Special Study Articles
Law, Grace, and Truth
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (John 1:14-18).
Sometimes law, grace, and truth are represented as being at odds with each other. When John says that the Law was given through Moses, and grace and truth were given through Jesus, was he suggesting that law contains no grace, or that grace contains no law? Neither option can be sustained, and that’s not the point John is making. What, then, is the point?
First, we should not take John’s point to mean that there was no grace or truth in the Law. Multiple Old Testament Scriptures speak of the lovingkindness (chesed) of God, and it would be unreasonable to suggest there was no truth, for “The sum of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160). Note how the psalmist brings together God’s lovingkindness and compassion in accordance with the Torah: “O may Your lovingkindness comfort me, according to Your word to Your servant. May Your compassion come to me that I may live, for Your law is my delight” (119:76-77). Passages can be multiplied to show that the people under the Law were still able to see God’s mercy extended to them. For this reason, it is incorrect to think that the Jews automatically equated being under the Law as “legalism” (if by that is meant trying to earn salvation through perfect law-keeping). They were well aware of their need for God’s mercy and compassion, and they knew the Torah was God’s truth. David could plead for God’s mercy (Psalm 51), delight in the law (Psalm 1), and rejoice in the truth without thinking that he was flawless or merited anything. The Psalms are a strong testimony to the proper attitude and balance between law, grace, and truth. Even so, the law was incomplete. Something was missing that only God Himself could ultimately supply.
In giving the commandments, God warned the people that He would punish iniquity, but that also He would show “lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Deut 5:10). “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (7:9; cf. vs. 12). There was no rift between law and lovingkindness. God gave both.
Further, some passages explicitly put together lovingkindness and truth. For example, when Moses met the Lord on the mountain, the Lord passed in front and said, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished…” (Exod 34:6-7). See also 2 Samuel 2:6 where David ties “lovingkindness and truth” together. God’s lovingkindness and truth are both found in the Law, but it was going to take more. It was going to take the incarnation of God Himself.
Jesus became flesh in order to finalize God’s plan. He stated, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17). He did not come in opposition to the Law or to destroy the Law. He came to complete and fulfill it, to bring about the full realization of what God intended all along. Grace and truth weren’t completely missing in the Law; they were just incomplete. Jesus, therefore, came to complete it.
Being under the Law did not mean being under a system of earning and merit by itself as a result of it lacking God’s grace and truth. Rather, it meant being under a system that was incomplete and unfulfilled. John’s point is about fulfillment. How was this lovingkindness and truth to be fully realized? How was it to be demonstrated and find its fruition? The answer is Jesus, the word who became flesh. Jesus was the perfect embodiment of grace and truth even as He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Through Christ is found “grace upon grace” — God lavishing His grace upon His people through Jesus in the forgiveness of our sins (Eph 1:7-8). Truly, of His fullness we have received. If the “sum of Your word is truth,” then surely Jesus, the incarnate word, is the apex of God’s truth — a truth that demonstrates lovingkindness and grace in the greatest of ways. Everything that law, grace, and truth could point to is fulfilled in the Son of God. This is the truth that expresses, in broad terms, what the Gospel is all about. Jesus Christ has shown us the true way of God (John 14:6).
Since grace and truth are fully realized through Jesus Christ, this means “grace upon grace” if we partake of His fullness. The purpose of the Law was finally realized in the full expression of grace and truth brought about by the work of Jesus. Only Jesus could fulfill and complete what the Law anticipated. While the Law showed God’s lovingkindness and truth, even as it exposed sin, it was still only a partially drawn picture of what God fully intended to do through Jesus Christ. Now we are able to see that picture completed, and what a beautiful one it is!
Given that Jesus fulfilled the law, brought the fullness of grace and truth, and offers to lavish this grace upon us, should this not be the consistent theme in our preaching today? The King of Kings is pouring out the riches of His grace. He died and rose again to secure these blessings for us, and His truth frees us from sin. His glory has been seen in His love. Grace and truth have been fully expressed in the flesh. Let this message ring out loud and clear!