At Work

A Compelling Vision for Leadership Requires Learning to Lead with Grace and Truth

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Servant leadership in the name of Jesus requires us to lead with both grace and truth.

Study the gospel accounts of Jesus’s interactions and you see the mutual elements of grace and truth at work.

  • He challenges the Pharisees to commit to mercy as well as tithing. (Luke 11:42)
  • He says to the woman caught in adultery “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)
  • After being nailed to a rough-hewn cross he says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus didn’t just “balance” grace and truth, he expressed them fully through his life and ministry.

In order to lead with both grace and truth, let’s understand how the gospel message works.  The gospel message always points to Jesus who is full of grace and truth (John 1:17):

Every parent of a teenager gets to see a legalist and moralist in action. We veer off the gospel message, focusing on our sense of “truth” but discounting grace:


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Living this way fuels a sense of inferiority (“I can never live up to these standards,” or “I’m not as good as that guy”), or superiority (“Look at that scumbag, I’m better than him.”).

No one can stand at the foot of the cross, look up at Jesus dead, hanging there, and say, “But I’m better than that other guy.”

The other horrible fact of legalism and moralism is that there is no transforming joy or power in it. We’re a slave to something unhealthy and unwholesome. We’re hopelessly driven by fears.

In the end, you have to keep control of your life by avoiding Jesus.

Leaders who operate without grace destroy people, organizations, and eventually themselves.

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We can also veer off the gospel message by focusing on “grace” while ignoring inconvenient truth.

This leads us into hedonism and relativism. It’s self-focused. My standards are set by “Me, Lovely and Wonderful Me.”

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We might acknowledge that God loves me, but because “I’m okay”, God’s love didn’t cost him anything.

Once again, you are forced into keeping control of your life by avoiding Jesus.

This is an unsatisfying way to live and a useless way to lead. There’s no power and compelling vision to get ourselves and our organizations up out of clinging, selfish muck.

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Any one of us can rocket back and forth between hedonism/relativism and moralism/legalism multiple times a day. We’re perfectly capable of choosing whichever is convenient for the moment!

Do you know how toddlers learn to walk? The inner ear of a toddler works with her brain and her muscles to develop a refined sense of feeling off-balanced.

Next she learns which muscles to use to push her back away from off-balance. It’s a constant compensating system, back and forth.  You’ve been successfully walking for so many years you don’t realize the thousands of micro-adjustments your body is making as you walk.

The Holy Spirit helps us recognize when we’re “off-balance” and veering right or left away from the gospel. Tim Keller has pointed out that the gospel has two mutually important parts: “You and I are far worse than we can imagine”, and “You and I are far more loved than we dared to hope.”

These are the two truths which help “pull” us back into alignment with the gospel and oriented on Jesus Christ.

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The gospel message is not just for us to be saved once for eternity. The gospel is about how to live in Christ, in both grace and truth, every day.

Let your leadership be full of both grace and truth. Pay attention to the Holy Spirit who signals you when you veer off. Trust in Christ’s grace and truth to help you serve in his name.

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  • Thank you for this post. We live in an evil age where we can easily be deceived into swinging either ways and not depending on the Spirit to live and lead with full grace and full truth.

  • Jonathan

    Thanks for this: your model is very similar in design to Al Wolters’ distinction between structure and direction (in his “Creation Regained”).

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