There is a curious dichotomy in the contemporary Church. It appears more and more that there is a battle between grace and truth. This, though, ought to tell us that neither are being properly defined or demonstrated, for scripture is clear that Christ came in the fulness of both and that His followers as “little Christs” must also live in the fulness of grace and truth.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”John 1:14, ESV
Let’s consider grace, first of all. I often overhear coffeeshop conversations where Christian friends are offering each other counsel. My heart rejoices in this; however, buzzwords like “grace” get thrown around in such conversations and, quite often, terribly misused. Phrases like this are incredibly common:
- “Show him grace.” (In reference to a serious relational issue)
- “Have grace with yourself.” (In reference to an ongoing sin issue)
- “We have to give grace.” (In reference to cultural/social movements)
Now, these are all true…on the surface. But I fear that such statements are only communicating part of what grace really is. God shows grace to us out of His power; He is strong enough to show grace to we who are weak. Grace, I once heard, is receiving more than we deserve, whereas mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve. It appears we are confusing (and diffusing) the two.
In thinking about “grace” in the colloquial, contemporary sense, I fear that we have translated it to mean “weakness” or “permissiveness.” This is not at all true. The fulness of grace is also the greatest of strength, for it is only out of great strength can we show care and kindness to those weaker than we—forgiveness, assistance, correction, etc. Grace is much, much more than just allowance or affirmation. No, grace is the deepest and most generous of care, borne from the desire to represent and share the strongest truth of all: the Gospel of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
I love ballet and if I could have any skill, I would like best of all to become a ballerina. I have not, however, spent the necessary years in cultivating the agility, endurance, and strength of a classically-trained dancer. And thus, I lack the essential grace of a ballerina.
I remember attending an opera in Verona one summer and watching the prima ballerina. She was one of the most poised people I have ever seen, as well as one of the most intimidating. I certainly could not have beaten her in a fight, and yet she possessed greater feminine elegance in her movements than I ever could. She had achieved the ideal of physical grace not in spite but because of her remarkable strength.
The same principle is true of Christian grace. Believers, true grace does not render us weak, stripping us of our moral and doctrinal commitments. Instead, our capacity to show grace toward others—to live humbly, generously, and justly in the world—relies upon the very strength of our conviction.
I am reminded of the Virgin Mary as a feminine example of grace and strength. Filled with the grace of God, she is far from weak. Rather, the Gospel of Luke presents her as divinely strengthened for her most wonderful commission: to bear the Word of God. Filled with grace, Mary’s response is to immediately and emphatically articulate truth. Her stunning and scripture-saturated Magnificat provides an enduring declaration of both the grace and truth of God.
We must stop perpetuating the idea that grace is weakness. Grace is humble, certainly, just as Christ was humble to the point of death on a cross. But this appearance of weakness is the truest of strength, for it is an unwavering commitment to truth that, rather than promoting pride or arrogance, enables us to better care for others. In the life and love Christ, we are empowered to show grace to others, for, in Him, our weakness is made strong.
Believers, like ballerinas, must daily strengthen themselves in their faith, else we risk losing touch with the source of both grace and truth: Christ and His Gospel. Living graciously does not mean enabling, ignoring, or affirming; instead, it is actively recognising that “there but by the grace of God am I,” that apart from the saving power—the grace—of Christ, we, too, would be slaves to sin and untruth. Remembering and rejoicing in this us prepares us to truthfully show grace toward others, calling them to the cross in the fullness of Christian compassion and conviction.