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The thing I could have done to my father was what I was tempted to do—water down the truth. It would have made it easier on me for the moment. But withholding God’s truth from my dad would have been withholding from him God’s grace.

What if we could reduce Christ’s attributes to just two qualities that we could wrap our minds around? John 1:14 does exactly that. It describes him as “full of grace and truth.”

To be Christlike is to be full of what He was full of: grace and truth.

Truth-oriented Christians love studying Scripture and theology. But sometimes they’re quick to judge and slow to forgive. They may be strong on truth, weak on grace.

Grace-oriented Christians love forgiveness and freedom. But sometimes they neglect biblical study and see moral standards as “legalism.” They’re strong on grace, weak on truth.

Countless mistakes in marriage, parenting and ministry boil down to 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. Then one ball or the other spurts out onto the floor.

Similarly, our minds don’t seem big enough to hold onto grace and truth 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.

Finding the Balance

The church I used to pastor (and still attend) was picketed by 30 pro-abortion protestors. Why? Some of our people go to abortion clinics and offer alternatives, passing out pro-life literature and sharing the gospel when they can.

So one rainy Sunday morning, our church parking lot was invaded by Radical Women for Choice, Rock for Choice and the Lesbian Avengers. Hearing they were coming, we set out donuts and coffee. I spent an hour and a half with a protestor named Charles, who held a sign saying, “Keep Abortion Legal.” We talked a little about abortion and a lot about Christ. I explained the gospel.

I liked Charles. But when you believe as I do—that abortion is killing children—it’s a bit awkward serving coffee and holding an umbrella for someone waving a pro-abortion sign. Yet because of the opportunity to share Christ’s grace, it seemed the right thing to do.

It’s not just truth that puts us in awkward situations. Grace does also. On that morning we were picketed, some street preachers showed up to take on the abortion activists with signs shouting hell and damnation. Their message contained truth, but their approach lacked grace. One of the street preachers barged between my daughter and me and a few of the Lesbian Avengers, just as we finally had an opportunity to talk with them. The door of witnessing was slammed in our faces ... by Christian brothers.

We tried to reason with the street preachers. (By the way, I believe there’s definitely a place for street preaching.) After all, this was our church, and we didn’t want them screaming at our guests—even if they were screaming truth. Most cooperated, but a few decided we were waffling on truth, and it was an abomination for us to offer donuts to people who needed rebuke.

The following Sunday, two street preachers picketed our church, scolding us for our “pathetic” attempts at donut and coffee evangelism.

In 25 years, our church has only been picketed twice—two weeks in a row!—first by radically liberal nonbelievers for speaking truth, and second, by radically conservative believers for showing grace.

That’s how it is on this tightrope walk between truth and grace. When you stand for truth, you’re held in contempt by some non-Christians (and even some Christians). When you offer grace, you’re held in contempt by some Christians (and even some non-Christians). When you try to live by grace and truth, in some eyes you’ll be too radical; in other eyes, not radical enough.

Grace-only folk don’t understand why Jesus said, “Fear him who has the power to throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5). Truth-only folk don’t understand why Jesus hung out with sinners, and why He hung on a cross for them.

Attempts to “soften” the gospel by minimizing truth keep people from Jesus. Attempts to “toughen” the gospel by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus.

Grace and truth are both necessary, but neither is sufficient.

Staying in the Saddle

“Amazing Grace” has been recorded more often by more musicians than any other song. When sung at the most secular event or pagan concert, a hush will fall on the audience. Eyes tear up. And not just the eyes of Christians.

Grace is what people long for, even those who don’t know Jesus. Especially those who don’t know Jesus.

“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The world today is desperately hungry for grace and truth, because it’s hungry for Jesus.

Martin Luther said that the devil doesn’t care which side of the horse we fall off of—as long as we don’t stay in the saddle. We need to mount the horse with one foot in the stirrup of truth, the other in the stirrup of grace.

Truth without grace breeds a self-righteous legalism. People become frightened deer caught in the headlights of manmade rules. Long lists and long faces turn people from Christ.

Children who grow up with graceless truth are repelled by self-righteousness and attracted to the world’s slickly marketed grace-substitutes, such as tolerance or moral relativism.

Properly understood, biblical truths are guardrails that protect us from plunging off the cliff. A smart traveler doesn’t curse the guardrails. He doesn’t whine, “That guardrail dented my fender!” He looks over the cliff, sees demolished autos below and is grateful for those guardrails.

The world’s low standard, its disregard for truth, isn’t grace. The illusory freedom only feels like grace to someone who’s been pounded by graceless truth—beaten over the head with pieces of guardrails. But the guardrails of truth are there not to punish, but protect us.

Getting Close to Home

I was raised in an unbelieving home. I came to Christ at 15. My mom became a Christian soon afterward. But my father was the most resistant person to the gospel I’ve ever known. He’d told me never to talk to him about that “religious stuff” again. At 84, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. One day he phoned, very upset.

“I’m in terrible pain. I’ve got a gun to my head. Sorry to leave you with a mess.”

I begged him to hold on. I made the 30-minute drive in 20, jumped out of the car and pounded on the door. No answer.

Taking a deep breath, I opened the door. On the floor I saw a rifle and a handgun. Calling out for my father, I turned the corner into his room, prepared for the worst. Eyes half closed, I bumped into him as he walked out. My heart racing, I rushed him to the hospital, where they scheduled him for surgery the next morning.

I arrived an hour before surgery, praying that in his despair, with no easy way out, my dad would turn to Christ. Standing by his bed, I opened my Bible to Romans. I began reading in chapter three. “There is none righteous, no, not one ... All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Those weren’t easy words to read. My tavern-owner father had always taken hot offense at being called a sinner. I wanted to gloss over this portion, moving quickly to the good news of God’s grace. But I forced myself to keep reading, verse after verse, about human sin. Why? Because I told myself, If I really love Dad, I have to tell him the whole truth. If God’s going to do a miracle of conversion here, that’s His job. My job is to say what He says.

We made it to Romans 6, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Then Romans 10, about being saved through confessing Jesus as our risen Lord.

Finally I looked Dad in the eyes and asked, “Have you ever confessed your sins and asked Jesus Christ to forgive you?”

“No,” he said in a weak voice. He paused, then added, “But ... I think it’s about time I did.”

I’ll never forget that moment. The impossible took place right before my eyes: my father prayed aloud, confessed his sins and placed his faith in Christ just before they wheeled him into surgery. To me, dividing the Red Sea paled in comparison to this miracle.

The surgery was successful. God gave me five more precious years with my dad. The day I held his hand as he died, with my brother and wife and daughters there, I knew I would see not only my mom but my dad in heaven.

The worst thing I could have done to my father was what I was tempted to do—water down the truth. It would have made it easier on me for the moment. But withholding God’s truth from my dad would have been withholding from him God’s grace.

If we minimize grace, the world sees no hope for salvation. If we minimize truth, the world sees no need for salvation.

We need to examine ourselves. Correct ourselves. Balance ourselves. We who are truth-oriented need to go out of our way to affirm grace. We who are grace-oriented need to go out of our way to affirm truth.

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” No one did either like Jesus.

Truth hates sin. Grace loves sinners.

Those full of grace and truth—those full of Jesus—do both.

This article is an excerpt from Randy Alcorn’s book, The Grace and Truth Paradox.



Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching biblical truth and drawing attention to the needy and how to help them. Before starting EPM in 1990, Alcorn for 13 years co-pastored Good Shepherd Community Church outside Gresham, Oregon. He has ministered in many countries, including China, and is a popular teacher and conference speaker. Randy is a best-selling author of over 30 books including Heaven, The Treasure Principle, and the 2002 Gold Medallion winner, Safely Home. 

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Arun Paul

commented on Jun 7, 2013

Very well done!!! Thank you for this article. It was very helpful. Keep up the good work.

Louis Scheepers

commented on Jun 7, 2013

Thank you Randy! Very well thought through article! It is so easy to tip the scale in the favor of either grace or truth! We need to keep the balance!

April Rogers

commented on Jun 7, 2013

Thank you so much for this great article. Grace and truth; wow! Thank you so much for the great reminder. May I keep this forefront in my heart and mind as I serve as a witness for our Lord!

Jordon Leblanc

commented on Jun 7, 2013

This makes me want to go back and read "Grace and Truth Paradox"... I was just talking about that book last week in my Sunday School class... solid stuff, Randy! Thanks for sharing!!

Doug Conley

commented on Jun 7, 2013

This is a very good article. It's just too bad that, even though you used grace, you still didn't give your dad the truth. You completely miss the point of Romans 6 and used Romans 10:9 as a stand-alone. Also, no matter what any TV evangelist says, there is no "praying" for salvation. There is no account in the Scriptures of that. It is a lie, and grace will NOT be extended to those who teach the doctrine of men (which is really of Satan). You did say "grace and truth". It sounds like you might still be a little crooked on the saddle!

Dane Whitcomb

commented on Feb 9, 2014

Spoken like a true legalist

Glenn E. Hawkins

commented on Oct 7, 2014

Dane: A legalist is not one who wants to obey every command of God. If that is the case, then Jesus was a legalist.

Timothy Liwanag

commented on Oct 8, 2014

If that was your dad, how would you have given him "the truth"?

Jordon Leblanc

commented on Jun 7, 2013

@Doug are you for real? I'm fairly certain that the grace of God is bigger than the mode with which somebody asks for it (and by fairly certain, I mean completely!). And exactly what truth did he miss? Our righteousness is non-existent (filthy rags, as Isaiah puts it). All have sinned- and that end result is death. But if you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved... in what way is that not truth? If that's not the Gospel... if that's not the Good News, then what is?

Dean Johnson

commented on Jun 7, 2013

A wonderful article, but someone still felt the need to picket.

William Douglas Johnson, Sr

commented on Jun 7, 2013

Randy, I so appreciate this article you have written. It must have been so hard to go through what you endured for the sake of your dad, but you did it. You also gave us all something profound to think about when we present the gospel in the pulpit. That's no place to water down the truth, or leave out the grace. May God bless you for the words you have shared with us. I have felt the spirit while reading your story.

Charles Wallis

commented on Jun 7, 2013

Thank you for this moving article and sharing your story!

Charles Ingwe

commented on Jun 8, 2013

The only trouble I have with the article is the point of separating truth and grace. Christ only pointed us to John 8:32," you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free ". If grace is different from truth then I do not need it for it is truth that shall set me free. Beloved ones, the truth of God is enveloped in grace. Hating sin is truth, loving the sinner is truth. Hell is truth, heaven is truth. What we need is to correctly divide the word of God. Playing with words will not help the church. Where rebuke is called for, we are taught to rebuke in love. Whatever we do we do in love for christ in us is love. You can not separate grace from truth. It is infact the apex of truth.

Jim Needham

commented on Feb 8, 2014

I agree Charles. Grace an truth are not two things to be balanced. Instead, truth is an extension of grace. Those who speak "truth" without showing grace are, in fact, only speaking a half truth. Those who think that withholding truth in the name of "grace" is loving are misled - withholding truth is not loving, it is cruel. It is not a either/or as the title seems to indicate - it is a both/and. Although I appreciate what the author is trying to say, I think the way he says it smacks of Marcian and dualism.

Dane Whitcomb

commented on Feb 9, 2014

We earn the right to speak truth when we show grace first.

Gene Gregory

commented on Feb 8, 2014

You're splitting hairs to no purpose. You know what he means.

Vincent Aja

commented on Jun 8, 2013

Any day someone stops learning, that day the person will begin to lock self away from the reality. This is WONDERFUL!!!

Angela Pope

commented on Jun 8, 2013

I am no authority on this I only remember when I made the terrible choice to have an abortion I was greeted with Christian protesters who were so angry that they told me I was going to hell. I was under the effects of anesthesia and contemplated committing suicide when I got home. I am pleased to say I am a believer now and I am truly horrified by abortion but even more so of Christians who care more about their interpretation of the truth than a horrified scared teenager that was eventually saved by the message of truth and grace. That message of truth could have cost me my life eternally.

Phil Calkins

commented on Feb 8, 2014

Bless you Angela. As a grandfather of a teenaged granddaughter, your message of Grace moved me to tears.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 10, 2013

Great article!

Prasannakumar Komera

commented on Sep 20, 2013

Thank you Randy. Is it a great balancing act?.Why the division as 'truth and grace?'.Is not grace truth? I think ' the 'Grace's greatness' is not merely in the truth of hell but in the truth of God's unmerited grace! It not that grace is greater than truth(Hell???!!!)... grace is great truth. I am a simple pastor from India,sorry for so many words. A very thought provoking article.

Phil Calkins

commented on Feb 8, 2014

Randy, I was moved to tears as I read your article fro start to finish. I just finished leading our church in Max Lucado's study on Grace. I think a reprise is in order. It has been said that we Christians are the only army that shoot our own wounded. To that I think we might add judge and executioner. Well stated Brother!

Bill Jones

commented on Feb 8, 2014

Mr Alcorn, a lot of preachers including yourself are constantly defining a segment of our people as liberals and conservative. Liberals are non-believers and conservatives are believers. How do you know that? Are you speaking the truth or you lying to God?

Doug Torrance

commented on Feb 8, 2014

Thank you, Randy! It is so true, that 'balance' is so important...in many things! My wife and I pastor a small church in southern Ontario, Canada, filled primarily with older folks who 'have heard it all'. Fortunately, they simply love the balance approach, which makes for a wonderful force to enable and encourage. So often we tend, as Christians, to go for what we feel is the route of least resistance, and is so doing, cut out half of the Gospel. Cudos to your approach of coffee and donuts! The anger so many of us express as Christians often overshadows the love of Jesus. Thanks again.

Simon Loghod

commented on Feb 8, 2014

Bless you Randy for the thoughtful truths you've revealed in your article. The theology of Grace is a very dicey one especially when it comes to things or elements of a maturing christian. The illustrations makes it easier to understand. I couldn't help but to say God bless you.

Brad Brought

commented on Feb 8, 2014

Mr. Alcorn, I have read your book "Grace and Truth Paradox", and In reading this book, the Lord has done an amazing work to, thru, and for me. You see I was locked up in scrupulosity; an OCD based mindset in which I could not break free from my past, and I could not BE GOOD ENOUGH to grasp God's grace, for the sake of holding SO TIGHT to the Law. I praise God for your words, book and sharing your experience. Your insight, brought to my by God's divine purpose, has allowed me to grasp the grace and yet live in the truth. Glory to God for unfailing mercies and grace; along with the truth that brought me broken to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May God continue to bless and use you, as you seek to serve Him! THANK YOU!!!

Dane Whitcomb

commented on Feb 9, 2014

When we speak truth first to people they tend to put up walls. Then they do not hear the grace part. Try using grace first and show compassion and love then you can share truth about sin,

Rob Olsen

commented on Feb 11, 2014

It has fascinated me for many years when I read books, articles, etc. that seem to say that grace and truth are 2 separate things. I am not saying Randy is stating this - I love his work - but it is implied. Simply, grace is truth and if we cannot or will not speak truth bathed and showered with grace, then don't speak at all. Grace is what saves and sanctifies me and so when I hear some saying that "such and such" scripture to prove I or someone else is a sinner, I simply need to listen with grace as the primary avenue for me to receive the truth. However, many have not grown with this grace maturity and therefore we offend by using scripture outside the context of grace. They are not 2 separate concepts or avenues of God's love through Christ. Grace must be first\present when speaking (writing, etc.) Truth, especially when interacting with non-believers.

Benson Awhinawhi Of The Redeemed Christian Church

commented on Feb 12, 2014

I am a Sunday Sch,Baptismal class nd Bible Study Teacher.Charles Ingwe's ref to Jn8:32 is well noted,he adds"Truth enveloped in Grace,and that we should not play with words to help the Church."Needham agrees they are not to be balanced"and i take that to also mean 'not to compliment each other'.Now i ask for Sober reflection.Should it be Grace enveloped in Truth(The WORD?Which do we need to Embrace the other,if there is no balancing.Tanx Gene Gregory of River of Life'splitting of hair to no purpose' WE OUGHT TO ND INDEED DO KNOW what Pst Alcorn shared.I thank U Randy for the Word, may God increase U in every area of Ur life nd with fresh Annointing for Work in His Vine yard.This is good article especially for Believers/Beginners classes.

Richard Rodriguez

commented on Oct 6, 2014

Grace, grace, I have often wondered where the grace and forgiveness are exercised as truth when some of our body parts fall. All you here then is the condemnation (which is reserved for God only) from all of the love filled bretheren. I remember when Bin Ladden was killed and all of the Christians were dancing and rejoicing, all I could see was the Fathers heart broken that yet another died without the knowledge of Him, where was the grace. Without compassion there can be no grace.

Minister Sanders

commented on Oct 6, 2014

Great Article! It truly does take the Grace and Truth of the Gospel to lead the lost to be found. May God Continue to bless you all that preach His Holy Word!!!!!

Mitchell Leonard

commented on Oct 7, 2014

Brother Randy, What a great article. Some may try to pick it apart but take heart, it was real blessing to me. Thanks

Barnabus Kibisu

commented on Oct 8, 2014

The Church that I pastor is called Grace Baptist. Grace simply means mercy, Christ died because of the mercy and compassion towards our sins.He loved all people and He died so as to make a righteous choice. Martin Luther was right speaking on the dark side of the devil. The devil has nothing good but to steal, destroy and to kill. This messege is powerful,God bless you Randy.

Stephen Belokur

commented on Oct 8, 2014

Amen!!!

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