We live in some confusing times, times where the truth is challenged just by normal, every day culture. It gets harder every day to live according to God’s standards. Ravi Zacharias, a well known Christian apologist, said it this way, “These days it’s not just that the line between right and wrong has been made unclear, today Christians are being asked by our culture to erase the lines and move the fences, and if that were not bad enough, we are being asked to join in the celebration cry by those who have thrown off the restraints religion had imposed upon them. It is not just that they ask we accept, but they now demand of us to celebrate it too.” Nevertheless, no matter how difficult or anti-cultural it seems, if you have given your life to Christ you have been called to live a life of holiness.
Now here comes the confusing part. We are also called to be merciful, just as our Heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). This means, if someone is living a life of sin that is bringing about pain and distraction, we are supposed to look upon them with the same mercy that God showed us when He sent His Son to die on the cross
There are few things more difficult to navigate in our Christian walk than this beautiful dance between mercy and truth. It is like that moment when a friend or stranger is telling you all about the crazy night they just had full of sinful, destructive activities. Then they present an inviting laugh hoping that you will reciprocate and affirm their behavior. In those moments, it is an absolute art to know how to show grace and mercy to that person in their broken state while also not condoning the behavior.
I have looked to the bible for guidance in this area, in particular the life of Jesus. The interesting thing is that Jesus did not always handle these situations the same way. We see a stark contrast in the way he handled the lost, His followers, and the religious leaders of His day. With the lost, He was extremely sensitive and gentle. Read about he woman at the well (John 4) or the woman caught in adultery (John 8). With His followers, Jesus was much more stern. When Peter tried to talk Jesus out of going to the cross, Jesus words to him were “Get behind me satan” (Matthew 16:23). Then with Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus uses some very harsh language in an attempt to break down their rigid, religious barriers. Jesus refers to them as a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33).
So what is the glue that brings these two apparently opposite terms together and makes them dance together so beautifully? The answer is unconditional love. This is the same love that God showed for us when He sent His Son to die on the cross. While we were still sinners in opposition to God, and in no way deserving of His mercy, He showed it to us anyway. That is the reason that Jesus could look at Peter and call him satan, or look at the Pharisees and call them vipers, and be doing it out of complete love. He knew that He had been sent to save them, and His motive with every single word was 100% love for them and a desire to see them set free.
What does this mean for us? It means that the condition of our heart is the most important element of our own dance with mercy and truth. If our heart is in the right place, then we can speak truth to others mercifully and out of love. If out heart is in the wrong place, we could be speaking the truth with the wrong motives, such as a desire to manipulate and control. All I would ask you to do today is take a few minutes to stop and ask God where your heart is. Ask God to help you fix your heart, so that you have the right motives. Then ask him to teach you the more detailed steps to the beautiful dance of mercy and truth.
Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them around thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart – Proverbs 3:3
Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. – Matthew 23: 26