Jesus famously came onto the scenes of history carrying full measures of grace and truth. Think about how messy that mixture is for a second–especially in today’s culture. It couldn’t have been any different two thousand years ago, especially considering Jesus’ ministry led Him to a public execution staged by the most religious people of the day.
One of the things I love about the way Jesus taught was the way He often began a jaw-dropping, hard-to-swallow lesson with the phrase, “Truly truly I tell you….” He was unapologetically intentional to make sure we understood that what He said is simply the way it is. It’s not up for debate and there’s no point in arguing about it, regardless of how inconvenient or painful it might be.
His truthful teaching was soaked in grace, but it was still truth—meaning our other options are still false and come with natural consequences. It’s like a parent asking a child to do something in a specific way because they know doing it another way will only make it more difficult and painful.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think the way we look at grace these days has somehow been separated from the reality of basic, undeniable truth. It seems like many Christians have conveniently redefined grace to be more like a license to decide our own truth while still expecting God’s blessing. More on that in a moment.
Have you noticed how offended people can get when they’re presented with a fact that, despite being unflattering or painful to admit, could very well save them a lot of current and future trouble? The notion that we can’t live by whatever truth we feel at the time without any accountability or “true North” whatsoever is rampant. Of course, every decision deserves the same, equally-accepted outcome as all the others. To deny this has drifted into an almost-criminal version of discrimination. But I’d like to introduce you to any one of my former math teachers, because they would unapologetically disagree that all choices lead to the same outcome–the amount of red ink on the tests they graded of mine would clearly illustrate my point.
I feel like a jerk sometimes for seeing the logic behind some of the more insensitive truth messages out there, but just because it’s rude doesn’t automatically mean it’s not true. Disagreeing with the method doesn’t immediately discredit the message. Sometimes, even truth given in love is painful to hear. I can’t deny that it’s often taken a really painful truth to finally penetrate my thick skull and get me to admit that a change in my course was needed.
How many times have you been so committed to doing something a certain way that you’ve overlooked and dismissed all the “graceful” red flags people tried to point out about the destructiveness of your decisions? I can’t even begin to count them for myself.
Everyone would agree that eating an entire roll of cookie dough by myself is a bad health decision. You might as well eat a tube of plastic considering all the trans fats in there. That’s solid, reliable truth; except in the moment, none of that knowledge stopped me from doing it. I brushed off the facts and did what I felt like doing. I paid for it later, too. For all I know, there could be more consequences coming.
Who hasn’t found themselves in the middle of a toxic and unhealthy relationship they knowingly entered all for the sake of fighting for “real love” or, worse, simply not being alone? Flaring passions, raging hormones, and dangerous insecurities make this truth one we hate to listen to. But it’s also a truth that often comes with excruciating (and long term) consequences.
I’m also guilty of making some of the most foolish financial decisions you can think of. In the back of my mind, I always know the decision isn’t the greatest. But like many others, I am very talented at talking myself into things. It usually isn’t long before I realize just how much my purchase is truly going to cost me.
Do you see the trend here? I’ve realized time and again how inferior my truth is compared to God’s, and for some reason, I still rebel against His way in favor of my own. This is sinful nature in a nutshell. Why God would ever provide the ransom that would restore a rebel like me to Himself is completely beyond my understanding. This, in a nutshell, is grace.
At some point or another in our lives, we’ve all likely sought God’s blessing for a particular decision or event. But have you ever made the connection that God’s blessing comes through God’s truth? If it comes from Him, how else would it logically come? The two are a package deal—hand-in-hand. But all too often, we try to secure God’s blessing on our physical health, our romantic relationships, and our financial statuses without submitting to God’s will of how to pursue those goals.
Most of us (myself included) are in the habit of imposing our own wills just before we mutter, “Lord, please bless my decision, in Jesus’ name.” We act as if God is up there with a never-ending handful of pixy dust, ready to sprinkle all of our selfishly-motivated decisions so they work out great for us. Sinful nature gives us the illusion that the tables are turned and it’s God who actually serves us.
I am guilty of not praying with a willingness and patience to change course if I feel Him leading me to. I’ve experienced more pain and consequences for those decisions than I care to count. At the same time, I’ve witnessed how much better His direction and wisdom works, even if it was inconvenient or hard to accept at first.
An obese man with heart disease may not want to admit the scientific truth that what he chooses to eat and do with his body matters. It might take a really hard truth to get him to wake up to that reality, which would have to be given at the risk of offending him. But how many other reminders of a kinder nature would he just keep resisting and ignoring, all while possibly praying for God to bless him by healing his diabetes or high blood pressure? I would still say a sobering comment from someone who genuinely cares about him is better than a heart attack and a grieving family.
As offensive as it is, accepting a basic but painful truth like this would likely lead this man to a longer, more-enjoyable life. Eventually, he might even come to call that initial offense a blessing. Meanwhile, there are others who would rather never be confronted—never shown a better way—all for the sake of avoiding the offensive inconvenience of saving truth.
To receive God’s blessing means having an openness and a willingness to admit that our ways are potentially and often-horribly wrong. It can be a hard confession to make thanks to pride. Can our ways still work out? Of course—God’s will is going to be done one way or another. But done our way, they’re naturally going to cost more. More pain, more heartache, and more disappointment. This is a cost that is completely different from the persecution Jesus promised us. It’s often avoidable and brought on by our own unbelief.
The moment of God’s blessing ultimately comes through our willingness to follow the nudging He gives us. The readiness and trust we show in those tough moments is where our relationships with Jesus plant their roots deeper, really allowing our lives on the surface to take shape and find a firm foundation.
This is the often-overlooked aspect of Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” It’s through trusting and seeking His purpose, His plan, His truth that good comes from every situation. So we shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed when the escape hatch He gracefully gives us out of the mess we create opens directly to His truth. God can redeem anything, but the prerequisite is that we give Him our brokenness to do with it as He knows best.
I’m not going to sit here and act like I have this all together all the time. But the biggest encouragement I’ve received as a Christian so far is to see an increase in my desire and trust for doing things God’s way in my life. It’s God making good on His graceful promise in Ezekiel 36:25-28:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.”