"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 1:14

Monday, February 3, 2014

“And” is Better

A recent ad campaign brings this concept to us in hilarious clarity. “And” is better than “or.” Take sweet and sour chicken…what if it were only sour? What if a pee-wee coach were just loud and not clear? You get the picture.

Yet so often, in our theology and the way we do life, we gravitate toward “or.” I hear it in conversations; I see it in Facebook posts, televised sermons and the books on the shelves at local stores. We apparently think the message of Jesus is love “or’ judgment, grace “or” truth, mercy “or” love. By choosing “or,” we miss the beauty and mystery of “and.”

Most family therapists these days recognize the need for love “and” limits. Children who grow up without nurturance “and” boundaries become lopsided adults—either performance oriented to the exclusion of meaningful attachments, extremely insecure and needy, or entitled people who believe the laws and rules of society (and Scripture) do not apply to them. This is part of why our family structures are disintegrating before us, like a slow motion train wreck.

The way we view judgment is a great (but controversial) example. Jesus did indeed teach, “Judge not lest you be judged…by the same standard.” Paul, in a balancing “and” taught that we (believers) are to judge the conduct of those within the church, and discern (same Greek word as judge) truth from error. While we tend to see concepts in mutually exclusive spheres, truth and love are in fact concentric circles. The loving one tells a difficult truth for the sake of repentance, reconciliation (where possible), growth and maturity. In turn, it is part of a greater truth that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son so that all who believe in him would not perish. The coexistence of love and truth is what Paul alluded to when he said that, speaking truth in love, we will all grow up to resemble Jesus. And Jesus came in grace “and” truth, not grace “or” truth.

A major theme of Scripture is this concept that there is a Godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Repentance, in turn, leads to forgiveness, and forgiveness leads to freedom--from judgment as well as the sin that binds us. We have become so afraid of “and” that many mainstream churches will not talk about sin because they don’t want people to feel bad about themselves. So people cannot be brought to a place of repentance, and cannot receive the benefits of freedom or a real relationship with God through Jesus.

Jesus was indeed a teacher of love, but not a love without limits. He forgave the woman caught in adultery “and” told her to go and sin no more. He said more about hell than we are comfortable knowing, and he was flat out angry with the self-righteous. Some equate the “religious” with the self-righteous of Jesus’ day, and they have a point. The bigger problem is that most people today feel that they have no need to repent because they do not believe in sin. How is this not self-righteousness? It concludes that people are good enough for a relationship with God on their own merit. If this is so, Christ died in vain—his sacrifice was unnecessary if people are good enough already. People who are already good enough do not need a Savior. This is a delusion and a lie and represents what Jesus called the “broad path” the majority takes, that leads to destruction.

He dwelt among us in grace “and” truth. He taught repentance “and” forgiveness of sins. While we may feel better about ourselves in the short term if we believe in love without consequences, when it comes to eternity, maturity and real relationship with God and others, “and” is better than “or.”

Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. ~ Proverbs 3:3 (NKJV)

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