Though Jesus was full of compassion, truth was the priority. While not indifferent to feelings, He interacted with others as one who knows that gospel truth alone is what saves. Truth, He taught, “will set you free” (John 8:32). Jesus’ mission was “to bear witness to the truth” (18:37). Sixty-six times in the New Testament the gospel is identified simply as “the truth” with the definite article, the one and only truth. However uncomfortable the truth may make others feel, however offensive the truth may sound to unbelieving ears, however untimely the truth may appear, Jesus always spoke the truth, and so also must we.
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.