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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #6: Grace and Truth Revisited

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. John 1:14

Over the past couple of decades, a number of scholars have again tried to decipher the historic Jesus. The book versions of their conclusions include portraying Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, charismatic healer, cynic, philosopher, Jewish Messiah, and prophet of social change— none of which has generated strong scholarly agreement. Somehow, each portrait misses the essence of Jesus, whose death and resurrection changed the world.

But one eyewitness to the historic life of Jesus shared a personal understanding of him. The apostle John introduces Jesus as the Word becoming human, full of grace and truth. Why is this portrait so powerful for those who know Jesus even to this day?

This picture of Jesus is all about why he is the good news. He is the God-Man. His existence did not start with the virgin birth, but before eternity with God—as God. Yet he was born within time, at the right time, to bring God near to those whose whole existence was to be God’s chosen people, then to us who were—as Paul put it in Ephesians 2—far away. And it was what Jesus exuded that makes this statement so much more remarkable. He was full of grace and truth.

Somewhere along the way from the first century to today, the meaning of grace got hijacked. If you read comments on this verse, you will find teachers referring to this as an indication of Jesus being gracious. Others suggest that this means Jesus is merciful, forgiving and compassionate. Jesus is certainly all this and more, but that is not what grace meant to the earliest church.

To them, grace is a word referring to the empowering work of God. Paul shares the conclusion of his thorn-in-the-flesh moment with this bit of conversation with the Father: “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (Corinthians 12:9) In other words, grace was about God exercising His power in Paul’s life to accomplish much through him despite his ‘thorn.’

When we weaken the meaning of grace, we miss the point of the word ‘truth.’ Jesus being full of truth was more than a comment on one of his virtues—like he was a truthful person. Truth is about the whole gamut of what Jesus reveals. As the Word, he reveals the truth about God. His hearers thought they knew God, thought they spoke for God, but were dead wrong about God and didn’t know it until Jesus showed up as God.

But the truth of Jesus reveals even more. As the last Adam, he reveals the truth about man. We had no idea what the image of God in Adam was supposed to look like until Jesus lived this out in front of us. Without sin. Intimate with the Father. So obedient as to be willing to lay down his life for the sins of the world.

The grace and truth of Jesus continues to transform the world. As we put our faith in him, we are transformed by the empowering work of the Spirit from the broken people we were (grace) back to the people we were created to be before the Fall, hungering again for the reign of God over our lives (truth). If I have to choose a portrait of Jesus, John’s is the one that catches his essence.

Steve Smith