If I were to ask you the simple question, “What does Jesus represent to you?” what would be your immediate answer? Many positive descriptions would come to mind to be sure, things like love, forgiveness, healing, restoration, compassion, mercy, holiness, salvation, freedom, so on and so forth.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is perfectly summed up with two words; words, which by the way, often alienate Christians who hold the extreme position of one or the other. Those words? Truth and Grace! Check it out,
“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 (English Standard Version).
We’re not the first generation of believers to wrestle with the tension that grace and truth pose for the church. In fact, the first century church was forced to confront this early on. [for the background on this Early Church debate, read Acts 15]. This discussion tends to make conservatives a little nervous, while it also tends to make the more liberal believers feel reined in. The apostle’s conclusion on this matter left so much open to interpretation that Paul ended up spending a great deal of his spare time acting as a referee of sorts among church people. I’m not sure that any of us fully appreciate the lengths that the early church went through to in order to keep both grace and truth front and center. And we still feel this tension in the modern church today!
The Cliff Notes version goes something like this:
The whole problem arose when, “Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved’” – Acts 15:1 (NIV).
It’s rather shocking, isn’t it, that after all Jesus had done to pay for the penalty of our sin, man was still trying to impose “religious regulations” on would-be seekers? Simply incredulous! Perhaps you’ve heard more recent renditions of this old song in the form of something like, “unless you cut your hair a certain length, or dress a certain way, or sing a certain style of music, or believe exactly like we do… you can’t be saved!” Big problem here: this only serves to drive people away from the Jesus whom they claim to represent.
So, after a lengthy debate, Peter finally stood up and addressed the group. He began by reminding them of his own experiences with Gentiles and the gospel. God had made it abundantly clear to Peter that salvation was to be offered to everyone on the same terms: Faith in Christ!
Notice what Peter says in Acts 15:9-10:
“He [God] did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?”
Translated: “Listen guys, who are you kidding? We don’t even keep the law all that well. Why place this burden on the Gentiles? He goes on:
“No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” – Acts 15:11 (NIV)
If that were not compelling enough, James steps up to address the crowd and says, [this is huge]:
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” – Acts 15:19 (NIV)
James’ statement should be the benchmark by which all decisions are made in the local church! Churches should not do anything that makes it unnecessarily difficult for people who are turning to God! What exactly is this? This is TRUTH seasoned with GRACE! This is Jesus’ model and method for life-transformation.
May we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us in order to conform us to the image and character of Jesus… and help us to live in Truth… seasoned with Grace!