Jesus the Truth-Teller

Popular Jesus mythology assures us that He never confronted anyone, made anyone feel uncomfortable, or judged anyone’s lifestyle. Jesus loved everyone, which for many means that He accepted people just as they are. Jesus was a champion of diversity, they imagine. Jesus came to establish an inclusive community in which all peoples of all types would be embraced and no one, whatever their proclivities, would be excluded.

Jesus did indeed establish a church devoid of the worldly categories by which peoples are separated into warring camps. He is the head of a new humanity, “one new man” with “one body,” establishing “peace” to both those “who were far off and those who were near” (Eph. 2:15–17). Does this mean that Jesus intended that religious and moral categories should disappear? Does love, by which is meant acceptance and inclusion, obliterate truth? Let’s look at some examples.

The Samaritan woman at the well is eager for access to the living water that Jesus offers. Yet when she asks for it, Jesus brings up the uncomfortable subject of her husband, of which she has had five, not counting the man with whom she is then living (John 4:15–18). Ouch. Awkward moment. One would think Jesus’ handling of the situation seems to lack nuance. Yet because her benefiting from Jesus’ saving work, her becoming a disciple, joining the church as we might say, is contingent on her abandoning her current lifestyle, the confrontation over her moral habits was necessary. Jesus prioritized truth over convenience.

Jesus prioritized truth over convenience.

Jesus spares the woman caught in adultery from the rage of a hypocritical mob. He refuses to condemn her but then tells her to “go, and from now on sin no more” (8:11). He identifies her extramarital escapade as sin and tells her to stop. He does not excuse her moral choices. He doesn’t welcome her contribution to diversity. He implicitly warns her that continuation on her current path will end in the destruction of her soul. Why? Because if she is to be saved, she must repent. Truth took priority over her feelings.

The rich young ruler wants to ensure that he inherits eternal life. He is a “good man.” By his own testimony, he has kept all the commandments. Jesus, we are told explicitly, “loved him.” Yet Jesus said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). Tough words. Unprecedented demand. Jesus perceived that he had an idol in his heart that required exposure if he were to be saved. Did doing so hurt feelings? Yes. Was the rich young ruler “sorrowful”? Yes. Did Jesus’ demand exclude him? Yes. “He went away” (v. 22). Did Jesus soften the blow? No, He doubled down. He likened the salvation of the rich to a camel passing through the eye of a needle—impossible with man, possible only with God (vv. 23–26). Truth took priority over likely offense.