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:
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