John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us ... full of grace and truth” (NIV). John 1:17 tells us that “the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words says that Jesus is “the sole representative of the being and the character of the One who sent Him.” Then it must follow that our mysterious God – individually three persons while concurrently one almighty Creator – must Himself also be full of grace and truth. Jesus Christ is God making Himself known to the world, as John tells us: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only [Son], who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (Jn. 1:18). Later, Jesus prayed that the people of the world would see Him and His glory in us, His disciples from every tribe – from Nairobi to New York and Durban to Djakarta and more – living out God’s truth day by day in our own part of God’s world, (Jn. 17:1-26). It is this presentation of grace and truth that we will examine now, mainly in Luke’s Acts and Paul’s letters.
Grace In The Earliest Churches
There are at least 10 references to “grace” in Acts, depending on the version used. The first shows us that Christian witness must be characterized by “much grace” (Acts 4:33), and not by words alone. Acts 4:34-35 tells of the grace of practical Christianity that went alongside gospel preaching: “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” What a picture of grace!
Acts 6:8 describes Stephen, that daring deacon of the early church: “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” In witness his power was softened by grace as rising opposition was dealt with using spiritual wisdom (Acts 6:9-10). This led to an opportunity for Stephen to witness before the highest religious body in the land. It culminated in triumphant martyrdom, the highest form of witness there can be (Acts 7:59-60). Martyrdom is still common in many countries today. Christians are still strong enough in their graceful faith to take that ultimate route to glory.
When Barnabas was asked to assess the Christian activity in Antioch, “he saw the evidence of the grace of God, was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23). The actions and words of those scattered by persecution were all seen to be genuinely Christian (11:19-21,26).
On their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas saw people being converted in Pisidian Antioch. Their messages “urged them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43). The way of grace was tested by strong reaction from the opposition. But hostility lost out to bold yet graceful witness (13:44-52). In Iconium God “confirmed the message of His grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders” (Acts 14:3). The preaching of Paul and Barnabas divided the city’s inhabitants – some in favor, others against. It was public preaching and also private talking given “in a friendly disposition from which kindly acts proceeded.” They spoke about God whose grace not only freely forgave repentant sinners through the generous ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, but also included the divine power which equips men to live a moral life.
The lives and language of the believers were signs which pointed to the truth of their message. According to Vine, “Wonders are something strange causing the beholder to marvel … divine operations … (with) supernatural sources.” The word “wonders” appears ten times in Acts with God as the source through human beings (2:11, 2:19, 2:22, 2:43, 4:30, 5:12, 6:8, 7:36, 14:3, 15:12).
Their first trip ends back in Antioch where Paul and Barnabas “had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed” (Acts 14:26). The word “grace” is also used in Acts 15:40-41 when Paul and Silas were “commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” and “went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Paul and his mission team reflected the Lord’s grace in their own attitudes and ministry toward others. John Stott, in his book, The Message Of Acts, writes that in all ministry where “the grace has come from the Lord, the glory must go to Him.” This is the godly accountability needed by all travelling preachers – the need to show this toward God and their associates.
Acts 15:11 and 18:27 both use the word “grace” in relation to believing in the Lord Jesus for personal salvation. The first is when Peter speaks of the missionaries’ own salvation “through the grace of our Lord” as well as that of the non-Jews converted in their ministry. The second is for believers in Achaia whom Apollos greatly helped in their Christian discipleship and witness. Both occasions show that salvation is a gift of God’s limitless grace, and nothing that we earn by our works.
Finally in this section there are two more references in Paul’s final meeting with the elders of the Ephesus church (Acts 20:24,32). Paul describes his life’s ministry as “testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” and “the word of His grace” (similar to the two references immediately above). People were experiencing what Paul was preaching. In his subsequent prayer for the elders he says: “I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” It is entirely due to the grace of God that any of us is saved and given effective discipleship that includes opportunities to serve.
Truth In The Earliest Churches
As well as being full of grace, the Church, the body of Christ on earth, is also called to reflect our Lord in His truth. According to Vine, the Greek word aletheia means “truthfulness, truth not merely verbal, but sincerity and integrity of character.” This is what helps us recognize those people we meet around the world who are Christians, whatever their ethnic background.
Truth has this meaning in Acts 10:34-35 and Acts 26:25. Peter testifies of a big change of understanding in considering God’s chosen people. There is truly no “favoritism.” God “accepts men (and women) from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.” And later in Caesarea, Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa suggests that he must be “insane.” His measured reply shows how truth is to be used in a well-controlled way: “What I am saying is true and reasonable.”
In Acts 20:30 there is a warning for church leaders. “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Here, according to Collins English Dictionary, “truth” means “a system of concepts purporting to represent some aspect of the world, e.g. the truths of ancient religions.” I would be more specific than this dictionary definition and add that truth is what God says, and we have exactly what God says in the Bible. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology,writes that “God’s truthfulness means that He is the true God, and that all His knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.”
As Christians we believe God has given us the Book of Truth. We must be ready to graciously defend it. After all, Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them (His disciples left in the world) by the truth; Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). We Christians are a set-apart people that the holy God can readily use. We are indwelt by Jesus Christ who is Himself the truth (Jn. 17:23; 14:6). We must let Him out who is inside us. Let our Savior use our hands, homes, hearts, time, talents and treasure. Whether we are red, brown, olive, yellow, black or white, when we are full of the Lord Jesus, who is full of grace and truth, we will be full of a friendly disposition from which kindly acts proceed, and honesty, reliability and veracity. When we are full of Him these things will easily spill over to affect people around us.
In his letters Paul presents the core of Christian truth and defends that core from arguments against it, some prevalent then and some now.
In Romans 2:20 Paul writes to all Jews that they “have in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and truth.” Some people “suppress the truth by their wickedness,” and have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Rom. 1:18,25). Those who continually “reject the truth” (2:8), will have to face “God’s judgment based on truth” (2:2). There is no escaping God’s righteous anger against our sin (2:3-11). There are only two ways to live – God’s way or the wrong way! The wrong way leaves you alone in your sins before the holy God when the end comes.
In 2 Corinthians 4:2 Paul describes his ministry as “setting forth the truth plainly.” In 13:8 he writes, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.” In Ephesians 5:8-10 Christians are urged to “live as children of the light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”
We can live sinful lives or sanctified lives. The choice is ours. Our graceful Savior wants us to be set apart for His use – full of grace and graciously sharing His truth with others by our lifestyle and words. One of the best ways we witnessed to our Muslim neighbors in Khartoum was by simply showing Christ in our lives and answering their inevitable questions.
Finally consider Paul’s description of the Colossians becoming believers: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth” (Col. 1:6).
God has spoken to us about His own grace and truth. He has told us He wants to fill us from head to toe with Himself, so that His grace and truth flow out of us and into the people and places around us. I pray for God’s help to soften our witness with His grace while keeping it strong with His truth. Our glorious Savior is calling us to be like Him, exuding His grace and truth.
By Colin Salter
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org