Many have the perception that Christians are judgmental, hate-fueled, and even dangerous. I’ve always found it strange considering the message of Jesus is a message of love, acceptance, and forgiveness. The power in the cross is truly good news for all who come to believe in the resurrection of Christ. So why do so many view it differently? I’ve often wrestled with this question. Do they just misunderstand? I am certain that is a part of it. Do the few genuinely hateful ruin the image of the church for everyone? I suppose that factors in, but deep down I think we all need to wrestle with the hard questions. What if they’re right?
Do I love really all people? Does my heart genuinely break that they might come to know the love of the Father? Am I concerned for my neighbors? Do I notice the hurting? Am I generous to those in need?
When I honestly and objectively look at what much of the conversations revolve around it seems like “the church” has been far more concerned with being correct than those that they reject. Not that we intentionally outright reject people. I’ve always heard that we “love the sinner, hate the sin” and in principle it makes sense. However, in practice, I think too many times we have failed to portray “love” for those we hope to save.
When discipling new Christians, I have found that I rarely have to give them a list of ‘don’t dos’. I might ask them a probing question every now and then, but those who really give their hearts to God, over time begin to recognize where transformation needs to happen. Too often we expect instant recognition. Even more, we expect instant agreement. We will accept the sinner, but only so much as they agree with every point we have to make.
There are many areas we could apply this too, but none more culturally significant than those who identify as gay.
The moment that word was spoken some of you reading this tensed up. You are now more concerned with whether what I might say is theologically correct than if a gay person experiences the Father’s forgiveness. That’s the whole problem. We assert our firm beliefs with no thought to how it might make someone else feel.
It is a tragic reality that gay people are the rejects of the church world. They are not welcome in our congregations. We are so concerned that they immediately conform with what we consider acceptable, and if they resist or are offended they are often shown the door. Why is it we are willing to walk people through sins such as pornography, being patient with them as they progress, but aren’t willing to extend the same grace to a gay person? Is it because we are guilty of the first and don’t understand the second?
The reality is that it makes us uncomfortable and we are so concerned with regaining our comfort that we give little thought to how our words and actions might make them feel. We don’t really take the time to hear their story, to understand where they’ve come from and where they hope to go. My biggest question is why does it make us so uncomfortable? How can we ever show them love if we can’t learn to welcome them in our midst, to be comfortable around them and to allow them to feel comfortable in our buildings?
We treat homosexuality different in a couple of other areas too. We seem to have a fear that if we accept gay people, they won’t know that engaging in homosexual activity is a sin. We fear that if we accept, we affirm. We don’t have this fear with any other sin. We also seem to confuse homosexual desire with homosexual action. We all have innate sinful desires, but we have the ability to not give into them. We rarely afford that same opportunity to those same-sex attracted. We treat it as something they chose or could control and we find it challenging to show them genuine love. Why can’t we accept them, stand beside them and walk with them through their hurt and temptations just like we do with everyone else?
I’m not suggesting these kind of situations are easy, but I believe we must do better at demonstrating the love of Jesus in every situation.
There is another statement I grew up hearing that I believe may not show sinners as much love as we think it does. “Some come by love and some come by fear”. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized the expression is not in the Bible. Something that is found in the Word, “God’s kindness is intended to lead to repentance.” (Romans 2:4) Which, by the way, in context is a pretty stern warning not to judge others. My point is this, I grew up afraid! I was terrified I’d get left behind, terrified I wouldn’t measure up. I got saved every time I went to church. And I’m not mad about it, but why was I so afraid of the judgment of God? Perhaps because I saw people who consistently judged each other for the movies they watched, the clothes they wore and the issues they struggled with. I didn’t understand the perfect love of God that casts out fear! (1 John 4:18)
I hope my heart is coming through. I’m not talking about watering down the truth or telling people that they can just keep on sinning. I do believe in living with high moral standards, but we have to present God’s truth in love. I remember hearing people say, “the most loving thing you can do is tell people the truth.” I agree! It would be most unloving to let people believe they can be “saved” and continue in sin. However, this phrase was often used to excuse harsh words spoken in judgment. “Conform or leave.” I am all for speaking the truth, but do they hear it in love? When you are speaking the truth, does the person know you love them?
I am convinced that showing people the love of the Lord isn’t about bringing them to a change of mind through debate. It’s about loving them and allowing God to do a work deep inside of them. I believe that head knowledge will fall against heart knowledge. When we love people and allow God to do the work of transformation it will tear down every lie, deception, and argument the enemy has woven into their minds.
While talking with a friend of mind about this topic they said, “right versus wrong never wins in the arena of love.” And they were right. As long as our primary objective is to prove others wrong, they will never feel loved by the church.
John 1:14 tells us that when Jesus came He was “full of grace and truth.” He offered full grace and full truth. They weren’t competing against each other. I think we struggle to strike that balance of truth and grace. We sometimes offer full grace, but lack truth which creates an untransformed people. Other times we offer full truth, but lack grace which creates a beaten and bruised people.
I don’t write this to say I have it all figured out. I only wish to say this one thing.
We must do better.