One of the first truths we learn about Jesus’ earthly life in the gospel of John is that he was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). It is not uncommon for commentators to see this statement in John’s gospel as an allusion to Exodus where God reveals himself to Moses as both gracious and just, merciful and unyielding in his holiness, slow to anger, yet sure to judge the guilty (see Exodus 34:6-7).
Scripture as a whole and these passages in particular teach us that God’s character is perfectly symmetrical. That is, no one of God’s attributes dominates his character at the expense of any other attribute. God is holy and gracious, merciful and just, tender with the repentant and severe with the stubborn; he is long-suffering and patient, yet unswerving in his commitment to uphold the glory of his name. For all eternity God will pour out incomprehensible blessing upon his people in heaven while pouring out equally inconceivable destruction on the unrighteous in hell.
It was three centuries ago that Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon called, “The Excellency of Jesus Christ.” In this sermon, Edwards drew his listeners’ attention to what he called the “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.” Christ is both lion and lamb, judge and Savior, preacher and healer, Most High God and lowly servant, worthy of worship and glory, yet fully submitted to the Father’s will. In Christ we behold, in genuine human form, the fullness of perfectly symmetrical character.
As the Spirit shapes and molds believers into the image of Jesus (Rom 8:29), his work is distinguished in the cultivation of balanced Christian character. He is producing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). He gives us a love for Christ and a love for people (1 Cor 16:22; 1 John 4:20). He motivates us to pursue good works and personal holiness (Titus 2:14; Heb 12:14). He teaches us to speak both boldly and tenderly for Christ (Acts 4:27-31; Prov 15:1). He makes us confident in the truth and open to reason (Prov 28:1; James 3:17). He makes us sensible to heavenly priorities and earthly obligations (Col 3:1-4; 2 Thess 3:6-12).
We should be aware, therefore, of lopsidedness in our personal character. All of us, due to our backgrounds, personality bents, and other factors, will tend toward certain character qualities more easily than others. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this; we each have our own strengths and weaknesses.
But we also need to careful that we do not resist the Spirit as he forms the fruit of patience in our lives to complement our unwavering commitment to defend the truth, or when he starts to cultivate courage in our hearts to accompany our tenderness. We should also pray for the Lord to reveal in our lives where our character is imbalanced so that we might intentionally pursue growth where we are deficient (see Ps 139:23-24).
It’s true that we will never achieve perfect symmetry of character in this life, but it is something for which we should strive as we seek to walk like our Savior who was full of grace and truth.