Monday, July 10, 2017

Can We Handle the Truth – with Grace?

“You can’t handle the truth!” This classic line from the film, “A Few Good Men,” resonates today because it seems many people have problems handling the truth – or even recognizing what it is.

Truth faces uphill battles these days. We hear claims of “fake news” or “fake facts.” (And that’s just from kindergarten classrooms!) Politicians point to each other, and the mess – I mean, mass – media with accusations of fabricating falsehoods or intentionally distorting the truth. Entire websites are devoted to propagating fictitious news stories, sometimes disguised as satire. Outrageous “reports” get posted on social media, and darned if hundreds of people don’t fall for the hoaxes. It’s increasingly hard these days to distinguish truth from fiction.

The old quiz show, "To Tell the Truth," recently revived,
capitalizes on the transitory nature of "truth."
In the midst of this “truth crisis,” the quiz show “To Tell the Truth” has been revived. It originally ran from 1956 to 1968, featuring guests with unusual occupations or personal distinctions, as is the case with the newer version. In each segment, one guest is telling the truth. The other two are imposters, posing as the person to be revealed., By asking a series of questions, panelists seek to discern who’s telling the truth and who’s not. Sometimes, the charlatans appear more truthful than the real deal.

Believers today are also wrestling with truth, but in a different sense. The truth has always been bedrock to Christianity. Jesus Christ claimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). We are convinced as well that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, His truth about who He is, who we are, and how we should live. Jesus prayed for His disciples, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Because of this, we assert the truth is non-negotiable. At the same time, God didn’t call for us to bludgeon others with the truth, wielding it as a spiritual club in our attempts to persuade others to understand and accept it. Because inherent to the truth of the Scriptures is His unconditional love and His grace, the Lord’s unmerited favor extended to all who will receive it. This leads to a tension – the struggle to balance God’s revealed truth with His grace, which no one can earn or deserve.

Because it can feel awkward to present both at the same time, many of us tend to lean toward one or the other – black-and-white, unyielding truth, or grace, which often seems more welcoming. But as pastor J. D. Greear recently noted (and others before him), we haven’t the option of choosing one or the other.

Greear stated, “Truth without grace is fundamentalism; grace without truth is vapid sentimentalism.” Both are indispensable to the gospel message. But it’s a great tension – presenting the truth in a gracious manner, as well as discussing grace in the light of God’s truth.

I’ve wrestle with this often. I’m inclined to be blunt, speaking the truth from the Scriptures as I’ve come to understand it, firing from the hip. To borrow Greear’s terms, none of that “vapid sentimentalism” for me. However, a 100 percent dose of truth, without the softening effect of grace, can come across as harsh, legalistic, judgmental, rigid and insensitive. When I was first confronted with God’s truth, thankfully it was offered with an equal portion of grace.

Jesus never minced words about the truth: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Many of us have experienced this in our own lives, finding the teachings and principles of the Scriptures are not restrictive, as some would contend, but liberating, affording us the joy of becoming what God has intended for us to be.

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus made bold, seemingly outrageous claims that if untrue, would earn Him status as either the greatest liar in the history of the world, or insane. He was neither. At the same time, the gospels often show His interactions with others as being filled with love and compassion. He sought to relate to people exactly where they were – not where He wanted them to be or thought they should be. Our approach in presenting His truth to others should follow His example.

This is why 1 Peter 3:15 admonishes: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We’re to hold fast to the truth – that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord, the only way to God. But we’re also to respond to those who inquire about our faith with grace, “with gentleness and respect.”

Another of my favorite evangelistic verses expresses it this way: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). Just as Jesus always responded with the right words for the right occasion, our prayerful desire should be to do the same whenever opportunities arise. Then, others may be able to handle the truth they hear from us.

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