Our recent discussion about McLaren’s book reminded me of First Timothy 1, where Paul shows us how to balance both grace and truth. He begins by telling Timothy to fight for truth, saying that he left him in Ephesus to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” which “promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith” (1:3-4).
Paul’s ministry in Ephesus seems particularly relevant today. Paul lived and taught there more than two years (Acts 19:10), and yet he must have realized that his message wasn’t getting through to everyone. He warned the elders that “savage wolves…from your own number…will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). And despite Paul’s best efforts, the Bible ends with the sober warning that the church in Ephesus had “forsaken [its] first love” (Rev. 2:4).
Whether or not our efforts are successful, we must follow Paul’s orders to fight for truth in our Ephesus. And yet we may lose something just for playing. If we’re not careful we can become combative, cynical, and smugly superior to those who for whatever reason don’t embrace the truth that we know (this temptation exists for both sides). Perhaps this is why the second half of First Timothy 1 drips with mercy and grace. Paul twice says that he is “the worst of sinners,” a trophy of God’s patient mercy (1:12-17).
We need both grace and truth, for they are parallel rails that keep our faith on track. They push on one another, as grace is the point of truth and the truth is that God is gracious. But they also can pull away, as truth without grace makes for a fighting fundamentalism and grace without truth is a recipe for mushy, anything-goes liberalism.
Here is my initial thought on how to balance the two (and I welcome your respectful dialogue): grace supplies the why and truth provides the how of what we believe. The grace of Christ is the reason why we defend the truth and the truth of Christ is how his grace saves us. Without grace there is no point to truth and without truth there is no power in grace.
We must not soften either grace or truth to make room for the other, but we must maximize both so each can nourish the other. Let’s follow the example of Paul as he followed the example of our Lord, “who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).