What an insightful, helpful little book! Randy Alcorn points out that most Christians struggle with balancing two traits of Christ-likeness: grace and truth (John 1:14). Either we have no problem being bold in standing for and sharing God’s truth with others, yet often lack grace, love, and compassion when doing so. Or we are readily loving, accepting, and compassionate toward others, but neglect speaking the truth regarding doctrinal matters, sin, or repentance. If you’re honest with yourself, you will probably admit that you have a tendency to fall into one of these two camps. I know which one I fall into!
Alcorn contrasts these two extremes this way (see if you find yourself aligning with one or the other):
“Without truth, we lack courage to speak and conviction to speak about. Without grace, we lack compassion to meet people’s deepest needs.”
“Truth-oriented Christians love studying Scripture and theology. But sometimes they’re quick to judge and slow to forgive. They’re strong on truth, weak on grace.
Grace-oriented Christians love forgiveness and freedom. But sometimes they neglect Bible study and see moral standards as ‘legalism.’ They’re strong on grace, weak on truth.
Countless mistakes in marriage, parenting, ministry and other relationships are failures to balance grace and truth. Sometimes we neglect both. Often we choose one over another.”
The world into which Jesus was born and in which we currently live certainly needs truth. The Bible tells us that Satan is the Father of lies, and he is in the business of keeping men in darkness by spreading deceit, untruths, and false doctrine (John 8:44). But Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 6:14), so the world needs Jesus. At the same time, this world of hurting, oppressed, damaged, lost, sinful creatures is also in much need of grace and love and forgiveness. Christ’s life was one characterized by compassion, as he was constantly seeking out, and sought by, those who were needy, hurting, and desperate for healing, understanding, and forgiveness. He knew how to reach people with his teaching and his touch. Just like when he forgave the paralyzed man his sins before telling him to get up and walk, he didn’t stop at merely addressing their physical needs without addressing their (more important) spiritual need.
As representatives of Christ, we must learn to share both of these much needed elements with our fellow image-bearers of God. An imbalance of these not only affects how we as individuals deal with others, but the church as a whole. Alcorn observes,
“Truth without grace breeds self-righteous legalism that poisons the church and pushes the world away from Christ. Grace without truth breeds moral indifference that keeps people from seeing their need for Christ.”
“Attempts to ‘soften’ the gospel by minimizing truth keep people from Jesus. Attempts to ‘toughen’ the gospel by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus. It’s not enough for us to offer grace or truth. We must offer both.”
If we want to be like Jesus, and our church is to be a light to the surrounding community, we need to learn how to live out both grace and truth before others. I think this book would be a great one to use for discipleship or as a short study in a group discussion situation as a reminder of the importance of being balanced in our interactions and evangelistic efforts towards the unbelievers in our spheres of life.
Other resources by Alcorn can be found on his website, Eternal Perspectives Ministry, www.epm.org.