And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14, NRSV)
A few years ago I heard a sermon where the speaker pointed out the two incredible claims in this verse. There’s the incarnation, God’s Word (Jesus) becoming human and inhabiting flesh. That’s a huge concept to wrestle with, but then John throws this at us: Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” To be full of both grace and truth – to be able to be completely patient and perfectly forgiving, while at the same time being perfectly honest and perfectly upfront with people when they fail – that’s as big a miracle as the incarnation itself. For us, it’s hard to do even one at a time: we forgive without confronting people, or judge others without loving them.
For a long time, I thought grace and truth in Jesus was a kind of “good cop, bad cop” deal, as if grace was the carrot and truth was the stick. Grace, I thought, was an unqualified good, God’s forgiveness and love extended to people like me who didn’t deserve it. On the other hand, truth was bad for me, because it told me that I deserved God’s judgment.
But that’s not the whole story. Grace has a “dark” side. If we truly believe that God’s attitude toward us is not based not on anything we do but only on God’s choice, we’re in a pretty tenuous position. We have no ground to stand on, no basis for an appeal. If grace is real, then our only hope is within that grace. Everything that we think is going to make God happy, or get God to love us, or convince God that we’re worthy of salvation, is worthless. Grace strips us of every pretense, every false hope, and leaves us naked before God. Grace, properly understood, is terrifying.
But truth has another side to it as well. Truth liberates: “the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Truth deconstructs the lies that imprison us and exposes the weakness and futility of the things we worship instead of God. Truth shows us what we really are: men and women made in the image of God, the object of God’s affections, children of God and heirs with Jesus of God’s kingdom. Truth tells us that the things that own us and oppress us now are not final or eternal, that their current authority over our lives is illegitimate. The truth is that this is God’s world and he is coming back to claim it. The days of sin and suffering are numbered. This truth gives us hope.
You and I are not full of grace or truth. We’re lucky if we can have a little bit of either one. But Jesus is different. Jesus is God’s Word, speaking a grace that both forgives and humiliates, and a truth that both exposes and liberates.
Grace, truth, peace