There is something inside me that feels 'odd' when I see and hear Christians deciding on people's sin, debating in political arenas and gathering in groups to convince the other that their theology is wrong and misguided based on a plethora of 'obvious' biblical verses. Whether this is happening more, or I am just becoming more aware of it, I'm not entirely sure.
A stance with sin?
Specifically I find it very interesting that we Christians want to debate and label what is sin and who is doing it. We seem so wrapped up in this we fail to see the grace, mercy and love of God and His nature, and the absolute importance of sharing this with others. We declare it from the pulpit and across Facebook that we need to take a stance, label sin and defend the truth of the word. What is the 'truth of the word'? Which leads me to the absolute question, what is the central truth of the gospel? I say emphatically that neither would be answered with: a list of sin.
I've heard it said on many occasions that we need to approach our brothers and sisters regarding their sin based on some Bible verses (Matthew chapter 18, verses 15–17 and Luke chapter 17, verse 3). This has never settled well with me in the past. And quite honestly I've imagined these confrontations rarely going well. I pondered with Jesus, 'Is this really what you want us to be doing to each other?'
Recently these verses were clarified for me. It suddenly made more loving sense! I noted that in most translations both verses state this should only be done if your brother or sister sins against you personally, not in a general sense. And then they repent (or not) and you forgive them (or not). Why would we need to forgive someone who hasn't sinned against us? Jesus is wanting to see the restoration of personal relationships, not a condemnation of each other.
The ministry of sin?
Some take very seriously their ministry of dealing with the sin of others and judging those inside and outside the church. It seems to be shrouded by the saying that is so readily thrown around—'love the sinner, hate the sin'. When you speak those words about or to someone whose identity is tied up in what they're doing and how they're living, what they are more likely hearing is, 'I actually don't like who you areand yes, I'm judging you'.
What we don't realise is we are creating a huge chasm in the path towards the Church. By having debates over abortion, homosexuality and the labelling of others with sin, whomever they may be, we have created a dynamic saying, 'We love you (in some abstract kind of way), but once you set foot in the church, we shall have to deal with your sin and judge you. Although we've already judged you in our thoughts and called it out in some public forum... whoops.'
In understanding God's love for us, we realise His hate for sin. Sin damages us and we are his children. His heart bleeds for us when we are hurting, and He wants us free from the pain of sin. The problem is, many in the Church start to create a ministry of identifying others' sin (rightly or wrongly) and dealing with it. I have seen so much hurt over the years, watching and being a part of this playing out. Why doesn't it feel right? Because humans are putting themselves in the place of God to deal with people.
Sometimes people aren't ready for this kind of 'ministerial treatment'. Sometimes there is a very deep, dark hurt and pain in someone's life that is being dragged up by someone claiming to be 'hearing from God'. It is a very, very dangerous and contradictory place to be—for both parties. If people are brought to their knees by a spiritual elitist, with or without a raining down of bible verses, shame and guilt, I don't see this as a badge of honour and 'ministry' but merely a human form of manipulation.
There are some very worthwhile ministries guiding people lovingly through things, don't get me wrong. These are very helpful and beneficial and can aid the journey of realising God's love and the healing it brings.
Who is perfect?
The mercy, grace and love we show and share with people will demonstrate the heart of God and people will fall to their knees when God grabs the part of their heart that needs grabbing at the exact moment He knows they are ready. I believe God works with us, not against us.
Matthew chapter 7 gives us an overall position on judging and identifying things in others. 'Don't judge so that you won't be judged' says verse 1. Verse 3 states, 'Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but don't consider the beam that is in your own eye?' I fail to see where we can be misunderstanding these verses.
Most of Jesus' ministry was to those the Pharisees had written off and labelled as 'sinners'. He loved the openness of their hearts, despite where they were at. He knew the healing power of God's love. He knew the mercy the Father wanted to share with them, and He knew not one person was ever going to be perfect. He reiterated over and over again: those who sin, even in their mind, even just a thought, are as bad as the murderers, adulterers and thieves who carry out their deeds. Jesus' sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5, verse 7 points this out.
God's heart for people
Have you ever had a bad thought? A sinful thought? I believe Jesus is saying this disqualifies you from seeing (and dragging out) sin in others. It would also qualify you to be judged by God, if it wasn't for Jesus coming to fulfil the law. It is His grace that sets us free.
For God is love, and God is holy, and it is because of His love that he sees us as holy through the finished work of the cross. His ultimate desire is to look upon us, love us, and for us to be free from the sin that hurts us so much. This is the journey, and the knowledge of God He slowly reveals to us.
Could we handle it if we got hold of this all in one go? I think I'd drop on the floor.
Belinda Croft has been writing for Press Service International since 2010. She lives in Melbourne with her husband Russell and their three children. Her passion for understanding the things of God in simple ways, social justice and news issues influence her writing style.
Belinda Croft's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/belinda-croft.html