Late one rainy night, my wife and I were leaving a movie theater
when Nanci noticed an older man in the parking lot
leaning on a walker, struggling. I helped him get into his car.
Since he was so exhausted, I asked if I could drive him home.
He declined, but I said we'd follow him home in case
he needed help. As he pulled out, driving erratically, we
prayed he wouldn't find the street. Our prayers were
answered when he got trapped in a fast-food drivethrough
line. I opened his door and asked him to move to
the passenger seat so I could drive him home, while Nanci
As I pulled out, two men jumped in front of the car,
waving their arms and a cell phone. One shouted, "My
wife's having our baby, and I have to get home. Can you
"Well," I said, "this isn't my car, and I don't know this
man sitting next to me."
Sounded pretty lame, don't you think?
I asked Nanci to drive the older man's car and follow
me while I took those guys home (wherever that was). After
dropping them off, I hopped back in with George-by
now I knew his name-to take him home (wherever that
was). When we reached his place, I helped him to his room.
I found out George had been a political science professor
at San Francisco State University for twenty-eight years.
I realized that most people of George's background would
not count Bible-believing Christians among their favorite
people! George asked me why we had helped him. I told
him we were followers of Christ. I left him my book
Light of Eternity
. I prayed God would touch his life and
hoped we'd hear the rest of the story in eternity.
As it turns out, we didn't have to wait that long.
Two months later my assistant Kathy woke up in the
middle of the night experiencing a strange medical problem
she'd never had before and hasn't had since. The next day
she went to her doctor, bringing with her a copy of
. When the doctor saw it, he said, "One of my
patients was carrying that book the other day-and he told
me he wished he could talk to the author."
Kathy returned to our office with George's phone
number. I called him and asked if he wanted me to drop by.
He did. George was full of questions. He wanted to know
the truth about Jesus Christ. He couldn't get over the idea
of grace, that God could really forgive rotten people. He
said it sounded "too easy."
Two hours of discussion followed. I saw God's Spirit at
work in George. Finally he prayed, confessed his sin, and
accepted Christ's gift of eternal life.
Now, what are the chances of all these events coinciding?
No chance at all-they were a series of divine appointments.
A small act of grace by my wife and me (two small acts,
counting the trip to the woman ready to deliver a baby)
somehow made an impression on George-and also got
into his hands a book that offered him the truth.
What George saw, what he wrestled with, and what
ultimately brought him to Christ was grace and truth.
What Gives Us Away?
A friend sat down in a small London restaurant and picked
up a menu.
"What will it be?" the waiter asked.
Studying the puzzling selections, my friend said,
The waiter smiled. "Oh, a Yank. What part of the
States are you from?"
He hadn't said a word. But he'd already given himself
In the first century, Christ's followers were also recognized
immediately. What gave them away?
It wasn't their buildings. They had none.
It wasn't their programs. They had none.
It wasn't their political power. They had none.
It wasn't their slick publications, TV networks, bumper
stickers, or celebrities. They had none.
What was it?
With great power the apostles continued to testify
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much
grace was upon them all.
They testified to the truth about Christ and lived by
His grace. Truth was the food they ate and the message they
spoke. Grace was the air they breathed and the life they
The world around them had never seen anything like it.
It still hasn't.
The Two Essentials
The only "church growth formula" the early church possessed
was the body of truth flowing with the blood of
grace. They drew thousands to Jesus by being like Jesus.
But what does it mean to "be like Jesus"? We could
come up with long lists of His character qualities. But the
longer the list, the less we can wrap our minds around it. (I
can't even juggle three balls. How could I juggle dozens?)
But what if the character of Christ was reducible to two
In fact, it is:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
with God, and the Word was God The Word
became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We
have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth
John 1:1, 14, emphasis added
Jesus is full of two things: grace and truth.
Not "full of patience, wisdom, beauty, compassion, and
creativity." In the list there are no commas and only one
andtruth. Scripture distills Christ's
attributes into a two-point checklist of Christlikeness.
The baby born in a Bethlehem barn was Creator of the
universe. He pitched His tent on the humble camping
ground of our little planet. God's glory no longer dwelt in
a temple of wood and stone, but in Christ. He was the Holy
But when He ascended back into the wide blue heavens,
He left God's shekinah glory-that visible manifestation
of God's presence-on earth. We Christians became
His living temples, the new Holy of Holies (1 Corinthians
People had only to look at Jesus to see what God is like.
People today should only have to look at us to see what Jesus is
like.For better or worse, they'll draw conclusions about
Christ from what they see in us. If we fail the grace test, we
fail to be Christlike. If we fail the truth test, we fail to be
Christlike. If we pass both tests, we're like Jesus.
A grace-starved, truth-starved world needs Jesus, full of
grace and truth.
So what does this hungry world see when it looks at us?
Surprised by Grace
First-century Jewish culture understood truth far better
than grace. Grace comes first in John 1:14 because it was
When Jesus stepped onto the world's stage, people
could not only hear the demands of truth but also see Truth
Himself. No longer fleeting glimmers of grace, but Grace
Himself. "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin
of the world" (John 1:29, NASB).
When God passed in front of Moses, He identified
Himself as "abounding in love and faithfulness" (Exodus
34:6). The words translated
Hebrew equivalents of
Graceis a delightful, fragrant word.
It also confounds. It's as though God said, "You know
about truth. It's taught in synagogues every Sabbath. But let
Me tell you about grace ."
The Old Testament teaches the fear of God, spelling
out the horrendous consequences of disregarding truth. It
presents truth relentlessly. Uzzah was struck down for
simply steadying the ark of the covenant with his hand.
There's certainly grace in the Old Testament-lots of
it-but it was overshadowed by truth. The Pharisees, God's
self-appointed gatekeepers, never emphasized grace.
Christ's hearers had seen truth in the law of Moses, but it
was Christ who gave them their first clear view of grace.
The law could only reveal sin. Jesus could
Some churches today embrace truth but need
dose of grace
Other churches talk about grace but cry out for
dose of truth
Some time ago, I invited a lesbian activist to lunch. For
the first hour, she hammered me, telling of all the Christians
who'd mistreated her. She seemed as hard as nails. I listened,
trying to show her God's grace, praying she'd see the Jesus
she desperately needed. She raised her voice and cursed
freely. People stared. But that was okay. Jesus went to the
cross for her-the least I could do was listen.
Suddenly she was crying, sobbing, broken. I reached
across the table and took her hand. For the next two hours
I heard her story, her heartsickness, her doubts about the
causes she championed. I told her about Christ's grace.
After four hours we walked out of that restaurant, side
by side. We hugged.
In our conversation, truth wasn't shared at the expense
of grace, or grace at the expense of truth.
Birds need two wings to fly. With only one wing,
they're grounded. The gospel flies with the wings of grace
and truth. Not one, but both.
The apparent conflict that exists between grace and truth isn't
because they're incompatible, but because we lack perspective
to resolve their paradox. The two are
should never approach truth except in a spirit of grace, or
grace except in a spirit of truth. Jesus wasn't 50 percent grace,
50 percent truth, but 100 percent grace, 100 percent truth.
Truth-oriented Christians love studying Scripture and
theology. But sometimes they're quick to judge and slow to
forgive. They're strong on truth, weak on grace.
Grace-oriented Christians love forgiveness and freedom.
But sometimes they neglect Bible study and see moral standards
as "legalism." They're strong on grace, weak on truth.
Countless mistakes in marriage, parenting, ministry,
and other relationships are failures to balance grace and
truth. Sometimes we neglect both. Often we choose one
over the other.
It reminds me of Moses, our dalmatian.
When one tennis ball is in his mouth, the other's on
the floor. When he goes for the second ball, he drops the
first. Large dogs can get two balls in their mouth. Not
Moses. He manages to get two in his mouth only momentarily.
To his distress, one ball or the other spurts out onto
Similarly, our minds don't seem big enough to hold on to
andtruth at the same time. We go after the grace ball-only
to drop the truth ball to make room for it. We need to
stretch our undersized minds to hold them both at once.
A paradox is an
apparentcontradiction. Grace and
truth aren't really contradictory. Jesus didn't switch on truth
and then turn it off so He could switch on grace. Both are
permanently switched on in Jesus. Both should be switched
on in us.
What would Jesus do? There is always one answer: He
would act in grace and truth.
Truth without grace breeds a self-righteous legalism
that poisons the church and pushes the world away from
Grace without truth breeds moral indifference and
keeps people from seeing their need for Christ.
Attempts to "soften" the gospel by minimizing truth
keep people from Jesus. Attempts to "toughen" the gospel
by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus. It's not
enough for us to offer grace
We must offer both.
That's what this little book is all about.