to love and love well: grace + truth in action.

I’ve been thinking a lot about growth lately. Rumor has it, your twenties are primetime for growth and transformation, which is perhaps why it’s always in the back of my mind.

But how will I grow? And for how long? And in what way? And by what means? I’m old enough to have learned by now that growth doesn’t just happen. There are so many variables in play, much like with plants and flowers: soil, sunlight, water, nutrient absorption, environment, room for growth, depth of soil…

In college, I read snippets of Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, How People Grow, in which he fleshes out his formula for spiritual growth: a delicate, healthy balance of grace and truth experienced over time. The truth of that formula has stuck with me for years.

I recently came across this quote as well, and it seemed to align itself right alongside Dr. Cloud’s formula:

People grow when they are loved well. If you want to help others heal, love them without an agenda.

Mike McHargue

Personally, I feel I am being loved well when truth and grace are extended to me. Acknowledge that being here, in this bad place, is no fun, that it hurts, that it is difficult. But don’t leave me here.

Grace. Free and unmerited favor. A gift I do not deserve. I envision my Savior on the Cross; I hear his whisper: “Not my will but Yours.” He endured anguish he did not deserve so his blood might cover us all in grace we don’t deserve.

Truth. The way things actually are holding hands, living life with the way things can be, will be, are meant to be. Me, created in the image of God. You, too, created in the image of God. Sin and pain. Reality and dreams. The Kingdom, at hand–here, near, and now as much as at an appointed future time.

Without a doubt, these two words point me straight to love.

In John 8, we are told of when the Pharisees bring to Jesus an adulteress and ask what he would have them do. We recall the words he says to them as he draws who-knows-what in the sand: “Let he who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” But it is what he says to the woman once her accusers have left that astounds me.

“Woman, where are they?” he asks. “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.”

In one fell swoop, Jesus upends the self-righteousness, the ulterior motives, and the religious hubris that had been birthed from years of intense religious self-righteousness and legalism.  And he does so with love, with meeting the woman in the place she was living. And after extending grace and love, he speaks truth and life into the woman before she goes.

“Go, and sin no more,” he says. She has been saved from condemnation through Christ and given the freedom to live no more as a slave to sin. One might say she is healed from the damage of condemnation and shame, given the room to grow and the freedom to live as who she was meant to be.

Because Jesus loved her purely and without agenda.

To be loved well and without agenda is to be extended grace, to be taught truth, and to be given the time and freedom to become who we really are. In Jesus’ interaction with “sinners,”–those whom the religious leaders had determined to be lowly and unworthy–he spoke and acted with a perfect balance of truth and grace. He loved them well and without agenda. And that’s what moved them forward. Scripture tells us numerous times that people grew in faith as a result.

Too often, I have seen the church love others unwell. In our mad dash toward holiness and spiritual discipleship, we take a pitstop at “self-righteousness and legalism,” and we define ourselves and others by what should or should not do. We label others by what they do or do not do. We espouse judgement instead of grace, preach self-righteousness instead of truth.

We’ve taken on the job of separating the wheat from the chaff, but that winnowing fork was never passed on to us.

We can’t expect people to grow in that atmosphere. There is no sunlight, no clean air, no room for roots to grow, no nutrients or water rained down to quench thirst. There is only stuffiness and stifling and stagnancy.

The truth is, whether we are wheat or chaff is not determined by our shoulds and should-nots, and even if it were, it is not our job to clear God’s threshing floor for Him. Our job is to love like Jesus did.

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other (John 13:35, MSG).

They will know we are Christians by our love. By our love being lived out. By grace and truth being extended and professed.

We know this is not a simple task. We know it is soul-wrenching, messy, back-breaking work. We know this because we’ve seen it at it’s purest and most potent when Jesus carried his Cross to Calgary and died for us, raining down on us the most amazing and unadulterated love we will ever experience here on earth.

So we take up our crosses and follow in his footsteps, uphill and downhill and through valleys of death full of shadows of evil and mountaintop experiences. Because that is our highest calling and our greatest commandment.

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them (Matthew 22:37-40, MSG).

We extend grace: Jesus does not condemn you; nor do I.

We profess truth in love: You are more than your sin, so go on, live your life, but sin no more.

When we love others that well, we give them the room they need to breathe and become who they were meant to be. And we will see them grow in faith, in stature, in wisdom–into the person God created them to be.

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