Growth takes Grace and Truth
Our God is a God “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We often hear the phrase “full of grace and truth,” but we rarely stop and realize its implications for our struggles here on earth. What are grace and truth? Why are they so important?
Let’s take grace first. Grace is the unmerited favor of God toward people. Grace is something we have not earned and do not deserve. As Frederick Buechner says, “Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.”
To put it another way, grace is unconditional love and acceptance. Such love is the foundation upon which all healing of the human spirit rests. It is also the essence of God. “God is love,” writes the apostle John (I John 4:8). And God loves us freely, without condition.
Grace is the first ingredient necessary for growing up in the image of God. Grace is unbroken, uninterrupted, unearned, accepting relationship. It is the kind of relationship God had in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were loved and provided for. They knew God’s truth, and they had perfect freedom to do God’s will. In short, they were secure; they had no shame and anxiety. They could be who they truly were. Grace then, is the relational aspect of God’s character. It shows itself in his unconditional connection to us.
Truth is the second ingredient necessary for growing up in the image of God. Truth is what is real; it describes how things really are. Just as grace is the relational aspect of God’s character, truth is the structural aspect of his character. Truth is the skeleton life hangs upon; it adds shape to everything in the universe. God’s truth leads us to what is real, to what is accurate. Just as our DNA contains the form that our physical life will take, God’s truth contains the form that our soul and spirit should take.
Truth without Grace
When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they had both grace and truth united in one God. When they sinned, they drove a wedge between themselves and God; they lost their grace-filled and truthful relationship with God.
Without grace, Adam and Eve felt shame: when they heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they hid from him. When God calls out, “Where are you?” Adam explains that he was hiding because he was afraid (Genesis 3:8-10). Shame and guilt had entered the world; human beings were no longer safe.
After Adam and Eve cut themselves off from a relationship with God, they also severed their connection to grace and truth, for those come through relationship with God. However, God did not let them stay isolated for long. Seeing Adam and Eve in their lost state, he decided to give them direction; he gave them truth in the form of the law. The law is a blueprint, or a structure, for people to live by. It offers them guidance, and it sets limits for them.
There was only one problem: God gave them truth without grace. Adam and Eve had to try to live up to God’s standards. They soon learned that they could never measure up. No matter how hard they tried to perform, they would always some up short. Truth without grace is judgment. It sends you straight to hell, literally and experientially.
When we look at what the Scripture says about the law, about truth without grace, we see that the law silences us, brings anger, increases sin, arouses sinful passions, brings death, puts us under a curse, holds us prisoner, alienates us from Christ, and judges us harshly.
The law without grace destroys us. No one ever grows when they are under the law, for the law put us into a strictly legal relationship with God: “I’ll love you only if you do what is true and right.” Getting truth before grace, or truth before relationship, brings guilt, anxiety, anger, and a host of other painful emotions.
Grace without Truth
Truth without grace is deadly, but grace without truth leads to less than successful living as well. In the same way that truth (without grace) can be called judgment, grace (without truth) can be named license. The Scriptures talk about this. See: Galatians 5:13, Romans 6:15-16, Colossians 3:5. The lack of limits in life—the lack of truth and discipline—can lead to a chaotic lifestyle.
The Bible doesn’t commend either truth apart from grace, nor grace apart from truth; but rather, a mixture of both. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14, 16-17, italics mine).
This passage shows both how people fail and how they are redeemed. Failure came through the law, and redemption through Jesus. It is only through him that we can realize two ingredients of growth: grace and truth. It is through him that we can come back into the same relationship Adam had: an unbroken connection (grace) to the One who is reality (truth).
From Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud; Zondervan, 1990, 1992.
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