Grace and truth are not either/or - they are both/and

What do you get when you put grace and truth in a blender? A big, beautiful mess!

A whole lot of Christians operate as if grace and truth are interchangeable concepts, kind of like jeans in the winter and shorts in the summer. You can wear shorts in the snow but you would freeze, just as you would sweat to death wearing jeans in July. There were moments where grace rules the day while at other times truth is all that matters. Mix them together? Like oil and water, that simply can't be sustained, at least not for long.

As a result of this view, many strive to keep grace and truth separate but equal in their way of thinking. When they need to stake their claim in truth, that is no problem. If you don't agree with what they believe to be true then there is really no room for discussion - you would simply have to live with being wrong and would get little to no sympathy from them. Yet there are also those moments where grace is needed to flood a dry and parched land. In those cases. they can be as empathetic and caring as the Mother Theresa without asking too many questions.

But what do we do when we are confronted by those who need equal doses of grace and truth right now? It is possible to mix the two together and still be consistent with Scripture? Won't we be embracing some sort of heretical compromise if we do so?

Not if we believe the truth of Jesus we won't.

I am embroiled in the midst of one of those grace and truth battles as I type. The student ministry that I lead operates with the intent that, in the midst of having a primary desire to disciple middle and high school students, we also want to be a place where un-churched students feel comfortable coming to. This doesn't mean that we water down the gospel or make a living telling cool stories, but rather I have an incredible team of leaders who engage students on an individual level and love them for who they are when they walk in the door.

Over the past few months there have been several high school students from the community who have been coming to our youth group on Wednesday nights. Having visiting students on a Wednesday night is not uncommon - it happens weekly - but what has been challenging is the culture that these newer students are bringing with them. These young people are utterly un-churched, never having been exposed to church life much less the gospel of Jesus. And they have no problem speaking and acting and carrying themselves as if the world is their master to whom they happily bow down to in worship.

Of course we are thrilled that they are coming at all. Each week we meet as a large group before breaking up into small groups, and the these newer students come and listen to all of the things that myself and the other youth leaders have to say. They were hearing about Jesus, grace, forgiveness, holiness, and a biblical worldview. As one who has worked with students for over two decades, this is a dream come true. I long to see the lost become found in Jesus. Nothing makes me more excited than a new creation in Christ.

Yet in spite of all of our efforts to love and reach out to this group of young people, we are seeing very little change on their part in return. They are not responding to the gospel or asking questions about God or seeking to modify any behaviors out of reverence and respect for God and others. These young men and women seemed perfectly content to just come and be who they were without any regard for the truth that is being proclaimed all around them. And to top it all off, some of them are becoming a little too free with their language and lack of respect for authority. Parents are beginning to call, worried that our Wednesday youth meetings are no longer a safe place for their students.

Having observed this first hand week after week, and now hearing from others who are beginning to have concerns, I find myself in a most precarious position. Obviously, I want to reach this group of teenagers for Jesus, but I also am passionate about investing myself and my team in the growth and discipleship of the scores of other students who come each week. When I find myself having to play policeman as a secondary objective, I realize that at some point something has got to give.

Part of me wants to pull these guys aside and get all up in their grill. "Don't you get it yet?!? It's about Jesus, not you! Stop playing around and wasting our time here. All you're doing is using us to get what you want and we're fed up with it. Either get with the program or don't come back!" Certainly we know that this is not the right answer, but inside it feels good to get those words out.

As I pondered this dilemma over coffee the other day with a man in my church who I meet with every other week, he carefully listened as I vented my story mixed with hope and frustration. Finally, he spoke up and asked a simple question: "What would Jesus do if He was in your shoes?" Now it's not that I had yet to ask myself that very same question, but truthfully it was not the question I was focusing on at the moment.

I let those words marinate in my brain for awhile. My mind took me to parts of the New Testament where Jesus carefully responded to many of the same kinds of scenarios that Christians face every day. How about after Jesus fed the 5,000 and they came back expecting more (John 6)? They didn't return to Jesus because they believed who He was; no, the came back wanting to get something of benefit from Him. Yet Jesus continued to love them and teach truth to them in spite of their obstinance.

Or how about the many miracles of Jesus that are recorded throughout the New Testament? The blind regaining their sight, the sick healed, the demon possessed set free, even the dead raised! Yet more often than not, we do not see a wholesale positive response to Jesus. His followers remain few, in spite of the wonderful things that He said and did. And yet in the midst of all of this, Jesus kept on preaching truth and extending grace in equal amounts. Do you remember the woman caught in adultery (John 8)? Jesus told her to leave her life of sin (truth) while simultaneously extending to her the hope that only He can bring (grace).

When it comes to grace and truth it is not either/or, but rather both/and. In remembering these examples of Jesus, I know that I will not continue to love these students who are causing disruptions any less, nor will I cease to continue proclaiming the gospel to them. But I also cannot watch as they destroy their own lives and disturb the lives of others around them. I will confront their sin, but I will do so offering the grace that comes only through the shed blood of Jesus.

None of this is rocket science. It's biblical and it's what most Bible believing Christian already hold to. Yet practically speaking, Christians have spent more time rebuking and correcting and even ostracizing those without the benefit of grace being a part of the conversation. If we refuse to season God's truth with the grace of Jesus, then we will find that our message, like that of the Pharisees, will go unheard, and for good reason. Truth without grace is like a cross without a Savior.

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