We humans love to fall into ditches. Trying to be zealous for God’s way of righteousness, we fall into the truth ditch of judgmentalism and control so quickly. Or missing that one, we fall into the grace ditch wallowing in sentimentalism or tolerance. And in falling into either ditch we distort and miss out on both grace and truth.
If we believe in sin at all, we tend to create unspoken hierarchies of sins, handing out one red mark for pride or gluttony, perhaps, and fifty red marks for drug addiction or a promiscuous sexual lifestyle. And notice how your own “sins” always get fewer red marks than someone else’s. (Did your own heart feel a bit unsettled at this paragraph?)
And we do the same with virtues. Tolerance might get fifty gold stars, while courage or self-control get one or two. And the number of gold stars handed out seems to frequently change with the political or social landscape.
Jesus turned many such human unspoken moral hierarchies on their heads. For a snapshot of how He did that, read the Sermon on the Mount. As humans we tend to make mountains out of molehills, and ignore the weightier matters of the law. (see Matthew 23:23)
In Himself Jesus was the perfect embodiment of all the characteristics of God. John describes Him this way: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Full of both grace and truth. Is that possible?
How Jesus Dealt with Sinners
Jesus was known for eating with sinners.
Well, if He hadn’t done that He would never have eaten with anyone. But that glosses over the point.
The greedy cheats such as Zacchaeus, the sexually promiscuous such as the woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery, the demon-possessed such as Mary Magdalene – they were drawn to Him as to a magnet. They couldn’t stay away. His goodness was utterly appealing and almost irresistible.
But at the same time, can you imagine for one moment that any of these sinners – or even impetuous Peter or “sons of thunder” James and John – would have for one moment been lulled into believing that their personal brand of sin was sort-of OK? Jesus by His very presence made anything less than righteousness totally unacceptable.
That’s the feeling that overwhelmed Peter when he knelt at Jesus’ feet while crying out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)
In that same vein, Jesus was also known for saying after He healed or delivered someone, “Go, and leave your life of sin.”
This was not tolerance. And it was not judgement. It was an invitation.
It was an invitation to something that Jesus, through His life and death and resurrection, was making possible. That invitation was appealing because of both the total unacceptability of sin and the unconditional acceptance of love. That’s what “full of grace and truth” looks like.
Staying Out of Ditches
But that was Jesus. What about you and me? Can we approach sin issues – and sinners – with grace and truth?
We must. God’s calls each of us to become more like Jesus, “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29) Our own spiritual development must be toward the place where we address both ourselves and others with both grace and truth.
Here’s what that looks like.
- Deal with your own logs. Jesus talked about removing the log from your own eye so that you can see clearly to help your brother with his eye. (Matthew 7:3-5) Look below the surface in your own life. Where are you harboring anger, entitlement, lust, or other junk? What about racism, pride, or greed? Where do you need healing of your old wounds, or deliverance from your own demons? Deal with that.
- Develop relationships. It was through relationship with Jesus that Peter overcame his fear, John became the apostle of love, and Saul became Paul the missionary to the world. And ever since, it’s through relationship with followers of Jesus that others are drawn to Him. Others will care what you say only once you have demonstrated, over time, that you see them, hear them, understand them, and are on their side.
- Watch for God moments. Remember, you can’t change anyone; only the Holy Spirit can do that. He loves them much more than you do! As your relationship with sinners develops, the Holy Spirit may well give you opportunity to speak into someone’s life. It’s not you orchestrating things; watch to see what God is doing, and join Him.
Imagine yourself becoming the invitation that God sends to those sinners you worry so much about, making His appeal through you that they “be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Consistently offering that invitation can feel squishy. Human sin is messy. What does this look like when you have a family member or friend who is in a same-sex sexual relationship? Or someone you care about is locked in substance abuse, or addicted to porn, or steeped in racism?
In general, the Christian church does not have a good track record of dealing with sinners with both grace and truth. We have both corporately and individually tended to fall into the ditch of either tolerance or judgementalism based on the currently “correct” hierarchy of sins. Be aware of your own tendency there. Which ditch do you tend to fall into?
And then keep moving back to a posture of invitation.
When you face a tough relationship with a sinner, ask, “What would Jesus do? How would He make Himself an irresistible invitation right now?”
Get over yourself enough to realize you’re not God’s total answer. But make yourself available to be His invitation.
Full of grace and truth.
Your Turn: Which ditch – grace or truth – do you tend to fall into? In being God’s invitation to others, which element do you need more of right now? Leave a comment below.
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- Falling into the ditch of either tolerance or judgmentalism is not wise. Jesus presented an irresistible invitation – both unconditional acceptance and a call to utter holiness. Let’s learn to make the same invitation – grace AND truth. Tweet that.
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