A Mirror Into the Soul

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22-25 ESV)

imageI love the mental image this verse conjures up in my mind – the image of looking at my reflection in a mirror. It speaks to the perspective we should adopt as we open up God’s Word.

Whenever I look into a mirror, I am focused on my outward appearance. Do I need to shave or comb my hair? Did I cut myself shaving this morning? Is anything hanging out of my nose?

When we peer into God’s Word, we should think of it as a mirror into our inner appearance. Do my thoughts and attitudes reflect the heart of God as revealed in the Scriptures? Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (NIV)

Instead, all too often I tend you use God’s Word as a magnifying glass through which I look to judge everyone around me. From time to time this has led to a few caustic comments on social media which I quickly came to regret when they led to unfruitful and contentious discussions. Such encounters rarely change opinions, but they sometimes fracture relationships.

2 Timothy 2:23-24 wisely counsels us, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (NIV)

In this day when the widespread use of social media impacts so many of our relationships, we would all be wise to heed Paul’s advice to Timothy. And as we read God’s Word, we should be more mindful of the logs in our own eyes as revealed by Scripture and less focused on the specks in the eyes of others. (Matthew 7:5)

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6 NIV)

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Dispensing Truth With Grace

Series: Reflections From John

“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. … From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14, 16-17)

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C. S. Lewis once walked into a conference of religious leaders who were debating what unique aspect of Christianity sets it apart from all other religions. After asking what all the noisy discussion was about, Lewis brought the conversation to a quick close when he replied, “That’s easy. It’s grace.”

Grace has been defined as the unmerited, unearned, undeserved, favor of God. While it is indeed unique to Christianity among all the major religions, surveys consistently reveal that grace is not the first thing that comes to mind when those outside the faith think of Christians. That should be very convicting to those of us who consider ourselves followers of the One John describes as “full of grace and truth”.

Addressing this passage which concludes John’s prologue in his book, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened To The Good News?, Philip Yancey writes:

“The church has worked tirelessly on the truth part of that formula: witness the church councils, creeds, volumes of theology, and denominational splits over minor points of doctrine. I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace. Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt dispensers than as grace dispensers.”

After leading Bible studies for almost twenty years, observing the actions of Christians for much longer than that, and honestly assessing my own tendency to stress truth over grace, I must concur with Yancey’s convicting words. The fact that those outside the faith don’t see us as grace dispensers likely explains why our personal evangelism efforts so often fall short.

Colossians 4:5 says “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” The world is hungry for the truth of God’s Word, but if the truth we proclaim is not dispensed with grace and modeled in our lives, none of our words will matter.

Grace opens the door to allow truth to enter the hardest heart. As I examine my own faith journey, it is those individuals who dispensed truth with a healthy dose of grace who have had the greatest impact on me. As in all things, Christ provides us the perfect example. In his book, The Grace And Truth Paradox, Randy Alcorn writes,

“Grace and truth found their perfect union in Christ, but the rest of us tend to gravitate toward one or the other. Truth without grace breeds self-righteousness and legalism. Grace without truth breeds deception and moral compromise. The key to true Christian spirituality is to integrate these two qualities into life, imitating the character of Christ.”

John reminds us that “from the fullness of God’s grace, we have all received one blessing after another.” Having experienced the amazing and matchless grace of God, why would we ever withhold grace from others, no matter our differences? While we will often disagree with those outside the faith and sometimes even among ourselves within the faith on certain issues, we must be mindful that words of grace will always be more persuasive than insults.

This is especially true in the use of social media, where our written words often come across as more harsh than we realize or intend. As a follower of Christ, I’m often embarrassed and even angered by some of the comments I see posted by Christians and must confess to my own failings in that regard. I shudder when I consider the Biblical truth that I will one day give an account for every idle word I have spoken. (Matt. 12:36)  And that accounting will surely include those words I have posted on Facebook and Twitter as well.

The last Sunday School class I taught was called the “Truth Seekers”. And I will always strive to be a seeker and dispenser of truth. But in my Christian walk, I am increasingly mindful that I must also be a “Grace Dispenser”, speaking the truth in love, if the truth I’m attempting to convey is to draw others to the Christ I proclaim.

“If we minimize grace, the world sees no hope for salvation. If we minimize truth, the world sees no need for salvation. To show the world Jesus, we must offer full-orbed, unabridged truth and grace, magnifying both, never downsizing or apologizing for either.” – Randy Alcorn, “The Grace And Truth Paradox”

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version. (NIV)