One of my kids is going through a phase in which he needs to decide if he values truth and integrity or not. He has somehow gotten the idea that it isn’t quite lying if you just bend the truth, maybe twist things just enough to make it come out the way you want. Where do these kids get splitting hairs like a lawyer? I understand that this is part of the growing process. He needs to internalize what he’s been taught and decide in his heart if the things I’ve said are important. If in the end he believes that truth matters then his actions will reflect that. I pray and expect that he will come out the other side in the right direction. The process of talking to him about it has gotten me thinking about how the principles apply to so much of our lives.
You can’t “sort of” tell the truth. There isn’t any such thing as a half truth. You either tell the truth or you tell a lie. There isn’t anything in between.
As much as we’d like life to be full of gray areas, in many key areas it isn’t. You either tell the truth or your a liar. You either obey or you don’t. There isn’t any “sort of.” Forgiveness is that way too. You can’t half forgive. Either you forgive or you don’t. There is no such thing as half grace.
The Bible doesn’t cast any of these issues as shades of gray. 1 John tells us that if you hate your brother you’re a murderer. If you don’t obey him then you don’t love Christ. Jesus said that if we forgive, then we will be forgiven. “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”
I think that a large part of the problem is that we don’t really understand these things, and we don’t really believe that its true. If my son believed that truth matters, he would tell the truth without trying to shape it, understanding that bending the truth immediately breaks it. Its just not bendable. We don’t know the meaning of truth and grace and forgiveness. I think that we don’t take these things seriously enough.
I am not saying that we are saved or gain favor with God through our actions. God is very clear that we are saved by grace, and we are loved by God because he is a loving and kind God who has chosen us to pour out his love and kindness on us because of who he is, not because of what we do.
On the other hand, when we understand the significance of the grace and mercy and kindness that we have been shown, and how little we deserve it, how can we hold back? How can we hold back grace when we understand the depth of God’s grace to us? How can we not forgive when we understand what we’ve been forgiven?
The parable of the treacherous servant who was forgiven his debt comes to mind here. His master forgave his debt, but then the servant turned around and demanded that another servant who owed him much less pay up. For him, there was a disconnect between being forgiven and forgiving others. His master called him on it, because there is no disconnect. If we understand how we have been forgiven, then we forgive. When we cannot forgive, we are that treacherous servant.
There is no “sort of” when it comes to following Christ. Either you are, or your aren’t. There is no such thing as a luke-warm Christian. The luke-warm are spit out. There is no such thing as one who understands how Christ has forgiven him, and then turns around and refuses to forgive. There is no such thing as one who understands the significance of truth and then casually bends it into lies. The message isn’t that if you want God’s mercy you must do right, but that if you understand God’s mercy you can not help but fall down before him and be changed.
Here’s my message to my kids, to myself, and to you: Is God your God or is he not? There is no half way. There is no “in theory” or “that’s the way its supposed to be, but…” Either you believe God and that all of his promises and statements are true, and the weight of that truth changes you, or you are an idolator and adulterer. If we understand that, if I understand that, then the only response I can imagine is surrender, grateful that I have not been ripped from the vine and cast into the fire.