Love the sinner, hate the sin. Easy, right?
In continuing the discussion from last month (May 8, 2014), I want to expand on the key question: When it comes to dealing with sin and sinners, what space should Seventh-day Adventists occupy in today’s world? Most of the time, in my experience, the extreme ends of the church are the most vocal, and take the following contrasting stances:
Group 1: This group does not believe in excusing or minimizing sin. Although it’s not quite at an “eye for an eye” level, they don’t believe in sweeping sin (or at least some sins) under the rug. They see a Christian world in which far too much emphasis is placed on grace. People living in open sin are going to hell. Somebody has to warn them before it’s too late. Biblical examples cited generally include the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Group 2: This group is all about grace, even at the cost of downplaying the severity of sin. It believes that we should welcome people living in open sin into the church, in some cases empowering them to hold leadership positions. God is love, and Jesus died on the cross so that you and I don’t have to be perfect to be saved. So why should we even try? Biblical examples cited include “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).
There’s a third group, where most of us sit, that is constantly trying to strike a balance between the endless grace of God and the seriousness of sin. As a cardholding member of this third group, I’ve seen how easy it is to give the appearance of standing for nothing. If we don’t castigate the first homosexual or pregnant teenager who walks into our church, we get accused by group 1 of allowing idolaters to get off easy. On the other side, any admonishment of sin is viewed as a “hate crime” by group 2.
No, being in the middle is not a comfortable place. But it’s exactly the ground Jesus occupied while He was on earth. He was blamed for lowering God’s standards by the legalistic Pharisees; but at the same time, He presented a path far too narrow for those consumed by worldly pleasures.
Accused by the right, rejected by the left: it’s not a comfortable place. But if Jesus is our example, it’s exactly where we should be.
After His death and resurrection, Jesus had but a few precious days with His disciples. Overall, very few of these words are recorded, which is why we should pay special attention to the ones that are. Jesus said, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:23).
Ellen White expands on this thought: “Warn every soul that is in danger. Leave none to deceive themselves. Call sin by its right name. Declare what God has said in regard to lying, Sabbathbreaking, stealing, idolatry, and every other evil. . . . In choosing to sin, they disown Christ; the church must show that she does not sanction their deeds, or she herself dishonors her Lord. She must say about sin what God says about it. She must deal with it as God directs, and her action is ratified in heaven.”
But she continues:
“In labor for the erring, let every eye be directed to Christ. Let the shepherds have a tender care for the flock of the Lord’s pasture. Let them speak to the erring of the forgiving mercy of the Savior. Let them encourage the sinner to repent, and believe in Him who can pardon.”*
As a church, as individuals, we must uphold biblical morality without pronouncing everlasting condemnation on those who falter.
Love the sinner, hate the sin, right?
Keep e-mailing me your thoughts; next month I’ll look at how Jesus implemented these concepts in His own life.
* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 806.