Loving the way Jesus loved

In the resulting conversations from yesterday’s post on Caitlyn Jenner again raised the question, “What does it mean to love the way Jesus loved?” This in response to my assertion that rather than condemning people we should seek first to love them and listen to them. This was from yesterday:

I do not know how we demonstrate the love of Jesus to the transgender, gender confused, and gender reassigned among us if we do not begin by trying to understand what they are going through or have been through. Contrary to prevalent response, condemning people at every turn is an ineffective evangelism strategy. Listening and loving works better.

A typical opposing view was voiced by a Facebook commenter, “it’s impossible to love someone like Jesus without confronting their sin upfront.” The idea of upfront [sic] is undefined, but it seems to mean “ensuring I point out the sin of another firmly as quickly in the relationship as possible.”

Commenting on the original post here, Bert said, “I agree with you regarding insults, abuse and ridicule but unconditional love does not and should not lead to unconditional acceptance.” Unconditional acceptance is not what I advocated, but it seems to creep into these conversations all the time.

What does it mean to love like Jesus loved? Do we overlook sin? Castigate people right out of the gate? Carry around a pocket full of scarlet letters to distribute? A for adultery, G for greed, GR for gender reassignment, H for hate, P for pride. Our pockets will need to be deep.

Here are a few thoughts on loving how Jesus loved.

1. If you do not know a certain celebrity personally you are not “confronting the person’s sin.” That’s an ego trip. “Calling sin ‘sin’” from a distance is not confrontation. It might be telling the truth. In some instances it might just be being a blowhard. Condemning celebrities on social media is no more confronting sin than looking up at the night sky with a pair of toy department binoculars is mapping the stars.

2. Jesus regularly appeared condemnable to reach people who were condemned. It is easy for us to look back 2,000 years later and say, “Oh, that’s why Jesus did that.” His immediate audience, though, did not always understand what He was doing. Sometimes it looked like Jesus was sinning while Jesus was saving. Even the Twelve periodically stopped to ask, “Hey, uh, what exactly was that all about?”

Talking to the woman at the well, touching the unclean, being touched by the unclean, being crucified—all of these acts gave a questionable public appearance.

We love to talk about the woman at the well, don’t we? Jesus confronts the woman about her sinfulness. She nearly always makes an appearance in modern discussions.

What we often overlook is the length to which Jesus had put His reputation at risk before He ever “confronted her” about her sin. He interacted with a woman who was a Samaritan, a woman, and a woman with a sordid sexual past and present. All three of these were taboos for Jewish rabbis. When the disciples returned from seeking food, even they were shocked that Jesus talked to her at all.

In fact, if we look at the ministry of Jesus, He seemed to have tenderness for people who had sexual struggles. He was approachable. He did not gain this reputation by using, “You’re a perv” for an opening line. The woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the woman who anointed His feet were all people who had sexual issues.

We err if we think Jesus was only demeaned in becoming sin for us. Jesus not only bore our sins in His death; He often bore our disrepute in His life.

3. Jesus did not always confront people’s sins “up front.” When He did He had standing to do so: He was a rabbi. People expected Him to teach.

We have no indication that Jesus rebuked Zaccheus before Zaccheus repented. Clearly the tax collector was already well aware of his own sin. How did Jesus approach the situation? “Let’s go have dinner. Let’s go to your place.” All this as the people judged Jesus for hanging with a “notorious sinner.”

Jesus did not confront the adulterous woman’s sin up front, regardless of what you may have read. He’d already risked his reputation by standing up to her accusers, scattering them to the wind. Too many rush directly to “go and sin no more” without stopping to consider the breadth, weight, and height of the grace of God in, “Neither do I condemn you.”

It is an equal fallacy to hold a position that love never needs to address sin. The grace, peace and forgiveness of Christ are the most important things we can know. Skimming over sin is not the way to know God. But, a jackhammer of condemnation is hardly the salt and light Jesus commends.

4. Not confronting sin “up front” does not equate to ignoring sin, or overlooking it perpetually. There is a marked difference in how Jesus preached to crowds, dealt with the hypocritical Pharisees, and dealt with the lost. His most critical comments were reserved for those who “played church” at the expense of their souls.

Is it even necessary for me to address a person’s primary sin or public sin for him or her to be saved? Zaccheus indicates no. Jenner is not saved due to unbelief, not due to gender reassignment surgery. We have more than enough sin in our lives to convince all but the most ardent that problems exist.

Unconditional acceptance of people is not unconditional acceptance of sin. This is false equivalence. Jesus not only spent time around sinners, He spent time around the “worst” sinners in the culture. He was approachable because He always took the time to approach.

It is possible for followers of Jesus to love the way Jesus loved. However, the way Jesus loved is not a comfortable thing. It’s a fierce, sacrificial, time consuming, humbling way of life. It’s offered up close, not at a distance. It leaves cleanness for dirt, crime, filth and sinful surrounds. It’s a way I know too little.

I’ll leave the last word to Rich Mullins:

 

Lyrics

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
I cannot find in my own
And He keeps His fire burning
To melt this heart of stone
Keeps me aching with a yearning
Keeps me glad to have been caught
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God

Now I’ve seen no band of angels
But I’ve heard the soldiers’ songs
Love hangs over them like a banner
Love within them leads them on
To the battle on the journey
And it’s never gonna stop
Ever widening their mercies
And the fury of His love

Oh the love of God
And oh the love of God
The love of God

Joy and sorrow are this ocean
And in their every ebb and flow
Now the Lord a door has opened
That all Hell could never close
Here I’m tested and made worthy
Tossed about but lifted up
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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  • DougE

    Unfortunately it seems as though we are labeled as “hateful” and “bad people” by not celebrating Jenner’s change. I am not ever going to be in a position to share Christ’s love with Jenner, but how do I converse with those around me who are celebrating the situation?

    • martyduren

      Doug-
      To be honest I’m not sure. I don’t celebrate people telling drunken stories, hating on their wives, etc, so “not celebrating” should be easy for a lot of us.

      I think to be effective we’ll have to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We know the culture is woefully against scripture on almost all matters of sexuality (and has been since forever), so picking our talking spots will be important. I continue to believe listening will be a key if for not other reason, to ensure we are answering what’s actually being said, rather than what we already think.

    • Tyler

      I don’t think people are asking you to celebrate Caitlyn Jenner. More so they’re asking Christians who feel her transition is a sin to live and let live. There is a difference in thinking its a sin and telling everyone you think its a sin.

      • DougE

        Understand your point. Where I’m coming from is a situation like this: co-workers, who view the change favorably, begin to talk about it. I have the choice to walk away or stay silently awkwardly, lie and agree to just get through the conversation, or try to express my views as delicately as possible. That’s where the first part of my original statement comes into play: it is very difficult to express this without the impression of being hateful or judgmental. There seems to be very little wiggle room, if any, between celebrating and hating. I think that Christians are struggling with this predicament on a variety of social issues.

        • Tyler

          In my experience, I think there are few reasons for this reaction. Christians, however thin the line they try to tow on issues like these, are guilty by association. To someone who doesn’t accept that it is a sin to be LGBTQ, the difference between someone saying “love the sinner, hate the sin” and Westboro Baptist Church is a matter of degrees. That may not be fair, but I think that’s whats happening.
          Those of us who do not believe that being LGBTQ is a sin, also know that it is not a choice. We generally feel that it is impossible to “love the sinner, hate the sin” in this case as the “sinner” is inseparable from the “sin”. It is part of the loving, beautiful fabric of their being. The thought that they are condemned for being who they are to their core is just impossible to us. So if someone asserts that it is loving to point out their “sin” and tell them that God condemns it, it is hard to construe that sentiment as anything other than hate and/or judgement.
          If I, someone who celebrates Caitlyn Jenner, walked into the direct inverse of your example I would have the same choices. If in that arena, I still decided to speak up and voice my unpopular opinion, I would accept that there were consequences. It seems like many Christians don’t want to accept these consequences. The view that LGBTQ individuals are an abomination and condemned is an increasingly unpopular one. Society is moving in the direction of acceptance, and before long the Biblical justification for that view will go the way of interracial marriage, women’s rights, slavery, etc. As such, when Christians condemn homosexuality and the like, they invite criticism from those they’re sharing the public arena with. I’m not trying to be patronizing here, but to me it’s sort of a “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” scenario. Another option would be to accept the LGBTQ community as they are.

  • Jackie

    “A for adultery, G for greed, GR for gender reassignment, H for hate, P for pride. Our pockets will need to be deep.”
    … and our chests will will need to be large to wear our own letters.

    • martyduren

      Argh. I wish I had thought of that line. Well said.

      • Jackie

        It frustrates me when people talk about “their sin” when talking about others. Whether it be homosexual life styles, alcoholism, habitual lying, etc etc, their sin is no different than mine. If you want to walk around with a backpack full of scarlet letters, don’t forget the size of the sweater it will take to wear your own.

        Thanks for being real Marty.

  • Jake Steele

    God created him as male, and he now wants to be a female… So God messed up when he made Bruce a man? I do not think so…

    • martyduren

      Hi Jake-
      Where is that implied in this post?

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  • JulieS

    A point of clarification regarding the statement “Jenner is not saved due to unbelief, not due to gender reassignment surgery,” Jenner did say she is a Christian in the 20/20 interview.

    Therefore, she is now our sister in Christ.