A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to assist our church’s, at the time, lead pastor with his sermon series on the book of Galatians. My purpose was to choose pictures to illustrate each chapter, as a supplement to his messages. While contemplating the dichotomy between the law and grace, the 1 + 1 = 1 equation came to mind as an overall method to illustrate this tension.
It not only applies to law and grace, but to grace and truth, Old Testament and New Testament, justice and mercy, wrath and compassion; whatever we struggle with when attempting to separate the supposed contradictions of our beliefs that are actually reconciled quite simply by equaling the same thing. These do not need to be dealt with as “this versus that” conundrums; in fact, the versus isn’t a versus at all, but rather an “addition to” or “can’t have one without the other.” Our God exemplifies them with the perfection only He can.
Christians have sought to find, and define, the balance between knowing and living out both grace and truth for ages. The fight to get the requirements right, to get our checklists organized and marked off, or to decide on how to engage the challenges life presents us with, is futile. We cannot win, but we don’t need to because God does the winning for us, through Christ. Even though we are called to pursue righteousness, to persevere in our faith, to be dead in our sin, and to seek Him always, we may be fighting with an incorrect motivation, which would be anything other than to glorify Him.
So to stock up on ammunition to win that next debate, or to elevate yourself by having an intellectual superiority as you compare yourself to others, isn’t to be considered glorifying to Him, but instead, to your ego. To approach the sin you see in someone else’s life or your own, erring too heavily on either side of grace and truth will be an ever present exercise. This isn’t to say that we are to stand in silence at the injustices we witness, but neither are we to run at them with self righteous vigor. Or to neglect to accumulate as much knowledge about Him as we continually can, relying only on His grace without absorbing His truth, but that through our practice, only He will make us perfect in the end.
If we could be aligned perfectly between either of the two extremes, we’d be Jesus; which not only isn’t attainable, but blasphemous if we think it is. A memorable sermon illustration from another pastor, Jon Brown, was that of a path, which stood alone, but with a cliff on both sides, representative of the world and religion, and the stand alone path is Christ’s way. This is so helpful to envision when attempting to reconcile two ideas or worldviews that appear to oppose eachother. To elaborate on Pastor Jon’s thought, we strive to stay in the middle, where the Way (Acts 9:2) walks, avoiding either cliff when possible, but letting Him keep you balanced, reaching out His hand to pull you up when you slip, not if you slip.
Is this all to claim that making your life a battleground, where you constantly struggle, to make the climb towards godliness an unworthy pursuit? As Paul would emphatically say, “By no means!” Quite the opposite, in fact. That we even see these tensions as conflicting, demanding our attention, as a battle between, is one of the blessings of sanctification from God. To deny, or abstain from exposing them as tensions would be more harmful. If we’re acknowledging the seemingly complicated doctrines of Scripture, it means we’re looking for that path in between and desiring to follow Christ.
Scripture gives us the weights and balances to pull together a concise answer to all of our quandaries (this post is light on verse references due to the fact that I’d be citing the thousands It offers). In It’s entirety, the Bible is inexhaustible when revealing to us how God can be all truth, all grace, all justice, all mercy, all wrath, all compassion: all God. When we attempt to qualify God into one category, without realizing that He’s all of them, we run the risk of mischaracterizing and misunderstanding who He is. That is a mistake we shouldn’t willingly make, since it affects every aspect of how we live; the way we treat others, the way we spend our time, the worldview we hold, the view we have of ourselves, the reaction we have amidst suffering or prosperity, and most importantly, how we can spend the days here on earth practicing how to glorify Him, so that when we reach Him in heaven, we can do it perfectly.