In the early to mid-20th century, theological liberalism became prevalent. Seminaries taught that Jesus was not virgin-born and the Bible might “contain” the Word of God but was not inspired and inerrant. By the 60’s and 70’s moral relativism sprouted from that faulty foundation. But the final quarter of the 20th century saw a sharp return to the fundamentals of the faith and confidence in the Bible. Along with that return came a much more organized effort by those who believed the Bible to influence public policy. Unfortunately, during that time, Christians gained a reputation for being way more interested in being right and winning political victories than engaging with and loving people.
In the first quarter of the 21st century, there has been a backlash against that mentality. Churches feel a sense of guilt for shaming people, excluding people, and arguing with anyone that disagreed. That has led many Christians to go all-in on loving people and connecting with people in order to reach them. However, in the process, many are willing to compromise the truth of Scripture to do that. It feels like the Church is either all truth or all grace.
John 1:14 (NIV) says, “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.”
The Word - Jesus Christ, who is the way, the TRUTH, and the life, came to live among us. He cared. He came to connect with us even though we were sinful. He revealed the Father to us. He came to us full of GRACE and TRUTH. He gave everything to reach us and extend forgiveness to us. But He also was the standard of truth and never compromised truth. He wasn’t half truth and half grace. He was all grace and all truth. And because of that, sinners were drawn to Him and felt loved by Him, but they also felt compelled to repent of their sin and surrender their lives to Him.
All grace and no truth leads to non-transformed sinners feeling great about themselves. There is nothing to save them from because everything is declared to be good in the name of not offending anyone. All truth and no grace leads to judgmentalism that pushes people away from Christ.
I recently listened to a message from a prominent preacher that greatly misrepresented what the Bible teaches on this. He was preaching from the Great Commandment. He pointed out that 1 John tells us that how we love others is a clear indication of how we love God, because “how can we love someone we can’t see if we don’t love the people around us?”. The problem with his message is that when he applied that concept to the Great Commandment, he elevated “love your neighbor as yourself” above “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He kept saying that we love God by “doing what is best for the other person” (which was never defined). That left it up to the audience to define what is best for the other person. Is it what the other person says is best for them? Or is it what God says is best for the other person?
When we elevate loving our neighbors above loving God, our neighbor becomes the standard for what is loving. Our culture loves that idea. They believe that each person knows what is best for themselves. However, that is a humanistic view, not a Christian view. The Bible makes it clear that our hearts are sinful and deceived, and that it is only through submitting to God’s work in our lives that our hearts are redirected toward what is good. That means that we never trust our hearts over what the Bible says. We check our hearts by what the Bible says. We have to love God first, which entails following His commands (Jesus said, “If you love me you’ll keep my commands.”). Then from that foundation, we love others.
What does this have to do with grace and truth? If we are going to be full of grace and truth, we have to understand that truth is grace, and grace is truth. The two cannot be separated. It is not grace to affirm something in someone’s life that is contrary to what God says. Yes, we should love them. Yes, they should know that we are there for them. But we can’t embrace a lie, even if that’s what they would say is “best for them,” because there is no such thing as something being best for you that God calls wrong. Because God created the world, affirming a lie because someone would appreciate it, is a denial of reality.
As believers, we need to guard our tone. We need to stop acting like everyone else’s sins are worse than ours. We need to be more intentional to build relationships with people who disagree with us. We need to show love to people who disagree with us. But, at the same time, we must lovingly tell the truth about God’s standard as presented in the Word of God. We are not doing them any favors by softening what God says in the name of love. If we explain away the things God calls sin, there will be nothing for Jesus to save us from. What could be more unloving than causing someone to miss God’s gift of grace because we have sent the message that everyone is fine as they are? We don’t have to start with their particular sin. We start with the fact that a good and loving God sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sin because we are all sinners. We start by loving them like Christ loves them. We start by having spiritual conversations with them and stepping into the spiritual issues they are wrestling with. But there will come a point where they will want to know what God says about something they do (especially in today’s culture), and you are going to have to honestly walk them through what the Bible says. There’s a reason the word “repent” is so common in the New Testament. For a person to experience the “grace” of Jesus, they have to come to the point where they see the “truth” about where they stand spiritually and become willing to surrender to Him.