There seems to be a dichotomy between how Jesus practiced truth and treated people and how believers practice truth and treat people. I am always fascinated by the interactions that Jesus had with people whose lives were far from Him. That is until they met Him. Think of the Rich Young Ruler exchange or the conversation with Nicodemus, or the conversation with the woman at the well or the many people He healed.
Here are some observations. First, Jesus was a magnet for people who needed grace. Second, Jesus had a way of sharing truth that was not offensive to those who heard it. Third, Jesus was infinitely gracious toward those He interacted with.
Now I contrast that with what I see in many Christian circles today where we lead with our truth and the Bible and judgements around the lifestyle choices and situations of those we come into contact with. Gandhi put his finger on the issue when he wrote “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Even though I don’t want to admit it, I believe Gandhi is right. I speak for myself, and many I know, and admit that we often don’t look like Jesus.
What are many Christians known for? We are known for all the things we are against. We fight culture wars and target sins we think are the most egregious (which usually means they are not our sins, which are many). We can be critical, judgemental, and even harsh in our words. And we cloak it all in Scripture, using the Bible as a hammer to prove our point. I find this really interesting because this is not how Jesus engaged those who didn’t know God. He didn’t use Scripture as a hammer. He entered into relationships and dialogue and did so in an amazingly grace filled way. He connected with people. He was for the people He connected with. Rather than condemn those who were in sinful lifestyles he had empathy and compassion for their situation and engaged with them.
Jesus especially loved dinner parties where he mingled with whoever wanted to show up. In fact, the very people that we often won’t hang with because their lifestyle is sinful. And then we wonder why they don’t show up for church. I wonder if we have not been more conditioned by the church experience we grew up with than we have the Gospels and the example of Jesus. We have prioritized truth over grace and acceptance and relationships and love.
There is a foundational verse in John 1:14. This verse ought to inform our understanding of how we approach those around us. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Where the text says that He made his dwelling among us, the literal translation is something like He came and pup-tented with us. He came and camped with us. This fascinates me because there is so much emphasis among some Christians of being very separate from the world. That was not Jesus’s style. He came to live among us. That is why He was able to identify with people. He was the most approachable individual who ever lived and I want to be that way. He was a magnet for people and I want to be that way.
John further says that Jesus came full of Grace and Truth. So let's talk about the order of those two words. Grace comes before truth. That is because truth without grace is harsh and hard. Yet many believers try to lead with truth (this is what the Bible says) and in the process they push unbelievers away. And even fellow believers. Think of the many moralistic messages that are posted on social media. It may be truth, but it is often lacking in grace and usually not understood at all by unbelievers. In the process we lose the very people that many of us would like to reach.
The grace that Jesus exhibited was magnetic. It drew people to Him and He didn’t lead with social media (OK I know there was none in the day) but He led with relationships. This was in contrast to the teachers of the law who were usually in the business of condemnation rather than grace, acceptance and love. The teachers of the law were known for all the things they were against, for calling out sin and judgmental attitudes. In contrast, Jesus was known for His love of people, compassion for their brokenness, and great tenderness in how He dealt with them. It was always grace and truth in that order.
As I read the Gospels I am more convinced than ever that we need a new movement of grace in our day that is for people and that is like Jesus. The more grace we possess, the more people will gravitate toward us and Jesus. The less grace we possess, the more we repel people and we become the barrier to them finding Jesus.
At the heart of being a practitioner of grace is the practice of accepting others rather than judging others. It is easy to judge. Especially because it makes us feel better about ourselves. If I can judge others I can ignore my own ubiquitous shortcomings. Yet, the only reason we have a relationship with Jesus is because He accepted us with grace. He didn’t tell us all the things that were wrong in our life but invited us into relationship knowing that, over time, His Spirit would change us. He didn’t try to fix us but brought us into a relationship. Rather than judging, He loved and rather than condemning He showed mercy and compassion. I want to look like Jesus and I bet you do too.
I have a vision of a people of God who are so gracious and loving and full of grace that we are magnets for both believers and unbelievers. I have a vision of a people who look and act with the grace and love of Jesus. In this Lenten season, as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, let's live that resurrection life out with His grace and love.
Father. Save me from judgmentalism and harshness and give me a vision of a life so characterized by your grace that people are attracted to me and then to you. For you are the source of grace. Amen