How should we deal with sin?
This question has plagued me for some time now. What should the proper response be? I have seen sin dealt with too harshly and also too timidly. Neither yields much good fruit. But, just how does compassion and mercy merge with truth and justice?
I have often heard it said that we are to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” I agree with this but my question still remains: Exactly how do I do this? Sometimes my anger gets in the way and I know I have mishandled some situations that have come across my path. I want to be obedient to the Lord because I know His ways are good and bring lasting fulfillment. When we follow His design for our lives, He blesses us so that we can bless others. He works through us to bring others into a wonderful knowledge of His saving and merciful grace.
One of my favorite songs is entitled “Rescue the Prisoner” sung by Twila Paris. It reminds me that my anger can sometimes be misdirected. We are tasked with bringing freedom to those who are trapped in the prison of sin. God loves everyone…even those we find difficult to love. I need constant reminding that what we are facing is spiritual warfare.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12
Sometimes the now famous phrase “What would Jesus do?” comes to my mind when I am faced with confusing situations and I do not know what my proper response should be. I know we are to take a firm stand on what we know to be absolute truth. I also know that we are to exhibit mercy and grace to those who are walking in the dark or those who are still young in their walk with the Lord and make many mistakes. The only way to know what Jesus would do is to read about His life and his ministry and how he reacted to those who sin, which includes, essentially, everyone.
Self-righteousness is a plague that has pushed so many away from wanting to know our Lord. It is probably the most effective tool known to have the most success against the work Christ commanded us to do. I know my own struggle with self-righteousness has hurt many during my life's journey. I regret that and pray that the Lord will open my eyes to hurtful words or deeds I have committed so that I can make them right. I don’t want to be guilty of pushing someone away from the truest Love they will ever know.
I find it interesting that in the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, there are so few with whom He dealt with sharply. He loved the “unlovely” people and spoke harshly with those who expected to be glorified. He dined with sinners. His actions toward those who were considered “unworthy” was shocking and confusing even to his closest friends. But He had a mission…a purpose. His purpose was to bring grace to those who needed it. Consider His own words on the matter…the following account took place after Jesus told Matthew, a tax collector, one of a hated group of people, to follow him. “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Matthew 9:10-12
I find it interesting that often Christ’s sharp words were reserved for the religious leaders who knew the truth but had neglected to teach the masses through the examples of their own lives. They had rejected mercy and had embraced self-righteousness. “He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’” Mark 7:6-8
An entire chapter (Matthew 23) records even more that Jesus had to say about the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. He had some very serious things to say about their hypocrisy and failings as leaders of the people. We can learn a lot from that message. We need to be extra cautious to not only teach but to live what we learn from scripture. Yes, it’s difficult sometimes, because our ways are not His ways. But I have seen blessings come to those who obey His word. His ways are better and, in the long run, more rewarding than anything we can provide for ourselves.
We should not be content with our own salvation but should seek mercy on behalf of those who do not know Him. We should seek every opportunity to reach out to those who, many times, are not even aware they need a Savior. We cannot make their decisions for them, no, but that does not absolve us of the task Christ has given us before He ascended into Heaven.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Matthew 28:18-20
Christ will return someday in the same manner in which He left (in the clouds) and until that glorious and much anticipated day, we are to be working faithfully to bring others into His truth, not resting comfortably in our own salvation.
Jesus often used parables to teach the concepts that he wanted people to understand. We can often “see” better when we have an illustration to make things more visible. When speaking about the dangers of judging others, he used the parable of someone visually handicapped. “He also told them this parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you look at that speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye.’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’ " Luke 6:39-42
I have long been under the misunderstanding that we are never to point out someone else’s sins because that would be judging them and we are not to judge. As I learn more about this life of following the Master, I do not think that is entirely true. If we notice someone sinning, we should love them enough to correct them. However, what we so often fail at is our own self-examination to determine if we ourselves are falling in an area of our life. What are our motives for confronting them with their sin? Time and again the scriptures teach that our motives are more important and more heavily weighed than our actions. Correcting someone else should always be done with the purpose of helping that person grow wiser and stronger…never to make ourselves look more pious or perfect than they are. Self-examination is often the key to having a loving and humble attitude toward others. When we recognize our own failures and accept the grace that God has granted to us, then we can exhibit more compassion toward those who are still struggling. Perhaps they are struggling in an area where we have already been victorious. Who better to point out the pitfalls than someone who has already been down that same road?
Many people are blinded to sin. They cannot see clearly what someone else can see in them nor can they see the solution provided. Why? The answer to that question is found in 2 Corinthians.
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Cor 4:4
We cannot make someone listen to the truth but we are still responsible for speaking it. If we were watching a blind man stumble around on his own it would be cruel to allow him to stumble and fall without ever helping him recognize the obstacles in his way and how he can get around or over them. The closer we walk with the Lord and the more we learn to recognize His Holy Spirit, the more He reveals to us and our eyes are opened to the sin around us and in our own lives. 1 Corinthians, chapter 2 speaks about the wisdom that comes from the Spirit. “…but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” “ The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Cor 2:10 & 14
Just as we would never sit back and criticize a physically blind man for not being able to see his way, so should we not be so critical of others who are spiritually blind and cannot see why they keep stumbling and falling in the darkness that surrounds them. We need to turn on the Light for them so they can see. However, we cannot do that in and of ourselves, because that is the Spirit’s work. We are to do our part by sharing what we can see and by constantly praying for the lost that the Spirit will work in their lives and reveal Himself to them.
Standing firmly on the truths should not be neglected but neither should it be the “end all, be all”. When joined with a spirit of humility and sincere love, standing firm and setting appropriate boundaries against sin can be a wonderful mix of protecting ourselves and others while, at the same time, showing the sinner that he/she is loved enough to be corrected when their wrong paths or misunderstandings can lead them to destruction. I am learning that loving someone does not mean that we should let them do whatever they want to do if what they want to do brings harm to themselves or to others. It is not unloving to correct someone who is clearly making a wrong choice. However, treating them with respect and having a humble attitude is a requirement. We should never act as though we are without sin, but be willing to extend grace to those who are repentant of their sin. Nor should we forget that if we are not constantly on our guard we, too, can fall prey to any number of sins. We are the most vulnerable when we have the false impression that we are somehow immune to sin. Having the protection against eternal consequences because of the Salvation through Jesus Christ does not mean we will never mess up on this earth. We are still in the day to day struggle against our internal weaknesses and the external pressures that seduce us into believing things that are false. However, when we allow God to work in us and through us, He provides a strength and wisdom beyond our own abilities. He has promised to give wisdom to those who ask for it.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5
He has a purpose for each of us and when we seek His face, He will reveal our purpose to us and provide all that is necessary to accomplish that purpose. He loves the world intensely and desires to bring all who will hear His call into a deeper relationship with Him. His love was proven through the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. There is no pain or punishment that we will ever face that would be equal to what Christ suffered for us. He was unjustly condemned, tortured, humiliated and crucified. Even worse (in my eyes), He was betrayed by His closest friends. How can we think we would have any excuse to withhold compassion, truth and forgiveness from those who need it? So how are we to approach sin? With timeless and unwavering truth, humility, love, compassion, and grace.
Still sorting the myriad of thoughts that whirl around in this brain of mine,