Written by Rick James
Depending on what topic I am talking about there are either three, six, two, or eight different types of people in the world.
(I like making broad, sweeping generalizations about humanity). For this discussion, there seems to be two types of people in the world: people who gravitate toward truth and people who migrate to grace.
My friend Bill is a truth person. He likes rules. He likes when people follow the rules. He wears a watch all the time; time is a rule not to be broken. If you do something wrong Bill will tell you, because it’s important to Bill that you know you did something wrong. Bill always uses a No. 2 pencil when he takes a test and shows all his work on a separate piece of paper. He would do something different if the rules said he could, but they don’t. Bill would tell you the same thing about himself because Bill never exaggerates.
I don’t know why I like Bill, because I’m the second type of person in the world, Mr. Grace. Go on, bend the rules, it’s the spirit of them that matters. You were late for class, me too, don’t worry about it. I don’t have an alarm clock. I just go to sleep and hope I wake up when I need to. I don’t like standards of performance. I find them binding, and tight schedules give me claustrophobia. I’m not exactly like this but I’m basically like this because I’m prone to exaggerate.
Ok, we have two stereotypes, both despicable and likeable in their own way.
Here’s what’s strange: we need to live in environments, be around people, and be people who express both truth and grace.
Yet, people tend to have a proclivity to one.
From a Biblical perspective, grace without standards isn’t grace at all, for you can only extend grace when standards aren’t met. Truth apart from grace is legalism, something Jesus definitely wasn’t into. Just ask the Pharisees.
We want to create in ourselves a third type of person in the world, a person who embraces both. As we seek to grow in godliness and establish Biblical models of community, these are the two essential ingredients.
In his book, Changes That Heal (Zondervan, 1992), Henry Cloud outlines these ingredients of genuine spiritual growth and emotional health. Henry Cloud writes:
“Grace is the unmerited favor of God toward his people. Grace is unconditional love and acceptance. Grace is something we have not earned and do not deserve.”
“Truth is what is real. It describes how thing really are.”
We are transformed by Jesus Christ by His grace and truth.
Twice, Jesus is described as being full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14,17). He touched and changed the lives He encountered with both grace and truth. Repeatedly He preceded His statements with “I tell you the truth.…”
People are transformed by the truth—by what is real—combined with grace. Remember the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11)? After all was said and done, what did Jesus do? He said “Then neither do I condemn you” (grace). “Go now and leave your life of sin” (truth).
When He healed the man, who for 38 years had been an invalid (John 5), Jesus healed him (grace) but also told him to “stop sinning” (truth).
When Peter was so quick to proclaim his undying loyalty to Jesus, Jesus was quick to tell him the truth, “I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times,” but also grace, “….but after you have returned, strengthen your brothers”.
Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says:
“…speaking the truth in love we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”Ephesians 4:15-16
Truth without grace, or without being tempered by love, is judgment. Without grace we become Pharisaical in our approach to spirituality. Rules without grace leads to compliance and condemnation. Grace without truth easily leads to licentiousness—no growth, no change, no limits… no consequences.
“Grace and truth are a healing combination because they deal directly with one of the main barriers to all growth: guilt. We have emotional difficulties because we have been injured (someone has sinned against us), or we have rebelled (we have sinned), or some combination of the two.”
Notice that it is the members of the Body who are instrumental in the growth process. We cannot grow in isolation.
There is also a third ingredient we have yet to mention that plays a critical role in creating a proper environment for spiritual growth, and that is time.
Growth always takes time. Although time by itself never produces growth, it is impossible to grow without it.
The parable of the unfruitful fig tree (Luke 13:6-9) illustrates the importance of input (grace and truth) along with time. Henry makes the distinction between “good time” and “bad time.”
“Good time is time in which we and our experiences can be affected by grace and truth. If we have removed some aspect of ourselves from time, grace and truth cannot transform it.”
In other words, any area of our lives that is not brought into the light cannot be transformed, no matter how much time we give it. It is the talent that is buried (Matthew 25:26,27) that goes unchanged.
It’s probably not important to remember all of the intricacies of these concepts, but if you can keep these three general file folders in your mind, it really can help shape how you look at spiritual growth, yours and others:
Truth + Grace over Time = Growth