The following is a guest post that we written by my friend Daniel Delgado. He is currently pursuing a Master’s at Western Seminary. You can check out his blog at http://www.flathillfaith.com.
Repetition is a powerful tool. We repeat things that are important to us. We repeat things we want to remember. In fact, educational experts believe we must be exposed to something at least three times before we can fully understand it. This is why I’ve started highlighting key words in Bible passages I read. For example, in the first chapter of Genesis, God speaks 15 different times. This repetition subtly communicates to something significant about God’s character: namely, that our God is a God who speaks. Another example is found in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, when God-through-Samuel is describing what Israel’s king will be like, he uses the phrase “he will take” six times. Obviously, God wanted the Israelites to know that their king would take, take, take, take, take, and take some more.
In the first chapter of John, there are a handful of words that are repeated: Word, life, light, world, etc. Towards the end of this chapter, the Bible repeats two words that define Jesus’ ministry. In John 1:14, we read that we have seen Jesus’ glory, which was full of grace and truth. A few verses later, in John 1:17, we read that Moses brought the Law, but through Jesus came grace and truth. Jesus revealed His glory to us through grace and truth. In fact, the original Greek for verse 17 literally says that Jesus brought “the grace and the truth.” In Greek, word order is important and I think it’s worth noticing that both times, grace comes before truth. I think there’s profound significance to that word order. Grace must precede truth.
I’ve met a handful of people who seem to think that the most graceful thing we can do is be truthful (i.e. brutally honest), as though the two terms were synonymous. But why then, would the Bible use these terms separately? I’ve been reminded by people in this camp that Jesus was no ballerina. While this is true, it’s also true that Jesus was not a knuckle-dragging ogre who went from village to village bashing people with a club named “Truth.”
But I’ve also met people who stand by the conviction that all that matters is grace. The only thing that matters, they would say, is the grace that God gives us. But why would this Bible passage connect truth to the reality that Jesus brought grace? Can we honor God if we’re only graceful, but not truthful? If people do not understand the truth about their situation, will they even appreciate God’s grace?
And so we find a complex balancing act between grace and truth. Sam Williams once wrote that “Grace without truth is sentimentalism. It lacks power. Truth without grace is legalism. It lacks compassion. Grace and truth is the power of God that transforms lives.” As I said before, I think there is significance to the order of grace and truth. In fact, I think we need to encounter people with grace and then truth…in that order!
Take a look at how Jesus approached the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus offers her living water and then confronts her about her promiscuous lifestyle. Grace and then truth. Go forward to Jesus’ encounter with the paralyzed man: Jesus heals him (John 5:8) and then calls him to repentance (John 5:14). Grace and then truth. Go forward to the statement Jesus makes to the woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Grace and then truth.
I think this is the example we are meant to follow: Grace and then Truth. As a friend once told me, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. As Christians, we must resolve to enter into relationships that are characterized by grace. We must commit to love and accept others unconditionally in order to create a safe, trothing relationship. Then, when they’re ready, we can begin to share the wonderful, life-changing Truth that has set us free. Only after people feel loved and accepted by us will they be open to hearing what we believe.