Full of Grace and Truth
Scripture: John 1:14
Full of Grace and TruthJohn 1:14
Christmas Day, Sunday, December 25, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
I always try to preach a special Christmas message this time of the year. This morning will be no exception, especially since today is one of those rare occasions where Christmas falls on a Sunday morning. Despite what we hear from most of the voices around us, Christmas is ultimately about Jesus Christ, the birth of our Savior, God Himself, Immanuel, coming into the world to bring us salvation.
In the Bible, the Christmas story is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark eliminates it beginning with the baptism of Jesus some thirty years after His birth. Interestingly, John does not directly mention His birth in the traditional Christmas narrative, but goes further back to who Jesus was as the Word before He arrived in Bethlehem to Joseph and Mary. In the first two verses of John we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God" (Jn. 1:1-2). Fourteen verses later, John says, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14).
Two things in that verse caught my attention. One is that "the Word became flesh." That is the Christmas story. The eternal Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, while retaining the fullness of His deity took on flesh, willingly became man so that He could represent humanity as a sinless sacrifice and die for our sins. As the angel told Joseph, "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
That would have been great preaching material for this morning, but what I would like to focus on this Christmas are the final words of John 1:14. It says that Jesus came "full of grace and truth." What does that mean and how does that apply to us?
I suppose most of us understand truth. And I'd like to believe most of us understand grace. But how do the two terms, that at times appear contradictory, come together?
In other words, I've met many Christians who appear to be full of truth and they often come across harsh, self-righteous and legalistic. And I have met many Christians who appear to be full of grace and they often come across as compromising, permissive and carnal. How do we balance the two? Jesus did it masterfully manifesting both 100% of the time without switching from one to the other. He was full of grace and He was full of truth without compromising either.
So I give you this message from My Bible, some help from Randy Alcorn's little book entitled "The Grace and Truth Paradox" and a little personal experience as well.
This has been an intriguing ongoing journey for me as I have explored the nature and these words of Christ. When it comes to grace, I am so impressed how gentle and patient He was with people. Despite His intense hatred for sin, He had compassion on the multitudes, exercised forgiveness and attracted people to Himself - grace! Yet at the same time He never compromised His standards and never deviated from His divine mission. He was the gentle Lamb of God spoken of in the prophetic text and yet He was also the Lion of Judah not ashamed to display righteous indignation and speak of His appointment to judge the world - truth! Grace and truth. Jesus loves and is both. We can't undercut one without undercutting Him.
Maybe the best way to understand these two concepts is to examine each of them individually and bring them together and see how they harmonize with each other.
1. What Is Grace?
Let's begin in our first point with grace.
In Romans 5 we read, "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6-8).
If you want to see what grace looks like, the greatest place to look is in the face of Jesus, specifically His work on the cross.
We all admire and adore the baby Jesus born on the manger, but we must mainly admire and adore is the Man on the cross - the fact that Jesus was born ultimately to die. He didn't die because the Jews and Romans finally we able to put an end to this supposed troublemaker. He didn't die because God wanted to show us an example of commitment to a cause or how to pay the definitive sacrifice or how to demonstrate humility or show love that is willing to suffer for friends. In a sense these are all true, but the ultimate reason Jesus died on the cross is because that was His primary mission to take away the sins of the world. 1 Peter 2:24, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross."
If there were any other way to be reconciled with God, the death of Jesus was God's biggest mistake in history. We are sinners unable to work our way to God. All the good deeds, religion and well intentions won't change the fact that we need someone to pay the penalty for our sins. Only Jesus did that. And that is why salvation is only found through Him and offered freely to those who receive Him by faith.
And this is what makes the death of Christ so incredible. The righteous One gave of His life so He might bring forgiveness to those who deserved not His love, but rather His judgment. With absolutely no hope of saving ourselves, Jesus gave us the most unbelievable display of grace that the world has ever seen. And when I face reality and see the utter awfulness of my sin contrasted with beauty of His holiness, my never-ending refrain will be that He is a God of amazing grace and that He has given me amazing grace.
Here's a test to see if you really understand your own desperate need of God's amazing grace.
Wesley Allen Dodd tortured, molested and killed three boys in Vancouver, Washington. Dodd was scheduled to be hanged - the first U.S. hanging in three decades - shortly after midnight, January 4, 1993. Twelve media representatives were firsthand witnesses to the execution. When they emerged thirty minutes after Dodd died they recounted the experience. One of then read Dodd's last words, "I had thought there was no hope and no peace. I was wrong. I found hope and peace through the Lord Jesus Christ." You can imagine the outrage from the crowd (Alcorn, p. 43-44).
So where do we go with this? "I'm a good person who doesn't need God's grace, but he does?" That's not biblical. Or "I need God's grace, but He's not deserving of it." That's not biblical either. Didn't the Apostle Paul murder Christians? Or "God has little problem with my sins, but should really hate his sins." Or "Jesus can't atone for sins like that." Or "I will determine who Jesus is allowed to die for on the cross?" Am I thinking too much of myself and too little of my Lord? We all know Hitler, Manson and Judas need God's grace, but in the eyes of God, are we really any better? Or "Do they even deserve God's grace?" Do any of us deserve God's grace? If we did, it wouldn't be grace! Don't the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents? But not you? You must be much wiser and more in-tune with God's character than the angels! "I'll select the ones I think are worthy of repentance." "I want justice!" Really?
You see, receiving and fully understanding God's amazing grace provides for us the motivation to fulfill the command to treat each other with grace. When I deserved hell, but righteous God-Almighty in perfect holiness was willing to take my sin upon Himself and provide undeserved mercy and forgiveness, how can I not treat others in the same way?
Grace! John 1:14, Jesus came "full of grace and truth." John 1:16, "For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace." God's grace didn't just get us going to see us spend the rest of our Christians lives seeking to be perfected through our works. After we come to Christ, God's grace continually comes to us like wave after wave crashing upon the shore. Has God's grace really gripped you and subsequently moved you to show God's grace toward others?
John Newton was a white man who sold slaves, treating black people like filth. He received Christ's forgiveness and was moved by grace to be a pastor who labored extensively to oppose the slave trade. He also wrote a song that you might be familiar with. Anybody ever hear of "Amazing Grace?" On his deathbed at eighty-two years of age, that godly man said, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior."
Evidence we really understand God's grace will be seen in our desire and ability to show God's grace.
I wish I saw more of this understanding of God's grace among people who profess to be God's children - the forbearance, love, mercy, gentleness, forgiveness, the humility, the ability overlook sin if appropriate and the absence of legalism, haughtiness and self-righteous spirits. I'm tired of the condemning remarks, the fight to win attitudes, the always expecting my way pursuits and grace-less relationships that are too frequently seen in Christian marriages. No wonder a young girl in a church once prayed, "Lord, make the bad people good and make the good people friendly."
There is much uniqueness to Christianity as compared to other religions. But I have to agree with C.S. Lewis that the one this that separates Christianity from the pack is understanding God's concept of grace.
2. What Is Truth?
So if that is grace, what exactly is truth? We now move to our second point.
We must again start with Jesus. He said in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." Jesus is not "a" truth, but He is "the" truth. God is the standard of truth. In John 17:17, He said His "Word is truth." What He communicates to us is our definition of truth. Romans 2:15 says truth is written on all of our hearts. That's why all people experience guilt and shame and a bad conscience because deep down inside they know when they violate God's standards.
On the contrary, Satan is "the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44). Using the fallen nature of humanity, he seeks to convince the world that truth is moldable, open to our own definitions, subjective, popularity-driven and impossible to fully understand. Like the dark biblical period of the Judges, "Everyone [is urged to do] what was right in [their] own eyes" (Jud. 21:25).
Like Jesus, we as His followers must never compromise truth. Scripture must be our guide and we must be willing to live according to it without compromise.
Like my lamentations about the church at times failing to display grace, the church at times also fails to display truth. Do we dare to be ashamed to speak about Jesus in fear that it might offend someone and defend it in the name of grace? Are we permissive and overly tolerant with our children, avoiding discipline while thinking we are acting in grace? Should we eliminate certain biblical principles like repentance, hell, church discipline, marriage roles, sin, God's sovereignty and Christ's lordship because we wish to offer grace? Should we not confront sin and hold each other accountable because we think that is a display of grace?
The Christian life is based on hearing and submitting to the truth. Should Christlikeness be redefined as simply being "nice," never offensive? If that's the case, Jesus was not always Christlike. Are we really Christlike when we avoid topics He spoke freely about and refrain from actions He frequently demonstrated? It's possible to be so nice in an effort to show grace that we in reality keep people away from receiving grace themselves. The most loving thing we can do is speak truth both to unbelievers and believers. Our primary goal is not to help each other feel good, but help each other be good. Without truth there can be no grace!
Jesus is the embodiment of grace. But when He came He did not lower the bar on truth. If anything, He clearly raised it!
Consider for a moment the concept of hell - eternal unending punishment that is the result of our sins. Though Jesus spoke about hell more than any other biblical figure, we somehow think we are wiser in the name of grace to eliminate hell from our discussions and pulpits.
But here is the problem with that. The moment you fail to speak the truth about hell, you really take the wind out of the sails of grace. If there is no hell, why would someone need grace? If there is no hell, why would Jesus need to suffer and die on a cross? You see, the world is drowning in a sea of damnation. The life preserver is available, but there is no desire reach for salvation when they are deceived about the desperation of their predicament because when we avoid truth. We make grace to be something it never was.
In speaking of our families, Randy Alcorn said, "A home full of grace is also full of truth, because grace doesn't make people less holy - it makes them more holy. Grace doesn't make people despise or neglect truth - it makes them love and follow truth. Grace isn't a free pass to sin - it's a supernatural empowerment not to sin (Titus 3:5). By failing to address sin in each other's lives we send an unspoken message: I'll overlook your sin if you overlook mine. Grace raises the bar - but it also enables us to joyfully jump over that bar. Any concept of grace that leaves us - or our children - thinking truth is expendable, is not biblical grace" (p. 66-67).
3. What Is Grace And Truth?
So we covered grace and we covered truth. And while Christians to some degree understand both of these concepts, from what I have experienced, they often gravitate to one or the other according to their temperament, background, church or family. We need both.
Jesus brought grace and truth. And Jesus wants us to demonstrate both of them as well. But how? How do we demonstrate grace and truth without compromising the other?
The answer is we simply do both! Why can't we help the needy, while at the same time promote a healthy work ethic? Why can't we oppose greed and the proper stewardship of the environment, while at the same time oppose anti-industry New Age environmentalism? Why can't we share God's condemnation of all forms of sexual immorality, yet at the same time help with compassion those trapped in these lifestyles and dying from AIDS? Why can't we stand for justice, while at the same time still show forgiveness for those who sin against us knowing our offenses against God are always far worse? Why can't we share the Gospel in our community, while at the same time feed them with our food pantry? Why can't we teach children the Bible, while at the same time offer free basketball and soccer lessons? Why can't we condemn abortion, while at the same time support ladies with unexpected pregnancies through adoption and Solutions? Why can't we denounce radical Islamic terrorism, while at the same time send thousands oversees to help persecuted Christians? Why can't we hold weekly Bible studies in Seaside Heights, while at the same time feed them and rebuild their homes? Why can't we stand up for what is right, while at the same time do it in love, with self-control, gentle words of truth? Praise God that these are things that are happening at our church!
The early Christians built colleges and hospitals - colleges to teach truth and hospitals to extend grace.
When the woman was caught in adultery, Jesus forgave, but He also said, "Go. From now on sin no more" (Jn. 8:11). Grace and truth! In Ephesians 4:15 we are commanded to "[speak] the truth," but the verse also says we are to do it "in love." Truth and grace!
You see, it's not that difficult to demonstrate either grace or truth. What takes the work of God in our lives is to be able to demonstrate both - grace and truth. Not both like a faucet that turns from one temperature to the other, but like Jesus who always demonstrated both in every occasion. In order to be successful, we must live lives that are wise, saturated with the Bible, being fueled by the Holy Spirit, driven by the principles we've accepted in the Gospel and seeking to exalt our Savior in all things.
"The ancient, historical Jesus came full of grace and truth. The modern, mythological Jesus comes full of tolerance and relativism. Even in the church truth is sometimes buried under subjectivism and cowardice, while grace is lost in a sea of permissiveness and indifference. Without truth, we lack courage to speak and convictions to speak about. Without grace, we lack compassion to meet people's deepest needs… We don't have the luxury of choosing either grace or truth. Yet many believers habitually embrace one instead of the other… We must learn to say yes to both grace and truth - and say no to whatever keeps us from them" (p. 72-73).
As Jesus came that first Christmas-fully God and fully man-may we be like Him, full of grace and full of truth.