This month: 184 - Grace and truth
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Archives for 184 – Grace and truth

John tells us that Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:11).

That perfectly sums up what we find in the Gospels. Jesus was big on grace and big on truth. We see it in John 4 – he shoots straight with the woman at the well in calling out her “husband” situation and yet it doesn’t run her off. He shoots straight with the lame man in John 5 when he asks him if he wants to be well before Jesus heals the man. The same thing in John 8 with the woman caught in adultery – “neither do I condemn you…go and sin no more.”

Today I am seeing more and more people big on grace and light on truth. I am also seeing people big on truth and light on grace. Jesus picked both…Jesus embodied both. And so should we.

If we push too hard into one or the other we are going to have problems. Grace without truth will produce people cavalier about sin who will have no understanding of the true effects of sin and how detrimental it is to us as divine image bearers. Truth without grace produces people who see God in terms of legal requirements. Both extremes produce people who don’t understand the very nature of God as a God of truth and grace. Justice and righteousness require both.

People won’t listen to your truth if they don’t sense your grace. People won’t appreciate the grace unless it is also paired with truth (how do you appreciate grace if you don’t know the truth about sin?).

So let us people Jesus’ people and embody what he embodied…both grace and truth!

Today is Easter Sunday, or known as “pascha” to most non-English speaking Christians around the world. We join Christians around the world, and throughout history, in remembering the culmination of God’s “passover plot” to liberate enslaved creation from sin and death through the Jubilee ministry, crucifixion and resurrection in the flesh of a Jew named Joshua/Jesus. It is the single defining moment since the dawn of creation. Creation’s redemption began that day through the dawn of God’s renewed creation. In fact we remember gratefully this every Lord’s Day.

Have you noticed that in the Gospels, all four, this singular event rests upon the testimony of a group of rather oppressed people, women. The Gospel of Luke goes out of its way to literally stress this remarkable fact. And it is an embarrassing fact at that. Yes, the first preachers of the Gospel of the Resurrected Messiah are … women. As in the Psalm, it is a “great company of women” who at “the Lord’s command” preach the “gospel” (Ps 68.11).

Several years ago biblical scholar Russ Dudrey published an article called “What the Writers Could Have Done Better.” He documents how controversial it was among non-believers (and even some believers!) in the ancient world that Christian claims rested upon the testimony of women.

What the writers could have done better, in the ancient world, was hide or just omit references to women, never mention them. But to not only mention them but to draw attention to the fact they are the ones who knew which tomb was Jesus’s in the first place, that they are the ones who went to the tomb on that fateful day, that they are the ones who received angelic visitation, that they are the ones who preached to the apostles themselves was simply beyond belief! Pagan critics, like Celsus, mercilessly castigated Christianity as an absurd religion of beguiled ignorant women. So, when Luke speaks of the women he does so purposefully. And it was not even necessary as a look at Paul’s summary in 1 Corinthians 15 makes crystal clear. The presence of women in Jesus’s ministry and especially at the tomb argued against Christianity in those early centuries.

But Luke (again all the Gospels bear witness) stresses the women. Luke does not just draw attention to them but he appears to be smacking us with a bat to get our attention. He forces us to see the women. He does this throughout his Gospel, but I begin at the cross in Luke 23 and go to the resurrection in chapter 24. Note these texts. By this time the Twelve male disciples of Jesus had already fled and abandoned the Lord.

“A great number of the people followed him, and among them were the women …” (23.27)

“those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance and watched these things” (23.49)

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, they [the women] saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they [the women] returned, and prepared spices and ointments.” (23.55-56)

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women, … they found the stone rolled away … but when they went in, they did not find the body.” (24.1-3)

the women were terrified [angel speaks to the women]” (24.5).

“When they [women] returned from the tomb, they [the women] told these things to the Eleven, and to the others.” (24.9).

Luke then goes out of his way to name the women

“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who told these things to the apostles. But these words seemed to them like an idle tale and they [the apostles] did not believe them” (24.9-11)

“Moreover, some women of our group astounded us” (24.22)

“Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said” (24.24).

In the space of chapter, Luke stresses “the women” nearly a dozen times. Why? Because through the Jubilee ministry and resurrection of Jesus the curse has been removed. Men, not God, declared women to be inferior, unfit, unreliable, less than rational … and Luke comes along and says the Gospel message itself rests upon the faithfulness of women!

The same women that embraced the scandal of following Jesus camping around Galilee (8.1-3 contains the same names as 24.19) are the ones who were faithful to the bitter end.

Peter ran away, Mary Magdalene did not.

John did not go to the tomb, Joanna did.

Matthew did not talk to the angels and find the empty tomb but a whole troop of faithful women did.

Paul was nowhere to be found.

It was the women who preached, who announced, the resurrection, to the apostles themselves. All four Gospels testify to this but Luke is the one who rubs our noses in it. And while the pagans scoffed, because women supposedly could not be entrusted with such earth-shattering authority and news, the writers tell us that Christian faith itself rests upon the Easter morning experience of women from Galilee.

The end of the Gospel of Luke bears witness to Luke’s inspired understanding of the Hebrew Bible … women, old ones and young ones, will become prophets in the new world along with men. Men and women are equal in the grace saturated new world.

One page away, in Luke’s book, we read this amazing quotation whose emphasis is actually on every page of the Gospel.

“I will pour out my Spirit upon ALL flesh,
and your sons and your daughters
shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves,
both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit
and they shall prophesy”
(Acts 2.17-18)

This is why Luke goes out of his way to stress “the women” because even two thousand years later some men still hold the same cursed view of women that dominates so much of human relationships. But Jesus in his resurrection brought a redeemed world into existence and the church is supposed to be the redeemed world on display before the fallen world.

Welcome to God’s Brave New World.

This article is a supplement to Frank’s landmark book, Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom. It was a chapter that couldn’t fit into the book, so it was made into a separate essay.

You can also hear this conference message – “A Clash Between Kingdoms” – from the live conference that spawned the book Insurgence as well as this article. The message adds more texture to the subject of water baptism and the kingdom.

When a person decided to follow Jesus Christ in the first century, they joined the insurgence. And their first step was to be baptized in water. Today, however, we have lost the radical meaning of water baptism, along with its power.

In this chapter, I seek to recover both.

The Unchanging Word of God

Before the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His disciples,

Go therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations, BAPTIZING THEM in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. (Matthew28:19,20, emphasis added)

He that BELIEVES and is BAPTIZED SHALL BE SAVED; but he that believes not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16, emphasis added)

Now look at these other texts:

Peter replied, “REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS.” (Acts 2:38, emphasis added)

And with many other words did he [Peter] testify and exhort, saying, SAVE YOURSELVES from this corrupt generation. Then they that gladly received his word were BAPTIZED. (Acts 2:40–41, emphasis added)

And now what are you waiting for? Get up, BE BAPTIZED AND WASH AWAY YOUR SINS, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16, emphasis added)

This water symbolizes BAPTISM THAT NOW SAVES YOU also. (1 Peter 3: 21, emphasis added)

These passages have led some Christian denominations to teach baptismal regeneration. Other denominations have essentially buried these texts, choosing to ignore them rather than engage them at all.

I don’t subscribe to baptismal regeneration. But because I believe the Bible to be God’s inspired Word, fully reliable and fully authoritative, I don’t think we can rightfully ignore these texts either.

To my mind, the solution is in understanding two things: (1) how the word “saved” is used throughout the New Testament, and (2) the relationship between faith and confession.

The Meaning of Salvation

According to the Bible, salvation does not exclusively deal with the question of heaven and hell. Salvation is connected with something far more than just our eternal destiny.

God has provided all things through His Son to deliver us from every effect of the fall.

Because we stand condemned, God justifies us. Because we are born into this world spiritually dead, He regenerates us. Because we have broken His Law, He forgives us. And because we have a sin nature, He sanctifies us.

But what does God deliver us from in salvation?

The answer: this present world system.

Because we are all born as servants to the world system, which is corrupt, God saves us.
In a general sense, salvation includes every aspect of our deliverance from sin.

In Jesus: A Theography, I put it this way:

In Scripture, the word salvationmeans “deliverance” and includes three tenses: we weresaved (justification = salvation from the penalty of sin); we are being saved (sanctification = salvation from the power of sin); and we will besaved (glorification = salvation from the presence of sin). Salvation, then, is Jesus Christ: Christ as our righteousness (past); Christ as our sanctification (present); Christ as our hope of glory (future). The latter will occur when Jesus “will appear a second time.”[1]

In its strictest sense, salvation refers to our deliverance from the present world system.

The World System

The Bible uses the phrase “the world” in three different ways. In some places, it refers to the earth. In other places, it refers to the people who inhabit the earth. In still other places, it refers to the system that stands in opposition to God.

Take a look:

Love not THE WORLD, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. For all that is in THE WORLD, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And THE WORLD PASSES AWAY, and the lust within it: but he that does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)

In times past you walked according to THE COURSE OF THIS WORLD, according to the prince of the power of the air [Satan], the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience. (Ephesians 2:2)

In whom the god OF THIS WORLD [Satan] has blinded the minds of them who believe not. (2 Corinthians. 4:4)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and to KEEP ONESELF FROM BEING POLLUTED BY THE WORLD. (James 1:27)

There are three evil forces that stand in opposition to the three Persons of the triune God. Satan stands against Jesus as Lord, the flesh wars against the Holy Spirit as Enabler, and the world system opposes God as Creator.

The world system is the enticing network that controls this present age. When the first humans fell in the garden, they unwittingly submitted to Satan’s rule. As a result, Satan seized authority over the earth and set in place a cosmic pattern of civilization called “the world.”

The world system is a direct challenge to God as Father, Sustainer, and Creator.

The world system includes all the things of this life that are opposed to God’s ways, whether they be in entertainment, music, art, fashion, philosophy, politics, education, religion, etc.

According to Jesus and Paul, Satan is the mind behind the system. Thus the Bible says that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).

By birth, we belong to the world system. And our fallen nature is naturally drawn to it. For this reason, John tells us that the things of the world appeal to the lust of our flesh, the lust of our eyes (materialism), and our pride.

When we come to Christ, however, we enter a new domain where Jesus is in control. In Christ, we are separated from the old order of things and we come into a new realm (Col. 1:13).

Salvation, then, is the exodus from the dominion of darkness (the world system). It is the departure from Satan’s domain into Christ’s domain. As followers of Jesus, we live in the world, but we are no longer from or of the world (John 17:15–16). This is why Paul could say that “our citizenship is in the heavenlies” and Peter could say that we are “strangers and pilgrims” in this world.

To be saved, then, means more than going to heaven when you die, though it does include eternal life. But eternal life is the life of the age to come. And its experienced now as well as in the future.

Salvation specifically refers to a transference from one realm into another, from one sphere into another, from one authority to another, right here, right now.

So to be saved means to come out of the present world system—which is controlled by God’s enemy—and come into Christ’s in-breaking rule over the world.

Saved Through Baptism

How do we become separated from the world system, which is under divine judgment? According to the New Testament, it is through repentance, faith, and water baptism:

He that BELIEVES AND IS BAPTIZED SHALL BE SAVED. (Mark 16:16, emphasis added)

Peter replied, “REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED, every one of you . . . ” (Acts 2:38, emphasis added)

And with many other words did he [Peter] testify and exhort, saying, “SAVE YOURSELVES from this corrupt generation.” Then they that gladly received his word were BAPTIZED. (Acts 2:40–41, emphasis added)

Who gave Himself for our sins to SAVE US FROM THE PRESENT WICKED WORLD according to the will of our God and Father. Galatians 1:4, emphasis added)

In the Old Testament, we have two examples that represent the meaning and significance of water baptism. They are. . . .

     (1)   Noah’s Ark and the Flood

God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were SAVED THROUGH WATER, and this water symbolizes BAPTISM, THAT NOW SAVES YOU ALSO—not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge [testimony] of a good conscience toward God. IT SAVES YOU by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:20–21, emphasis added)

And spared not the old world, but SAVED NOAH the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon THE WORLD OF THE UNGODLY. (2 Peter 2:5, emphasis added)

In Noah’s day, everything became corrupt. People departed from God and the world grew wicked beyond recovery.

God had no alternative but to judge it.

Accordingly, God commanded Noah to build an ark to shelter all who sought deliverance from the coming deluge.

Rain filled the earth, destroying the old corrupt world. But Noah and those in the ark moved safely above the waters.

As Noah’s family found refuge in the ark, they escaped the old world, now buried under the waters of judgment. When the waters receded, Noah found himself in a new creation.

According to Peter, this story depicts our salvation from the world system through baptism.

Salvation is God’s exit from a doomed system led by Satan. Christ is the ark in which we find our deliverance. And it is through the water that we bury our old life that was attached to the old world.

Peter goes on to say that baptism is a pledge—a testimony—of a good conscience before God.

Through baptism, we testify to women, men, angels, demons, and to God that we have died to the old creation and that we are part of the new creation. Our attachments to the world have been severed. Our allegiance is now with the kingdom of God.

Baptism, then, is a clear declaration of where we now stand. Through it, we make a public confession that we have surrendered our lives to Christ, that the old life we once lived is finished and buried, and we are a new creature in Jesus.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

      (2)   Israel’s Exodus through the Red Sea

They [the Israelites] were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (1 Corinthians 10:2)

Egypt represents the world system headed up by Satan, who is typified by Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Moses represents Christ, our Savior from the bondage of sin.

How did Moses deliver Israel from their slavery? Through the opening of the Red Sea.

In the book of Exodus, we are told that Moses led Israel through the Red Sea, which God opened for them, causing them to leave the old land.

When the Egyptians followed Israel in an attempt to seize them, God sent the waters back over the Egyptians, burying them in the sea. Through the Red Sea, Israel severed their connection with the old system that held them in perpetual bondage.

Israel no longer had any allegiance to Pharaoh; his hold on them was broken from that moment forward. And so it is with us. By baptism into Christ, we sever our connection with the old system that once held us in bondage.

The Initial Confession

Faith is not complete without confession (Rom. 10:9–10; 2 Cor. 4:13; Heb. 10:23).

According to the New Testament, water baptism is the initial confession that a person makes once she or he has come to Christ. It is the first step in becoming a disciple of Jesus.

While the first act before God is to repent and believe, the first act before humans and angels is to be baptized.

Through baptism, we express that we belong to Christ and are no longer part of the world system. This is why in the book of Acts, the apostles sometimes exhort, “Repent and believe,” while other times they exhort, “Repent and be baptized.”

Saving faith and baptism are intimately connected. So much so that they are used interchangeably in the New Testament.

Baptism is the way the early Christians initially confessed their faith in Christ.

For this reason, the New Testament plainly shows that when people believed the gospel, they were immediately baptized:

Then they that gladly RECEIVED HIS WORD WERE BAPTIZED. (Acts 2:41, emphasis added)

But WHEN THEY BELIEVED Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, THEY WERE BAPTIZED, both men and women. (Acts 8:12, emphasis added)

And they SPOKE THE WORD OF THE LORD together with all who were in the house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds and IMMEDIATELY HE WAS BAPTIZED, he and all his household. (Acts 16:32–33, emphasis added)

Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “LOOK, HERE IS WATER. WHY SHOULDN’T I BE BAPTIZED?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and PHILIP BAPTIZED HIM. (Acts 8:35–37, emphasis added)

(Notice that the eunuch asked to be baptized after Philip explained the Isaiah passage to him.

This indicates that Philip included baptism in his conversation with the eunuch.)

One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household WERE BAPTIZED, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:14–15, emphasis added)

Baptism Is Burial

If you were baptized in the first century, you were signing your death warrant. You were renouncing everything for another kingdom. You were paying your allegiance to another king, Jesus of Nazareth, rather than to Caesar.

The one who was baptized was buried. Yet they rose again from the dead as a new creation. The baptized person had become a citizen of the true Israel, the new nation called ekklesia. And its headquarters was in the heavenly realm.

That’s how the early Christians understood baptism. It was an ending. A burial. And when you came up out of that water, you understood that your past was gone, forgiven, and you were now part of a new nation, a new people, a new kingdom.

Properly understood, baptism is a funeral service.

Romans 6:4–6 says,

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are BURIED WITH HIM BY BAPTISM INTO DEATH: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: Knowing this, that OUR OLD MAN [our old self] WAS CRUCIFIED WITH HIM, that the body of sin might be unemployed, that we should no longer serve sin. (emphasis added)

But those who are buried in Christ rise from the dead. Baptism, then, has two sides. It is both a release as well as an entry. On the one side, we are baptized into Christ’s death.

When we go down under the water, we testify to the fact that the old person we used to be and the old world that we used to serve is being buried. We are plunged beneath the water and the “old Adam” is drowned. But we come up out of the water in Christ and begin a new life.

In baptism, we affirm that we have become a new person with a new nature, born into a new humanity which belongs to a new creation where Jesus of Nazareth is Lord.

Baptism shows to the visible and invisible world that a person has joined the insurgence of God’s endless kingdom.

For more, check out The Insurgence Podcast.

FRANK VIOLA has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. He has written many books on these themes, including Insurgence, God’s Favorite Place on Earth and From Eternity to Here. He blogs regularly at frankviola.org.


[1] Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, Jesus: A Theography (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 294

John tells us that Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Wow! What an amazing combination of principles. Jesus came giving undeserved or unmerited gifts or favor. He also came as “way, truth and life” (John 14:6).

If we are going to be like Jesus we must embrace and embody both grace and truth. Grace without truth turns into flagrant rebellion and truth without grace turns into shame and self-deprecation. So many want to have only one or the other but you have to have both. And that creates tension…needed tension for us to wrestle with.

We must have both grace and truth. The month of April will have a variety of articles focusing on this theme. As always, thank you for reading!