[Spoiler Alert] No, you probably don’t.
A while back, an old friend of mine and I had, what I call a “catch-up” lunch (and no that is not a pun on table condiments).
We sat down at one of those café/deli/bakery shops to go through the cultural convention of checking on the non-facebook status of the other persons life. I ordered chicken salad and she got a raspberry danish. That’s important for you to know because I don’t remember that kind of stuff 99.9% of the time.
This day, however, I won’t soon forget because, as I was about to take my first bite of sandwich I asked, “So what’s up with you?” and she looked up with the biggest smile on her face and said, ”We finally had sex and now everything is so much better. It’s like all of our problems just disappeared!”
The next 30 seconds, or so, were a bit of a blur. I remember taking a bite of the sandwich, forgetting to chew it properly and then scalding my mouth with the freshly poured cup of coffee to try to choke the larger than necessary chunk of chicken and mayo lodged in my throat.
Almost immediately there was a war raging internally in my brain. I love and like this person dearly, which is a rare blessing, but I was brought up conservative and religious… I’ve seen what we do to “these kind of people” and it isn’t pretty.
SHUN THE NON-BELIEVER
This is how the church, traditionally, has practiced “hating the sin.” Anyone who has a lifestyle that would fall outside of the boundaries of our convictions must be ostracized, judged (which is acceptable in my circles if you add the word “wisely” to it), and largely used as an example to our children for what the devil looks like in flesh form.
I may be stating that a little harshly, but all in all, it’s pretty accurate.
Three issues I have with that (I’d list more but this is a blog, not a book):
- The hate is evident, the love seems absent.
- The “don’t cross this line” line keeps moving. It used to be women wearing pants to church [**GASP**]. It used to be tattoos. It used to be drinking. (To be fair… this is still the case in some churches)
- This isn’t the way that Jesus hated sin.
DEFINITIONS: JUST TO BE CLEAR
Now, just to be clear, I thought it would be wise to have a base definition for “sin” and “sinner” before moving too far forward.
SIN — an offense to God’s holy character, revealed in His holy law (1 John 3:4; Deuteronomy 9:7; Isaiah 59.2-3)
SINNER — everyone, Christian or otherwise (the whole book of Romans).
Based on these definitions and the common response of the church to sinners, modern day worship services should be shun-tastic carnivals of shun-ification… come one, come all.
I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to ever go to or be a part of church that’s like that.
I wonder, however, just how many people in our culture have had this very experience within the walls of the church. I know, personally, of at least a dozen right of the top of my head… it breaks my heart (and it changes the way I “do” church).
WE’RE JUST SLEEPING TOGETHER
So now I have a question: What would you do with that dating couple that was attending your church? You know they’re, at the very least, sleeping together. Our culture would insist that I be happy for my friend and her boyfriend. After all, she was happy with her actions, and that’s all that matters, right?
On the flip side of things, our church culture says that we should call them on it! Give them pamphlets about the evils of sex outside of marriage. Send them “encouragement” cards about getting right with the Lord and for heaven’s sake (a phrase which I will never understand) keep the children away from them so they don’t catch sinner cooties.
Is there a balance?
Jesus hated sin and do you know what that drove him to??? the sinner. That’s the whole reason Jesus came to earth, if I remember correctly (again… sarcasm). In fact, Jesus hated sin so much the Bible tells us that he endured a brutal roman crucifixion.
By the by… that’s what it looks like to love the sinner (John 15:13).
RETHINKING: HATE THE SIN
So, how do we hate sin like God hates sin and love the sinner the way that He loves… well… us?
To answer that you have to rethink the concept of hating sin according to God. Hate for sin, according to God, is a byproduct of deep, deep love for the one that is effected by it.
Think about it this way, I hate racism. You know why??? Racism has hurt and is hurting people that I dearly love. I don’t just dislike racism (which is where most people are, I think) because that would mean inactivity on my part. No… I hate racism, so I am forced by this hatred to be involved in the abolition of it.
I don’t just sneer and grimace when I hear racist jokes or comments, I speak up (not always in the most loving way, which is a failure to hate sin biblically on my part). My voting is informed by my hatred of racism, my child rearing is shaped by my hatred of racism, my finances are allocated based on my hatred of racism… my prayers are worded by my hatred for the sin of racism.
Biblical hatred of something that is sinful compels me to selfless action, often at great personal expense.
Now, without Jesus this hatred could have me running far and fast, in the opposite direction of those who are racist. Total separation from the ignorant and ill-hearted. Without Jesus this hatred could have me running fast, swinging my fists directly in the face of those who are racist.
These are reasonable reactions for hatred, if you don’t have Jesus.
With Jesus, however, my hatred for racism tends to put me in the path of racist people and racist conversations where I can sacrifice of my time, attention and personal resources to be the change I want to see. With Jesus my hatred for racism provides me with the opportunity to love racist people in a way that might minister to their heart.
If I simply “shuuuunnnnn the un-believer” am I truly hating their sin and my own sin?
RETHINKING: LOVE THE SINNER
What about loving the sinner? Do I really believe that I love a person (since we’ve already established that the word “sinner” is really just a synonym for human being) by keeping my life separate from theirs?
Is it truly love if I ignore them, if I never invite them into my home or if I shun them?
On the flip side, is it truly love if I just scold them, if I ram Scripture down their throat, if I enter every interaction with a sin-crushing agenda?
NO!!! True love is dirt under your fingernails, sweat on your brow, bruised and bleeding involvement. True love is messy involvement. True love is heavenly throne to poop laden stable.
I hate sin. I hate it in me. I hate it in you. I hate it in the world. That hatred, however, is informed by the sacrificial love of Jesus, for me and for you. That hatred, informed by Jesus, is fueled by love, for Jesus and for you. That hatred, informed and fueled by Jesus, drives me to long-term, self-sacrificing, humble, genuine and active involvement.
SO… WHAT DID YOU SAY TO THAT GIRL?
Well, after almost choking to death on my chicken salad and in the midst of holding back tears for the triage burns that were lining my mouth, I said, “You really love this person, don’t you?!?! Well, I suppose I need to meet him now. If he’s going to be a part of your life then I want to be a part of his. You know that I love you right? Well… that extends to him now, so it’s only appropriate that we get together otherwise it’ll just be awkward. When can we all get dinner together.”
That’s all I said (by the grace of God) and then we moved on to other topics.
I wish the story had a happy ending. As of right now, I haven’t heard from or seen my dear friend since that lunch. I heard through the grape vine that she is no longer with this boyfriend, who I never met, and that she moved from the neighborhood where they lived together.
My heart is broken, for my friend. If she is hurting somewhere I want to hurt with her. If she is alone I want to bring her into my family. If she is broken I want to help pick up the pieces… if she feels unloved, I want to love her in the same way my Savior loved me.
I hate the sin because of what it has done to my friend. I love her more deeply because of what my Savior has done for me (and for her).
If you are reading this, my friend, I want you in my life and I want to be a part of mine and my families. I don’t want “fixed, has-it-all together” you. I don’t want “righteous, no mistakes” you… just you.
And so does Jesus!
(P.S. – avoid church people until you can meet some of mine… trust me.)