Being Offensive and Charitable

A “prodigal daughter” rebelled against her parents and ran away from home. Alone and in a different city, she turned to drugs and prostitution. Even after seeing a missing persons report with her face on it, she refused to contact her family. After a couple years, she found herself thrown out on the streets with no one to turn to—except her family. She called her parents and let them know she was taking a bus back home.

Rand Alcorn relays this story (originally told by Philip Yancey) in his book The Grace and Truth Paradox. I’ll let him finish:

As she steps off the bus, she finds herself greeted by forty brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and her parents, all wearing party hats, with a huge banner stretched out saying, “Welcome home.”

Before she can finish saying “I’m sorry,” her father murmurs, “Hush, sweetheart, we’ll talk later. We’ve got to get you home to the party; there’s a banquet waiting for you!”

This is just one of many stories told in Alcorn’s Grace and Truth Paradox. It’s a small hardback—under 100 pages—and the pages fly by. But for its brevity, it says a lot.

I wish I’d have read this book shortly after its release ten years ago. If you’re familiar with my story, you’re aware that God is using various elements like wet pants and the Hebrew language to teach me how to more fully experience and demonstrate God’s love. This book is a huge encouragement to pursue love by focusing on two elements that we might naturally think are opposites: grace and truth. The paradox of its title, however, is imagined. Grace and truth are complementary to the highest degree. As Alcorn says, “Anything less than both is neither.”

In this powerful little volume, Alcorn explores the scandalous nature of unrelenting grace and unbending truth. Using poignant stories from Scripture and his own life, he illustrates the world’s desperate need for the church to weave grace and truth into the fabric of its walk and talk. He warns against abusing grace by lowering Christ’s standards in the name of tolerance. He warns against abusing truth by using it as a weapon for self-righteousness and condemnation.

Something’s wrong if all unbelievers hate us.
     Something’s wrong if all unbelievers like us.
     If we accurately demonstrate grace and truth, some will be drawn to us and others will be offended by us—just as they were by Jesus.
     When we offend everybody, it’s because we’ve taken on the truth mantle without grace. When we offend nobody, it’s because we’ve watered down truth in the name of grace.

Most importantly, Alcorn shows us the Savior, who acted as our substitute and example by being “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 14). It is His display of grace and truth for us that enables us to display grace and truth for others. Because God designed grace and truth to work together, Alcorn proposes that we can support the ownership of private property and the need to voluntarily share wealth with the needy; we can oppose injustice to minorities and the unborn; we can oppose greedy ruination of the environment and anti-industry environmentalism; we can oppose sexual immorality in all its forms and show genuine compassion to those trapped in destructive lifestyles.

When you’re caught committing adultery, probably the last person you want to be brought before is the person who outlawed adultery in the first place. But that’s exactly what happens to the adulteress in John 8. And yet, the outcome wasn’t what she might have expected. As Alcorn explains,

     Jesus rebuked the woman’s accusers. But that isn’t the end of the story. He could have said,
     “Go burn for your sins.”
     “Go and feel free to sin some more.”
     What He did say was, “Go and sin no more.”
     Jesus didn’t deny truth. He affirmed it. She needed to repent. And change.
     Jesus didn’t deny grace. He offered it. He sent her away, forgiven and cleansed, to a new life.

If you struggle at all with using truth as a weapon of war instead of a tool of love, I recommend reading this book. If you struggle at all with using grace as an excuse to overlook sin (either in your life or the lives of others), I recommend reading this book. You will be challenged and encouraged. You will be humbled and amazed. And you will encounter a glorious Savior who will draw you into His arms with grace and truth.