Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin. What Does That Even Mean?!
I get a very strange and odd feeling when I hear Christians deciding on other people's sin. Debating in political arenas and gathering in groups to convince others that their theology is wrong and misguided based on a plethora of 'obvious' biblical verses. Whether this is happening more, or I am simply becoming more aware of it, I'm not entirely sure.
A stance with sin?
Specifically, I find it interesting that we Christians want to debate and label a) what is sin and b) who is doing it. We seem so wrapped up in this that we fail to see the grace, mercy and love of God and His nature, and the absolute importance of sharing this with others. We declare it from the pulpit and across Facebook that we need to take a stance, label sin and "defend the truth of the word".
What is the 'truth of the word'?? Which leads me to the question, what is the central truth of the gospel? I say emphatically that neither would be answered with: a list of sins.
I've heard it said on many occasions that we need to approach our brothers and sisters regarding their sin based on some random Bible verses (Matthew 18:15–17 and Luke 17:3). This has never settled well with me. And quite honestly, I've imagined these confrontations rarely going well!
I pondered with Jesus, 'Is this really what you want us to be doing to each other?' Recently these verses became clearer for me. It suddenly made more loving sense! I noted that in most translations both verses state this should only be done if your brother or sister sins against you personally, not in a general sense. And then they repent (or not) and you forgive them (or not). Why would we need to forgive someone who hasn't sinned against us? Jesus is wanting to see the restoration of personal relationships, not a condemnation of each other.
The ministry of sin?
Some take very seriously their ministry of dealing with the sin of others and judging those inside and outside the church. It seems to be shrouded by the saying that is so readily thrown around...
...'love the sinner, hate the sin'.
When you speak those words about, or to someone whose identity is tied up in what they're doing and how they're living - what they are more likely to hear is, "I actually don't like who you are and yes, I'm judging you".
What we don't realise is; we are creating a huge chasm in the path towards God. By having debates over abortion, homosexuality and the labelling of others with sin, whomever they may be, we have created a dynamic saying, 'We love you (in some abstract and partial kind of way), but once you set foot in the church, we shall have to deal with your sin and judge you. Although, in thinking about it, we've already judged you in our thoughts and called it out in various public forums... whoops, soz.'
In understanding God's love for us, we realise what sin actually is. Sin is anything that damages and is played out within us forgetting who we really are. Firstly and foremost, God's heart bleeds for us when we are hurting. The problem is, many in the Church start to create a ministry of identifying others' sin (rightly or wrongly) and dealing with it. I have seen so much hurt over the years, watching and being a part of this playing out. Why doesn't it feel right?
Rob Grayson in his article says: "First, Jesus clearly instructed his disciples to forgive one another freely, from the heart. He did not tell them to forgive their brothers as long as due recompense was paid or an appropriate sacrifice offered. Now, if Jesus, being the exact imprint of God’s very being, told his followers very clearly and unambiguously to forgive one another freely, does it not seem somewhat incongruous to persist in thinking that God can and will only forgive us if a life is first sacrificed?"
Do we need a ministry that forces us to our knees in guilt and shame? Do we need to beg our father and kill a goat to prove how sorry we are? If Jesus urges his disciples to forgive freely, from the heart - what does that say to us?
Why the ministry of sin is damaging
Dealing with another's sin in a power play clothed as a 'ministry' can be very damaging. Sometimes people aren't ready for the 'ministerial treatment'. Sometimes there is a very deep, dark hurt and pain in someone's life that is being dragged up by someone claiming to be 'hearing from God'. It is a very, very dangerous and contradictory place to be—for both parties. If people are brought to their knees by a spiritual elitist, with or without a raining down of bible verses, shame and guilt, I don't see this as a badge of honour and 'ministry' - but merely a form of manipulation and spiritual abuse.
There are some worthwhile ministries guiding people lovingly through things, don't get me wrong. These are helpful and beneficial and can aid the journey of realising God's love and the healing it can ultimately bring.
Who is perfect?
God works with us, not against us. Many claiming to be followers of Jesus are more well-known for their stance against others with their judgments and accusations.
Matthew 7 gives us an overall position on judging and identifying things in others. "Don't judge so that you won't be judged". "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but don't consider the beam that is in your own eye?" .....I fail to see where we can be misunderstanding these verses.
Most of Jesus' ministry was directed towards those the Pharisees had written off and labelled as 'wretched, dirty sinners'. He loved the openness of their hearts, despite where they were at. He knew the healing power of God's love. He knew the mercy the Father wanted to share with them. He also knew the damaging affect the Pharisees were having on those people and the rest of his ministry was attempting to change the religious culture of the day, and protect the vulnerable.
Have you ever had a bad thought? A sinful thought? Have you ever stolen a lolly from the corner store? Lusted over a married woman? Lied? Well, I believe Jesus is saying this disqualifies you from identifying (and dragging out) sin in others.
God's ultimate desire, I believe, is to look upon us, love us, and for us to be free from the sin that hurts us so much. This is the journey, and the knowledge of God He slowly reveals to us.
Could we handle it if we got hold of this all in one go? I think perhaps we'd drop on the floor.
Belinda has always enjoyed expressing herself. Her mediums have included dance, painting, writing, text messages and performing for local theatre companies. In 2010 she was invited to write comment articles for Press Service International which culminated in her winning the 'Basil Seller's Australian Young Writer of the Year' in 2015. Her writing is now published at cinemafaith.com and periecho.com. Belinda lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. See previous articles by Belinda Croft