We live in a pluralistic society where ideas and cultures collide. As Christians, how should we navigate these collisions? Watching the ministry of Jesus gives us a clue.
To any controversy Jesus brought grace and truth.
Jesus did not avoid controversy. He allowed all kinds of sketchy types and rejects to join him (Matthew 9:10). He talked with sinners and saints, conservatives and liberals, the religious and irreligious, Jewish zealots and Gentile heretics. And to all of these Jesus extended grace. His very presence and dialogue expressed this grace. That he would welcome, engage, serve, and ultimately die for these ruffians shows the radical nature of his grace. Zooming out, the incarnation itself – God come in flesh, God condescending to be with humans – bears witness to God’s immeasurable, engaging grace.
But the love of Jesus did not equal approval of every controversial action and doctrine he encountered. To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus gave grace but said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). To the Sadducees, the theological liberals of the day, Jesus listened to their questions, but then in turn questioned their understanding of the power of God and their understanding of scripture (Matthew 22:29).
Grace and Truth
Believers today must likewise embrace this double-edged ministry of grace and truth. The Apostle Paul, the expansive first century church planter, entreated Christians to walk this line. They were to correct opponents but with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:25). They were to serve those inside and outside the church (Galatians 6:10)…in other words, those they agreed with and those they disagreed with. They were to refrain from judging outsiders (1 Corinthians 5:12), but called to lovingly judge insiders, and all of this in a spirit of restoration (Galatians 6:1).
No Size Fits All
These two facets of ministry must never be separated. Like a double-edged sword, they must be wielded this way and that. And like a wielded sword, each side will be emphasized to varying degrees at various times. This is where the church’s involvement in culture and controversy gets gray.
What does it look like to minister in grace and truth at your place of work, in public school, on campus? No one size fits all. Some moments call primarily for unremitting grace. Others call mostly for a clear and bold statement of truth. But all situations call for a balance of both sides.
No doubt, many will be unhappy with the balance you strike.
But greater than the danger of unbalanced cultural engagement is the danger of no cultural engagement at all. Jesus admonishes us to make a difference, to be in the world (John 17:15) and to bring light (Matthew 5:14) to this present darkness. Repeatedly, he tells parables that convey his delight in those who with reckless abandon give their lives away for the kingdom of God. The sower sows liberally. The treasure hunter sells everything. The five talents guy invests the whole kit and caboodle.
To me, the flavor of all these stories suggests we should get out there. We should go. We should engage…with grace in one hand and truth in the other.
What do you think?