Updated: Nov 16, 2022
I find a lot of Christians get really uncomfortable when they feel the truth is going to be compromised. With good reason. The corrosion of what is true erodes a firm foundation. I get it. The concern I have is that Jesus did not say that they would know us by our “truth.” Jesus said they would know us by our love (Jn. 13:35).
I have found that there is a fatal flaw in our attempts to protect and defend the truth:
Our proclamation of truth has lost it’s credibility because of our hate.
I would add that our hypocrisy adds to this. From preachers calling for the extermination of the “gays” to whole denominations covering up sexual abuse; from the years when segregation was actually defended by white preachers to our modern day dismissal of racial issues; from splitting hairs about four letter words to the adamant defense of dehumanizing rhetoric in the political arena—Christians are seen as hypocritical, judgmental, and bigoted. The book unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons outlines the actual data supporting this assertion.
The medium through which truth is given is part of the message. The source of truth needs to be seen as a credible witness of truth. Before our efforts to proclaim truth can have any credibility, we have to do the hard work of repenting of our failures and seeking to build bridges of reconciliation. Jesus gives us this example. Jesus entered into our world as a humble and lowly baby in order to communicate God’s love for us. He took the initiative and He took upon himself the weight and cost of sin.
I want to suggest that we too should enter into the world of brokenness with humility, taking upon ourselves the weight of sin.
Here is the next crucial problem we must acknowledge:
In order to do this, we actually have to love people.
I am not talking about giving lip service to loving people. I mean, you actually have to care about them.
“Well, I do. I don’t want them to go to hell. I don’t want them to be deceived. You’re going to love them to hell.”
I don't think you can’t love people with the love of Christ and simultaneously love them to hell. Honestly, I don't think you can be responsible for anyone's eternal fate. First off, we don’t hold the gavel. We are to participate in God’s reconciling mission, but if you think the fate of the entire world rests on your shoulders, you are trying to carry a weight that only God can carry. Which, by the way, he already did. He already carried the weight to Calvary.
I have absolutely no control over someone’s eternal fate. What I do have control over is my own heart. When Jesus was asked what the greatest command is, he responded that it is to “love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. The second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:30-31). The Greek word translated as “like” essentially means this: The second command is like the first in weightiness and importance. Or, let me put it this way, the way we love people is as important as our loving devotion to God. Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these commands (Matthew 22:40).
(a.k.a. the entire Hebrew Old Testament)
Missing the Mark
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul describes love as being patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not dishonoring of others, not self-seeking, not easily angered, it does not delight in evil, it rejoices in the truth, it protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres… and… get this
It never fails.
See, you can’t love people with this kind of love and love them to hell. This kind of Jesus-centered love doesn’t fail.
Paul goes on to say that the greatest of faith, hope, and love, is love. Love is the greatest. Jesus says the Law and the Prophets can be summed up as loving God and loving people. Paul says that loves is the greatest.
Love is the greatest.
If you say you love people, but you are easily angered by those who have different views than you—you’ve missed the mark.
If you say you love people, but you are not kind in your interactions with them—you’ve missed the mark.
If you say you love people, but you are prideful and self-righteous—you’ve missed the mark.
If you say you love people, but you do not honor their dignity—you’ve missed the mark.
Which, one of the words for sin in the original language means to “miss the mark.” If we do not love in this 1 Corinthians 13 sort of way, we are missing the mark. More bluntly: if you don’t love like this you are sinning.
Praise God there is grace for missing the mark! I don’t always love like this so I need God’s transforming grace to be operative in my life.
However, we could do better. We have lost credibility with the world in so many ways.
Truth In Love and Doses of Grace
We are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). In order to actually speak the truth in love, you have to be in relationship—in close proximity to the people you want the truth to be spoken to. We have no business trying to speak truth to people we are not in relationship with because you can’t love people in a 1 Corinthians 13 sort of way if you don’t even know their name.
Speaking the truth in love means you know their story. Speaking the truth in love means you are walking in relationship with the people you are being truthful with. Oh, and since it is a relationship, it also means they can speak truth to you.
Jesus was full of grace and truth. Again, sometimes people get really concerned about too much grace. I have two problems with this posture. First, it presumes to believe that we and our sins only use up a little grace. It’s like, my sin and my faults only required a small dose of God’s grace. So, let’s ration out grace to other people because we don’t want to overdo the grace dosage. We might overdose people on grace. How silly.
In one of Paul’s letters where he addresses the sinful works of the flesh he says that God showed him mercy because he was the “worst of sinners” (1 Tim. 1). I think that is the proper perspective. We should not think so highly of ourselves that we fail to realize that our sin has required exhaustive amounts of grace (as if grace was quantifiable anyway). I am the worst of sinners.
My second issue with this idea that we have to ration out God’s grace is that Paul says in Romans that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” Let me say it like this: you can’t out-sin God’s grace. God’s grace can always outdo sin.
Well, won’t that give people a license to sin? Paul foresees this question on people’s minds. He sort of seems to imply that of course not. Grace is not a license to sin it is liberation from sin. When we really understand this grace of God and the mercy and life that is Christ Jesus, we wouldn’t want to go back to the slavery of sin. Perhaps so many people are walking away from the church because they haven’t been given a healthy does of grace. Perhaps they haven’t truly tasted and seen that the LORD is good (Psalm 34:8).
I have heard people talk about the tension between grace and truth. I have heard some suggest that love is what occupies the space between them. Maybe, in order to be credible witnesses of grace and truth, we need to love people.
I think we need to love better.