Blog by Dr. Kathryn V. Camp
It’s hard to believe that it was about twelve years ago that I first read and did a study on Randy Alcorn’s Bible study entitled, the Grace and Truth Paradox. It was exactly what I needed to study at that time in my life and journey with God. The LORD was revealing so much Truth to me that I needed to learn about the beauty of how He balances both grace and truth without compromising either. The title of Alcorn’s Bible study explicitly implies that grace and truth are a paradox to each other.
We will begin by defining what a paradox is in order to better understand the true and intended meaning behind these concepts. The word “paradox” stems from two Greek words para (alongside of, but separate) and doxa (a contrary opinion). Basically, what he is saying is that grace and truth are seemingly contradictory concepts. You may be thinking that as well. That is precisely why a very close study of both grace and truth warrant careful consideration, especially since we are told in Scripture that Jesus is the epitome of both grace and truth (John 1:14).
Everyone loves to talk about grace, and how God extends grace to humanity. We all want a second chance when we fail. We all seek forgiveness for something we may have done wrong. Our lives are not perfect, so all of us need grace extended to us from time to time. What exactly is grace? Grace, for our understanding, is an action or preference extended to us, which ultimately works in our favor that we do not deserve.
Although grace is found in all its purity in God alone we, as humans, have the capacity to extend grace to those in our lives. This is possible for humans since we are created in the image of the Creator and He has chosen to impart His communicable attributes to us as His image bearers. We see countless examples of grace all around us daily. As parents, we may occasionally extend grace to our children by giving them an allowance even if their chores were only partially completed. There are times when a police officer will issue a ‘warning’ as opposed to writing a speeding ticket, even if you were speeding. Some teachers will extend grace to a student who has not turned in an assignment on time.
Each scenario above, exhibits the human capacity to extend an act of grace to a fellow human being. When we extend grace with an understanding of the grace that has been given to us by God, we exhibit the love of Christ to others. Unfortunately, acts of grace come with boundaries. A parent will extend grace to a child who has not completed their chores on a given week, but if the work required is rarely completed, that grace will most likely cease. It will be the same with the police officer and the teacher.
If the same person who is given a warning, instead of a speeding ticket, continues to speed, there will likely be no grace extended the second or third time. The student who is perpetually late with her assignments will also run the risk of failing, as the grace extended to her will eventually cease. Flawed human nature understands grace as well as the boundaries set by grace. Every act of grace necessarily has its boundaries. If allowed, our human nature will push the boundaries that we are given to the point of diminishing the power of grace.
Grace then becomes an expected act and thus, a sense of entitlement becomes what is normal and grace is no longer an extraordinary action, but an expected requirement of the giver. The question is then, how does grace work when it pertains to God’s grace that is extended to humanity? Does God set boundaries on his grace? Is there a limit to God’s grace? Most importantly, how do we know when we have crossed the line from gratitude to expectation?
In order to grasp the magnitude of God’s grace and any natural boundaries to His grace, it is necessary to understand the character and nature of God. The grace given to us by God is tied to His justice. Through a proper reading of Scripture we learn of God’s perfect acts of judgement (Deut. 32:4; Job 8:3). God’s perfect justice requires punishment (Dan. 9:12 -14; Heb.12:4-11). Yet, what we see over and over again in Scripture is God’s way of executing justice is to allow people to have their own way. When people rebel against God, they are refusing to live within His guidelines, thus rejecting His ways.
When we reject any boundaries, we are at the same time, implicitly rejecting the one who set those boundaries. When people reject God’s boundaries, they are choosing to walk away from His promise of protection. The penalty is a natural consequence to stepping outside of His promise of security (Deut. 6:3; 28; 2 Cor. 1:19-21). God is not required to take us back when we realize that our lives are no longer being blessed, the fact that He does is grace. There is a period of great suffering that can occur during our time away from His presence and many see this as God’s wrath.
Part of understanding God is to comprehend His ‘wrath.’ To begin with, God is holy, which is to say that He is separate and our perception of His wrath is tied into His absolute holiness. He does not change or fluctuate in who He is (Num. 23:19; Ps. 55:19; Jas. 1:17), but we do. The Bible clearly shows us how God practically begs humanity to repent and return to Him (Neh.1:9; Is 44:21-23; Matt. 3:1-3), this is because He knows what is ultimately in our best interest. We are both fortunate to live in a day where science and technology allows us to see how all of creation is tied into God’s perfection, and we are also cursed by this blessing.
We are blessed if we recognize God’s reasons for His boundaries for the created order and cursed if we continue to reject the word of God as Truth, even in face of scientific evidence. Those who continue to reject God’s Word will now have no excuse for their rebellion toward and dismissal of His guidelines, because scientific discoveries reveal His purpose for our lives. Recent neurological studies reveal the psychological harm that we do to ourselves when we step outside of the boundaries set by the Creator. When we live our lives in continual rebellion there is clinical proof that what our minds become accustom to, our bodies will eventually suffer from as our lives become a self-made prison.
The character and nature of God never changes from Old Testament to New Testament. When we rebel against God, we sin. It is our way of telling God that we know what is best for us. In spite of our rebellion as humans, God has always continued to grant overwhelming grace to His people. In Scripture, when Moses was leading the Hebrews through the wilderness and they did nothing but rebel, we see that God continued to protect them (Ex. 33:2-4). The book of Judges is the reality of the end result of what happens when a people, show utter disdain and rejection of God’s word, yet He is prepared to forgive those who return to Him. 1 and 2 Samuel are a picture for us as to God’s grace in action, even in the midst of disobedience of the people, God remains faithful to His promises, this is grace.
Throughout the period of the prophets, we see God’s judgment and His promise of grace for His people. In the New Testament, we see God’s promises fulfilled in His Son, Jesus of Nazareth. This is the ultimate offer of grace that is extended to all of us. Yet, for those who continue to reject the Word of God, and live lifestyles opposed to His truth, there is nothing left (John 3:18). When God’s Messiah arrived in the flesh, the offer to live eternally with the Father changed the way that we would forever see God. From the eyes of the world nothing truly changed with the arrival of God’s Messiah, but from the eyes of God’s people, everything changed. In the man of Jesus, we find God’s pronouncement of judgment and His final offer of grace.
(To be continued next week)