At my bible study last week, a lively discussion erupted during our normally peaceful discourse. We have been talking about sin, offense, and forgiveness while watching the video series “The Bait of Satan” by John Bevere. Interestingly, talking about not getting offended actually gets people offended.
It was particularly contentious because our facilitator for the day (yours truly) couldn’t keep the discussion centered on the material and the tangents ignited passionate conversations about sin, judgement, and the Christian obligation to point out sin. Or completely ignore sin depending on who you are listening to. It was nice to hear both sides of this debate because I have always had questions about the seeming inconsistencies in the bible when it comes to sin and judgement. But I have come to some conclusions that help my little brain understand a divisive topic just a little bit better.
The most common verses quoted when someone talks about sin are “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Followed closely by “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then remove the speck form your brother’s eye.” And “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” These verses are used whenever sin is brought up to excuse whatever sin subject is at the forefront of the talk, as if talking about sin is somehow more sinful and offensive than the actual sin being committed. Labeling something as sin is a sin to these people. It’s too condemning, too judgmental, and not at all loving to call sin: sin, these days. This rule only applies to certain sins though; stealing is wrong, but homosexuality, not so much. Murder is bad, but abortion is just a choice.
On the other side of the debate, there are the people who adhere to a strictly legalistic interpretation of the bible. Their condemnation and distain for some sins causes them to picket clinics and spit in the faces of those with whom they disagree. They approach the subject of sin with a bible in one hand and a sledgehammer in the other. They refuse to be the tepid, timid Christian that God will spit out. Their preferred scriptures are from Romans and Leviticus. When the unbelieving world looks to the church, they often stereotype all believers in this category of staunch rules and fierce judgement. It is understandable; I think the words to the old Sunday School song “And they know we are Christians by our love” could be changed to “And they know we are Christians when we judge” in some cases.
I honestly believe that Christ’s truth rests squarely in both. First of all, the above mentioned verses have a bit more to say about sin and judgement than some want us to believe “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” These verses give us a little clearer perspective on the how of it, but what about the why of it.
Why should we ever tell someone that what they are doing is wrong? Why should we as flawed, imperfect humans ever point out a flaw in another person. There are so many splinters floating around in my eyes, how can I discern the bits in another person’s? And why, if I love them and want to draw them closer to the cross, would I ever say anything that might push them away? Maybe, because I love them.
God’s love for us never changes, He loves us the same yesterday, today, and forever. His love is unmovable, unchangeable, and infallible. So why do we sometimes feel like He is so far away? There have been times in life when I have questioned His goodness, His mercy, and His love. I accused Him of cruelty and harshness. I cried out in anguish over unanswered prayers and dashed dreams. Yet, He loved me through all my doubts, all my low points, and all my struggles; I just didn’t see it. It wasn’t His love that failed during those times, it was my ability to perceive it; and the reason my perception was so skewed was sin.
Sin comes between us and the Father. It’s a dark curtain that blocks the light from God. The problem is, we don’t always realize it’s there. When we don’t feel close to the Father, He hasn’t turned His back on us, we have turned away from him and turned towards something else, and that something else is sin. If we are lucky, we have a friend that will nudge us back in the right direction.
God calls to us, “Come to me, all you who are weak and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” We are supposed to leave every burden at His feet. Burden in this case doesn’t just mean trial or worry, it means every struggle, and we all wrestle with sin. When I finally stopped hiding my sin and shame behind human goodness and laid them at the foot of His cross, I experienced His love with a force I had never felt before. It was a remarkable, incredible experience that I want everyone to feel. It would be indescribably selfish of me to keep that kind of knowledge to myself. Until that moment, I had only experienced a glimmer of love; after, I faced the full brightness of it.
I had always questioned the story of the woman at the well whom Jesus encountered. She ran from the meeting exclaiming with joy that He knew all about her. How could something like that ever bring joy? I never understood how letting anyone, including God ever know anything about me. How could exposure and vulnerability ever make someone joyous. I think it is because once you confess your sin to God, it loses its power over you. Your free.
All of this leads back to talking to someone else about their own sin and are we, as Christians supposed to do that. I think yes, but with discernment, prayer, and much love; not with curses and condemnation, not with acid and accusation, and not with distain and disapproval. We all sin and fall short of the glory of god. We can’t judge others with a human hierarchy of sin where we put more emphasis on one type of transgression than another. Every sin puts a wall between God’s love and ourselves. We should meet others where they are and love them for who they are like Christ does. He loved us before we were saved just as He does the people we are trying to reach for Christ. We need to love first, judge later.
But we also need to love enough to explain that there is a better way and that sin is blocking the most amazing love from truly entering their hearts. Love where they are, but lead to something better, and lean on God to show the way.
I am the tax collector in the temple crying out to God “Forgive me THE sinner” while the Pharisee looks on. My own transgressions keep me from the glory of God, but earnest repentance draws me closer to him. The dark curtain is drawn open to let in the light of His love. A love so pure that it heals every wound and warms the soul. A love the world needs to know and hear about, but the sounds of sin drown out the call of God. We must speak the truth in love, and when someone chooses to ignore the message of truth, we need to love them exactly where they are, and keep loving them despite our differences. And we need to look in the mirror daily and wipe the debris from our own eyes so we can focus on loving God’s people more clearly.
I am a Christian, a wife, a mom, and a part-time basket case who wants to be a full time writer.