Why do Christians struggle with Jesus being the embodiment of truth and love?

Introduction

When I read the Gospels, I see Jesus as the embodiment of truth and love. In other words, to attempt to divorce the two is to make Jesus into what we want him to be. Obviously, when we read John’s Gospel, Jesus, as the Word become flesh, is full of grace and truth (1:14), and is the source of grace and truth (1:17). In contrast to the woman at the well, who felt geographic location of worship was important, Jesus states that the issue is not whether one should worship God in Moriah or Gerizim, but rather one should worship in spirit and in truth. For John, truth is ultimately identified with, and is personified in the person of, Jesus. The ministry of John the Baptist is to bear witness to the truth (5:33).

Did Jesus try to show people thy’re wrong? 

Most recently, we had a well known Christian apologist speak at our campus. As small group of students thought the speaker spent a lot of time simply trying to show people they are wrong. In other words, perhaps he came across as having  an “us vs them: attitude. I don’t think he came across this way. So obviously this can be a matter of opinion.  Anyway, did Jesus spend any time trying to show his audience they are wrong? The answer is yes! Was Jesus harsh? Yes! Did Jesus judge? Absolutely! Matt Slick’s article at Carm summarizes some of these things here. He notes the following texts: 

  • Matt. 7:4, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
  • Matt. 15:7, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, 8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.” 9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
  • Matt. 23:13, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
  • Matt. 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…”
  • Matt. 23:16-17, “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ 17 “You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?”
  • Matt. 23:23-24, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
  • Matt. 23:25, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
  • Matt. 23:27-28, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
  • Matt. 23:29, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
  • Matt. 23:33, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?”
  • Mark 12:38-40, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.”
  • Luke 11:39, “You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?”
  • Luke 11:43, “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the front seats in the synagogues, and the respectful greetings in the market places. 44 “Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.”
  • Luke 11:52, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.”
  • Luke 12:1, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
  • John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father…”
  • John 8:49, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.”
  • John 8:55, “and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be a liar like you, but I do know Him, and keep His word.”

Now keep in mind, all these passages must be seen in context and there has been more than enough written on the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees.

What Does the Bible Say About Truth?

True and False Doctrine: The core of our doctrine is what Jesus taught to and through his apostles. Remember that the truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42). We can love someone to death, and they may never be set free. Although God does not expect us to attain perfect understanding of this truth, he does expect us to understand sound doctrine—so we live as fruitful and discerning disciples of Jesus (1 Tim. 4:6; 6:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).

True and False Spirits: We need to remember the following verse: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus the Messiah has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus  is not from God” (1 John 4:1-2). Jesus said the Holy Spirit  would be another “Parakletos” or “Advocate” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), who testifies to the truth about Jesus (John 16:13-14). The Bible gives us two ways to test spirits to see whether they are from God. The first is to ask whether the spirits teach the truth about Jesus (1 John 4:1-6). Also, any message about the Good News that presents a different message than the message that the Messiah himself gave through Paul and the other apostles is a false message or a false gospel (Gal. 1:6; see 2 Cor. 11:4).

Remember: God does expect his children to grow in the exercise of discernment—recognizing the difference between truth and error (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Also, one aspect of spiritual maturity is that we are more skilled in our discernment (Heb. 5:14).

Love

As far as love, the New Testament concept closely parallels that of the Old Testament. John writes: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Believers need to share with those in need, whether that need is for food, water, lodging, clothing, healing, or friendship (Matt 25:34-40 ; Rom 12:13 ). The love demonstrated in the parable of the good Samaritan shows that agape  love is not emotional love, but a response to someone who is in need.

The command to love others is based on how God has loved us. Since believers have been the recipients of love, they must love. Since Christ has laid down his life for us, we must be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16 ).

Many people in Jesus’ day believed that a neighbor was a fellow Israelite. When asked to define “neighbor, ” however, Jesus cited the parable of the good Samaritana person who knowingly crossed traditional boundaries to help a wounded Jew (Luke 10:29-37). A neighbor is anyone who is in need. Jesus also told his disciples that a “neighbor” might even be someone who hates them, curses them, or mistreats them. Yet they must love even enemies (Luke 6:27-36) as a witness and a testimony.

The Old Testament charge was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18 ). But Jesus gave his disciples a new command with a radically different motive: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). (1)

What’s the point?

We live in day when we are pressured to be politically correct. Sadly, it seems like many Christians view Jesus as no different than Barney the dinosaur. It’s as if Christians  have never even read the Gospels.   Now why is this?

 First, there is no doubt that many Christians haven’t been loving and have been overplayed the truth card. In other words, “This is the truth and that’s the way it is.” However, this doesn’t give a Christian full license to just love the person and not discuss the truth issue. I run into this all the time. When the emotions run strong on a particular topic, the truth issue gets put on the back burner. So the bottom line is the following: If you’re going to attempt to emulate Jesus, please read the Gospels and be willing to see him in all His attributes.  We do nobody any favors when we only emphasize love at the exclusion of truth. And by the way, while I think we should show great love and compassion,  the “love only” approach  may end up allowing someone to destroy themselves and others. Sin seems to have  a habit of doing that.

Sources:

1.  Glenn E. Schaefer, “Love” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996).

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