her to the standard of the law that day. And then, He leveled her with truth. He called her behavior what it was. He called it sin, and He said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Her sin was forgiven, but not excused. Wrong is wrong. Jesus didn’t wink at her sin. He didn’t tell her that the way she was living was OK. When He said, “Go now and leave your life of sin,” He was saying, “Repent.” He was telling her to turn around and live in the other direction from a lifestyle of sin. Grace and truth.
The truth is that sinners who continue to sin without repenting of it, will be condemned. Only those who repent and go in the opposite direction with Jesus will be covered by God’s grace. I’m not talking about a perfect track record or perfect behavior, but I am talking about a repentant heart, a sorrow over sin, that leads us to surrender to God’s ways as grace covers us in the process. Jesus spoke the truth about her sin while giving her the grace to live differently.
Living out the fullness of grace and truth in today’s culture is so tough because we live in a time where we are told it is wrong to say that something is wrong. Jesus never shied away from telling the truth, from calling out sin, but He always did it by revealing the way that sin could be covered and in a way that the person could recover and go on to live differently. I know it is tough to stand against the tide of culture, but we must not refuse to condemn what God condemns. If we refuse to align ourselves with biblical truth, with the standards God has set, we have failed to love as God does. God loves us so much that He doesn’t want us to live broken and compromised. He wants us to understand that we don’t have to live as slaves to sin. He loves us so much that He points us to a better way. It isn’t gracious or loving to allow people to perpetuate sinful practices. Christians who do that have simply chosen to lay down their responsibility to proclaim the truth. As we hold onto truth, and preach truth, and share truth, we must remember that grace has to be just as prominent. If we don’t share the truth AND point people to the possibility of a different life, a new way, a better way, a fresh start, we haven’t been faithful to share truth with grace. They must never be divorced from each other. Here is why I believe both grace and truth are equally important: Grace and truth both have the power to transform us.
When we are guilty of something, but we truly receive grace that covers our guilt, we are humbled and challenged to live not with a sense of entitlement and freedom to do as we wish and to keep on sinning, but to live with a grateful heart and the challenge to live to please the One who has covered our sin by His grace. When you understand that grace has come to you only because Someone else took your place and took the penalty you deserve, when you embrace that your sin cost Jesus His life, and that He gave it freely for you, His grace awakens the recognition that in return you owe Jesus everything.
Before I was saved, it wasn’t the law of God that challenged me. It was His grace. I was saved at a young age, so I hadn’t had time to do a whole lot of what you might call “worldly sinning,” but I knew I was prone to be selfish. I was prone to want to control the world around me and to disobey my parents when I thought I could get away with it. I knew there was a standard for right living, and I knew I didn’t measure up. On my own, that was just going to be the way it was. What else could I do but try my best and fail and beat myself up and get into trouble and then make up my mind to try my best again until I failed the next day?
But when I understood that God loved me regardless of how good or bad I was, and when I learned that He took my punishment and offered me the righteousness of Christ even though I didn’t deserve it, and when I realized that He promised to take me by the heart and by the hand and lead me through life and when it was known to me that by His grace I could live a life that was pleasing to Him and that Heaven could one day be my home, I was challenged to take that course. I was drawn to it. He was what I wanted. His life was what I wanted. I didn’t want to be on my own, left to my own wisdom, my own striving and have to figure out how to limp along in my failure and how to deal with the shame and guilt that came with knowing I haven’t gotten it right. Grace told me I could have a different life, and I wanted it.
Here’s the thing: The world isn’t looking to God for a standard for life right now. They have set the standards for themselves. They have put themselves in charge of right and wrong. So, I’m not sure that the standard of God’s holiness will challenge them to change. I mean, who are we or who is God, that they should have to change their lives to please Him? This is how the world thinks. But while the world is busy making up their own definitions of morality they are also living with a sense of aimlessness, without purpose and without fulfillment or satisfaction. The world is angry, and they don’t know how to fix that. They are living with the consequences that come from failing, from being spiritually weak, as they try to navigate life apart from God. Deep down, they know things aren’t right.
Could we talk about the grace that we have received from God? Could we testify to the way our lives have been set on a different path by the grace of God? Could we share that God loves people so much that His agenda isn’t condemnation but salvation? Listen, church, first and foremost, what the world needs is the truth about salvation. The most grace-giving thing we could do for a person is to tell them about what Jesus has done for them. Before we talk about sexual sin, before we discuss lying and manipulation, before we address gossip and cursing, how about we point them to the grace of God that brings salvation to all people. (Titus 2:11)
I’m not suggesting we hoodwink people into getting saved and then give them the news later that God has a standard for their lives. I’m just saying that until you experience God’s grace through salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9) it is difficult to see how a new life is possible. Salvation by grace brings new life. Salvation by grace initiates the power of the Holy Spirit on the inside of a person. Salvation by grace brings understanding of the Word of God. Salvation initiates a process of transformation as grace helps us picture the possibilities of life with Christ.
When Paul wrote these words in Titus about salvation for all people, he wasn’t suggesting an accommodation of sin as a lifestyle. He was helping us understand that grace initiates salvation. When people are rescued from sin, they can then be transformed to become people who say “no” to sin. Look at what he goes on to say in verse 12 and following: “It teaches us to say “No” (the grace teaches us to say “No”) to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purity for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.” God’s grace elevates His truth. Grace helps us embrace truth, and as we embrace God’s truth, we are transformed by it.
When grace is truly experienced, it is such a burden lifted, such a relief, such an oppression eradicated from our lives that we want to walk in the direction that grace and truth leads us. Grace gives us the capacity to take in God’s truth.
The TRUTH of the Gospel is not that we are simply forgiven of our sin, but that we are saved from it. Grace becomes power to say “No” to things that God says aren’t good for us. Grace gives us a desire to walk in the Spirit and to live by the Word instead of the way the world chooses to live. Grace altars our hearts and truth enables us to clearly see God’s path. Did you see in Titus two that Jesus Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purity for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good?”
I believe that grace and truth work in tandem in the life of a believer. As a person experiences more and more grace, they want more and more truth. As they learn more and more truth, they received more and more grace.
Jesus was full of grace and truth. May God give us hearts that passionately pursue the truth, and may His grace enable us to have power to adjust our lives to the truth that is revealed to us. Jesus was full of grace and truth. May God give us boldness to hold onto truth, to share it with the world, and the sensitivity and compassion to share His grace with people who have yet to experience it.