Grace and Truth

Text: John 1:1-17
INTRODUCTION

Does John 1 sound like Genesis 1? Approximately 10,000 years lie between these two chapters. Much changed during that time period and much more has changed since John wrote his gospel. The world has changed more in the past 200 years than in all the previous millenniums combined!

CHANGE
Changes at first came gradually because people were skeptical of change, but soon, the changes came more rapidly and were more dramatic.

1800s
Samuel F. B. Morse invented the telegraph in 1837. It took seven years for a skeptical government to recognize the significance of this invention and another 78 years (43 years after Morse’s death) before telephone lines stretched from coast to coast.

My father-in-law, a descendant of Morse, was born in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The world’s first oil well was drilled in Titusville in 1859. The oil was refined by primitive methods and sold mainly as lamp fuel. A side product of the refining process, called gasoline, was considered to be a dangerous nuisance and simply dumped into the river! It wasn’t until the invention of the automobile 30 years later, that a good use was found for gasoline.

1900s
Since the turn of the century, inventions have multiplied. The atomic bomb, space research, travel, communication... but that is just technological change!

Even more important than changes, are the radical changes in the realms of culture, politics, science, education and economics.

ECONOMICS
Takeovers, mergers, privatization of public utilities, huge shopping malls, the Dow Jones climbing to unprecedented highs for no apparent reason other than the dubious rule of “supply and demand”, billions of Dollars, Marks, Yen and Rubles are circulating via paper and electronic transmission which don’t even exist! Nations once forced to beg for bread have become the wealthiest nations in the world due to the discovery of oil. Other rich or powerful countries have broken apart and are now dependent upon foreign aid to keep from starving. Romania was called the “Breadbasket of Europe” a century ago, yet the median income today is less than $100 per month. And in past weeks, we have been reading about the near total economic collapse of once powerful nations. When we return to Austria [2000], much of Europe will be unified, with a common currency and no borders.

POLITICAL and PHILOSOPHICAL CHANGE
The international political situation is also in constant upheaval. Great monarchies have disappeared, colonialism and communism are now largely history.

Nationalism is giving way to internationalism. As air travel and modern communications bring people closer together, people in the East and West, North and South, have become more world conscious. They prefer terms such as "world citizens", "New World Order", "international-” or "global community." The old American Indian philosophy that said “All land belongs to all people” has made the charts of the international hit parade. People all over are concerned about the vanishing rain forests in South America, ozone readings in the Arctic Circle and global warming. They are determined to prevent oil platforms in the North Sea and atomic testing in the Pacific. There is increasing disenchantment with and suspicion of bureaucracy and institutionalism of every kind.

SOCIAL CHANGE
Single parent households now outnumber the traditional dual parent variety in most major cities of Europe. Homosexual and lesbian relationships have not only received recognition as being normal, same sex marriages have also been granted equal status in many lands. Organ transplants and modern medicine have extended life expectancy, but early deaths are on the increase, often drug related, caused by aids, violence or suicide.

Legalized abortion and "mercy deaths” are old hat. Now we seeing more genes manipulation, surrogate mothers and cloning. What will be next?

RELIGIOUS CHANGE
People everywhere are becoming estranged and detached from institutionalized churches and infatuated with esoteric, New Age philosophy and other forms of so-called “spirituality”. The influx of foreigners in America and Europe has tipped the statistic scales in ways that no one could have imagined a few years ago. The second largest religious group in Austria is now the Muslim religion and those claiming no religious belief whatsoever are in third place.

ABANDONMENT OF TRUTH
For centuries, both wicked and righteous men alike, agreed upon the basic premise, that there were two opposite poles, by which all actions and thoughts may be judged. These were known as “right and wrong” or “truth and error”.  Men have fought wars over the various definitions, interpretations and consequences of truth; and they have attempted to relativize, manipulate, cheat and ignore it; but they have historically agreed that truth existed and that everything could be judged upon the basis of established truth. This was the case from the time man ate from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” until very recently. In courtrooms, witnesses are still told to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” But if it doesn’t matter to the general populace anymore, it may not be long before truth will no longer have any significance whatsoever! NO MORE RIGHT or WRONG! NO MORE NEED FOR APOLOGIES and FORGIVENESS! NO TRUTH! NO GRACE! (John 1:14 and 17)

THE NEW NORM: TOLERANCE
According to the philosophy of tolerance, a man is allowed unlimited freedom as long as the freedom of others is not infringed upon. It has a ring of generosity and togetherness about it. The real goals of humanity should be happiness, peace, love and unity. All of these goals can supposedly be attained by showing tolerance. Happiness is now dependent upon the peaceful coexistence of opposing views. Only that which intolerant must be opposed. The real dangers of society and deterrents to peace and happiness are described in terms such as "extreme right" or "extreme left" whereby the latter is considered to be less dangerous! Seen from this premise, one has to assume that clinging to absolutes or fundamentals (called truth) could only thwart efforts to achieve peace and happiness.

TOLERANCE REDEFINED
The traditional meaning of the word “tolerance” would be “allowance for error or deviation from a defined norm or absolute condition.” In industry, a norm is ascertained and then measurable tolerances for allowed departure from this norm are set. This is still the case in manufacturing, economics and science. Toleration allowances have become extremely narrow and are hardly measurable today. When applied to morals, ethics and religion, however, the opposite is true. The goal is not the ascertainment of a specific norm with certain allowances for error, but rather the attainment of the largest possible margin of error, even to the total elimination of any norm. When hearing the word “tolerance” today, people think immediately of permissiveness and the entertaining or acceptance of differing opinions. Old order tolerance was dependent upon an absolute or normal condition. Today, tolerance IS the norm or absolute condition!

Whether it is called humanism, pluralism, multiculturalism, New World Order, international community, human rights, political correctness or simply tolerance, these terms all describe a new brand of humanism, which has gained widespread acceptance. It is no longer personal freedom, that is deemed most important, but collective freedom. The idea is similar to “pooling resources” or “floating currencies”. It is a determined by that which is deemed acceptable to the largest segment of society and the rest (fringe groups or extremists) must abide by the rules or pay dire consequences. Pluralism has become the agenda in politics, economics, education, the media and of course in religion.

The word "TRUTH" appears 235 times in God’s Word and synonyms or other forms of the word are also used. "TOLERANCE" cannot be found in my Bible, but a similar word is used 650 times. Both tolerance and sin have the same definition! Both mean “missing the mark” or “departure from perfection.

GOD IS INTOLERANT
Before anyone starts a fight with me over this statement, let me say that God offers us something far better than tolerance! God offers us His own Son, Jesus Christ, WHO IS FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH! John 1:14 and 17. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth... For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

TWO MISTAKES THAT MANY PEOPLE MAKE

TRUTH WITHOUT GRACE (love, charity, forgiveness, restitution)
Truth is intolerant and transgression of truth must be punished! There are no exceptions whatsoever! In John 7:49, the scribes cursed the common people because they didn’t know the Scriptures. They “knew better” and with that very knowledge, they crucified the Messiah! Without the love of God which melts stony hearts, preaching the truth is like swinging a hammer which merely shatters and destroys. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity (1 Cor. 13:13).

God does not offer tolerance, but love, grace and forgiveness. Without the cross of Jesus Christ, this would not have been possible. The brutal and harsh reality of the consequences of disobedience and ignorance to the truth was felt by our Savior on the cross. Anyone who refuses to accept God’s provision of forgiveness must personally experience the consequences of God’s intolerant truth. God’s truth is intolerant, but the good news is that God loves us and desires to reinstate us into his fellowship. JESUS IS FULL OF TRUTH AND GRACE!

LOVE WITHOUT TRUTH
There are Christians who preach love without truth. “Let us all get together and love one another! We can just sit around and praise God, singing all those 7-11 choruses!” Certainly, God is love and He commanded us to love one another, but He is also truth and commanded us to walk in the truth! Preaching love without truth is no better than preaching truth without love.

The following examples from our ministry illustrate the dangers of the two false positions described above.

A Family in Attnang
Many years Roman Catholic, the Eder's daughter was saved and married a believer. Parents pleaded for mutual tolerance, but daughter and son-in-law believed in Jesus Christ and tried their best to practice truth and grace. After ten years, on our last Sunday in Austria, the parents were baptized along with their second daughter and her husband!

Hurting People
Karin broke her back in a serious accident. A young mother named Sabine who had (MS); a Pastor who lost his 30-year-old wife in a tragic accident; Dave and Carol Osterhus lost their only son in the crash of a MAF plane in Equador; Ten-year-old Irene has leukemia and is receiving bone marrow transplants from her little brother. A key member of fellowship died, leaving a widow and four children. Many others examples! Could tolerance help these people or meet their needs? Absolutely not! Do you enjoy it when people tolerate you? Example: Austrian tour guide in Mauthausen: “We need to learn toleration!”

Pastor in Ampflwang
In spite of good references and unanimous vote, he lasted only 2 ½ months. He preached heretical doctrines. The church nearly split during this crises. We spent much time counseling all concerned: The pastor, those who wanted to leave in protest of the false teachings and those who felt they should be loving in spite of the teachings.

CONCLUSION
The Apostle Peter was a staunch fighter for the truth, yet found it difficult to be loving and gracious. He confessed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but placed his own understanding of truth above the words of Christ himself. In Matthew 16:22, Peter even took Jesus aside and gave him a piece of his mind! When Christ was arrested, he drew his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, servant of the High Priest. According to I Corinthians 15:5, Jesus also took Peter aside and talked to him in private.  We have no record of what was said, but the “stone” was broken. In John 21, Jesus was able to get him back on his feet and properly oriented. Peter still found it difficult to use the word agapa, but he at least had the courage to say phileo. Let us not be too harsh on Peter however, for his dedication to the truth proved to be a major factor in the birth and early growth of the church.

Gamaliel, on the other hand, was a famous proponent of tolerance. He advised the Sanhedrin to be tolerant; to wait and see what the outcome would be. Gamaliel was not a believer, but a doubter. He knew the truth and more than any man of his time was in a position to recognize the Messiah. Faith can be defined as belief and adherence to the truth. Romans 14:28 says “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.” Tolerance crucified Jesus Christ! We need to call tolerance what it truly is: departure from the truth! It is SIN!

God packaged truth in love, offering it as a free gift to all who will receive: JESUS CHRIST! What we often call “The Great Commission” is simply God’s command to “tell it like it is!” Tolerance and broad mindedness is the greatest enemy of missions, for it ignores the truth and eliminates any perceived need for love and grace.

Ephesians 4:15: But speaking the truth in love, may we grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

* 50 (42%) of 119 Political Districts in Austria have no evangelical church

* 24 of 68 (35%) cities with more than 10,000 population have no evangelical church

* 110 of 127 cities with 5,000 to 9,999 population have no evangelical church (0,8%)

* 2.564 of 2,575 towns with less than 5,000 citizens, but which have a Mayor have no evangelical church (0,9%)

* There are only 108 evangelical churches (many only house groups) in 72 localities of Austria, yet more than 150 Roman Catholic Churches in the city of Salzburg alone (150,000 pop.)!

* 98% of Austrians belonged to the Roman Catholic Church in 1978. Today the number is 74%.

Ralph V Harvey, 2002