Monday, May 6, 2013

Loving the Sinner

“True Christians rebuke sin and expose it; False Christians practice sin and defend it.” While this slogan recites the truth, it needs to be understood well.  Does “rebuke” involve condemnation?

“I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay,” confessed Jason Collins, a professional basketball player on 29-April-2013.1 Some offered support to Jason Collins, and others rebuked him. ESPN’s sports analyst Chris Broussard said, "I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don't think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian." 2

I disagree with Broussard and the many who brand sinners (in this context, LGBT – Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community) as non-Christians. The rationale for my disagreement is in my blog, “Way to Heaven, Not by Works.” Since I am blogging on the subject of church, I wish to scratch the surface of “church’s response to a sinner.” How should the church rebuke sin? We should integrate truth from Christ and HIS response to sinners.

First, Christ does not condemn the Samaritan woman for her sin.  HE appreciates her honesty and gently highlights her sin, “Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly” (John 4:17b-18, NASB). Christ exposes her sin without condemning her. Christ’s response to the woman caught in adultery reveals a similar response (John 8:11).

Second, Christ reveals HIS love for sinners. Although there was a history of bitterness between the Jews and Samaritans (John 4:9), Christ accepts Samaritans’ request and stays with them for two days (John 4:40). Thus Christ reveals HIS love for the sinful Samaritans (cf. 2 Kings 17: 26-33; John 8:48; Acts 8:25).

Third, Christ defends the sinner against the accusers. Christ urged the sinless to hurl the first stone at the woman caught in adultery (John 8:7). In the very next chapter, Christ defends the blind man by emphasizing that his blindness was not due to his sin or that of his parents (John 9:3). (The rabbis believed that suffering was due to sin.)

Although Christ defends the sinner (not the sin), we can, from the instances mentioned above, reasonably claim that the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, and the blind man, were unbelievers. So we could assume that the sinners Christ loved and defended were unbelievers.

In other words, we can theorize that Christ would permit condemnation of a believer’s sins. So Broussard’s condemnation of Jason Collins could be legitimized (Jason Collins is believed to be a Christian). To condemn a sinner, Christians could cite Paul’s mandate to excommunicate the man accused of incest (1 Corinthians 5: 1-5) or Christ’s condemnation of Pharisees and the teachers of the law (Matthew 23).

When we research Paul’s writings on sin, we should recollect Paul’s self-description as the ‘worst of all sinners’ (1 Timothy 1: 15). The tense in this statement is ‘present’ not ‘past.’ Moreover Paul’s letter to Timothy was written at the end of Paul’s ministry. So Apostle Paul affirmed that he is a sinner. The man in the incestuous relationship was also a practicing sinner. Thus we are consistent with Bible’s teaching that all are sinners (Psalm 143:2; Ecclesiastes 7: 20; Romans 3: 23; 1 John 1: 8 et al.). The man in the incestuous relationship was to be excommunicated for deliverance from sin. However, excommunication does not merit condemnation, for the church was asked to mourn (1 Corinthians 5: 2, NIV), not hate. Mourning need not elicit condemnation.

The Bible teaches that man should not sin. Christ urged the woman caught in adultery to leave her life of sin (John 8: 11). But the existential dilemma is that the Christian succumbs to temptation and sins. He does not want to sin, nevertheless he sins (cf. Romans 7: 15-25). Let me get this straight, homosexuality is a sin and a sexual aberration. Those within this sexual orientation should plead with God for forgiveness and deliverance. A Christian cannot take pleasure in his sins; he repents and prays for its removal. Even if he takes pleasure in his sins, I do not see any reason for condemnation.

Is homosexuality a greater sin that deserves condemnation? Let us examine Paul’s statement for relevance and coherency. Paul said, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6: 9-10, NIV). Homosexuality is a sin at par with theft, drunkenness, and slander.

In Matthew 23, Christ respected the position of the Pharisee and the teachers of the law for they sat in Moses’ seat, so HE encouraged people to do everything they were told (v 2-3). However, Christ condemns these ministers, for they did not do what they preached. HE condemned their hypocrisy (Matthew 23: 13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were hypocrites who did not walk their talk. In stark contrast is Jason Collins, who confessed to his sin!

We have now observed that:

·         A Christian’s sins will not relegate him as a non-Christian.

·         Christ loved the sinners; HE did not condemn, but defended them. HE urged them to leave their life of sin.

·         Homosexuality is a sin that is at par with any other sin (with the exception of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – Matthew 12: 32; Mark 3: 29).

·         So we reasonably infer that a homosexual, even if he is a Christian, should not be condemned.

Since homosexuality is at par with other sins, if one condemns homosexuality then by the same logic he too can be condemned for he is not sinless. Christians love John 3:16, but they should also love and practice John 3:17 - Christ came not to condemn. Since condemnation is against the tenet of Christianity, we do not condemn each other. To rebuke is not to condemn.

How then should a church respond to a sinner? Ephesians 4:15 offer us an insight. We ought to speak the truth, but we are called to do so in love. Wayne Grudem says, “Paul reminds us that we are to “restore” the sinning brother or sister “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1)…”3 We are called to rebuke sin, but as Christ did, we should in love and gentleness, and by defending the honor of the sinner. We will do this, if we believe we are practicing sinners, but saved by grace through faith. Amen.



3 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology.

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