The Truth, Grace, and Forgiveness

The Truth, Grace, and Forgiveness

Lately I’ve been thinking about how we as Christians (namely in the US) need to relate to the people around us. How do we tell people the truth without offending them, yet leave them with a sense of conviction about sin and point them to the cross? How do we tell people the good news of Jesus’ forgiveness and love in a culture absorbed with their rights to do this and that, when that message requires repentance (a change in your life). It’s a delicate balance, to be sure, and the truth is, no matter what we do, someone is going to be offended. But we don’t have to be obnoxious jerks.

So how did Jesus deal with truth, grace, and forgiveness in His day? As He walked among all sorts of people, how did He relate to them?

If we look at His life, it actually depends on who you’re dealing with. Jesus was a master at discerning the needs of the people around Him: the people who would be receptive to His love and gentle call of forgiveness, and the people who He needed to shoot real straight with. Jesus never minced His words, and at the same time, He was gentle and compassionate toward people.

John 8 records a great example of His gentleness:

The religious leaders of the day brought this woman who had been caught in adultery to Jesus. They said, ‘Moses commanded us in the law that she should be stoned to death, but what do You say?’ Really they were trying to trap Him by showing He was a law-breaker (another post for another day). He didn’t say anything but began writing something in the sand. When they kept pressing Him about the matter, He said, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ He just went back to doodling in the dirt. All those people were convicted, dropped their stones, and left. The exchange He had with this woman is awesome:

“Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, Lord.”
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.”

For people who have been forgiven much, this resonates deep within us. Although we have sin, and we have no excuse for it, and we deserve the punishment for it, Jesus shows His great love for us by offering His grace and forgiveness.

He offers forgiveness, but note the second part of His statement to her:

“…go, and sin no more.”

There’s grace, and then there’s the call to change your life. This is the basic gospel message, offered to this woman in compassion and love.

At the same time, Jesus shot really straight with the religious leaders of the day in Matthew 23. He pronounced several “woes” on them, called them fools and blind, serpents and vipers, whitewashed sepulchers. You might think He wasn’t being very loving toward them, but if you read that chapter you’ll realize why He had such a beef with them. (And by the way, it is much more loving to call people out on what’s wrong on this side of eternity than to never call them out) While Jesus was usually very gentle with the worst sinners He encountered, He never shied away from telling people how things really are.

May we get this delicate balance of truth-telling and gentleness down in this day and age. God knows we need to.

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