Several recent news stories have prompted me to once again contemplate a difficult question:
How should believers respond to and deal with the sin of others?
I’ve seen social media posts, blogs, and interviews from both well-known Christian leaders and every day believers ranging from one end of the spectrum to the other. From legalism to liberalism.
To hold firm to truth, holiness, righteousness, and justice.
From grace and love, open hands and open hearts, tolerance, and acceptance.
In a recent conversation with my friend Stephanie Shott, she said this about these two extremes:
“Legalism and liberalism. Two of the things that cloud real Christianity.”
Legalism can foster hate and violence – like abortion clinic bombings and picketing at gay funerals. Liberalism can lead to sinful compromise and conforming to the cultural norm – such as denominations accepting openly gay ministers. Neither extreme will point the world to Jesus.
Everyone and every view can’t be right. So, who is right?
God is always right. The response He lays out in His Word is the right response. Believers’ words and behavior should reflect the heart and character of God.
The question then is this:
What does the Bible say?
Today, we’ll see what the Bible says about responding to sin in the world. On Thursday, we’ll consider how we should deal with sin inside the church. But, here’s the nutshell now:
Christians must help the world see Jesus and help the church be like Jesus.
Light of the World
Jesus is The Light of the world (John 8:12). He came to guide us out of the darkness of sin and death into forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus said His job is also our job.
“You are the light of the world… let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise our Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16, NIV
The way we live communicates. When we talk and act like Jesus, we point people to Him. Did Jesus respond to the world with grace or truth? According to the Bible, Jesus came “from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Therefore, we must live in both grace and truth. But what does that look like?
Grace and Truth
One day, intending to trap Jesus, the Pharisees brought Him a woman who had been caught in adultery (John 8:3-11). Would He show mercy or adhere to the Law? Would He act in grace or truth? A step in either direction would give them basis to accuse Him.
Jesus surprised them all. He gave grace without compromising the truth. He did not condemn the women, but He also commanded her to “leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).
Jesus also socialized with “sinners.” He healed them, loved them, taught them about the Kingdom of God, and called them to righteousness. Believers, we can love, help, and serve the world without condoning, accepting, or compromising with the behavior that God deems sinful.
In the World, but not of it
God intends for believers to think and act like Jesus (Romans 8:29), to be holy. He calls us to take off the ways and attitudes of the world and to put on the righteousness of God (Ephesians 4:20-24).
However, God does not want us to pull away from the world, He just doesn’t want us to become like the world (John 17:15-18). Believer, our goal is to be out in the world where we can reveal the love, character, and holiness of Jesus. The challenge is to engage the lost, without being shaped by their values.
(For a current example of conforming to the world, see how World Vision, a Christian organization, temporarily allowed their policies to be shaped by the world’s values. For more on holiness and not conforming to the world, see “Holiness is Not a Shade of Grey.”)
Words of Grace
As we live like Christ in the world, people will notice. Some will ask about the hope they see in our lives. We are to be “prepared to give an answer” – to know God’s Word and what it says about salvation – and to do it gently and respectfully (1 Peter 3:13-17).
God does not condone hurtful words and condemning tones, but He does command us to preach repentance. Jesus taught us to tell others to repent and find forgiveness in Him (Luke 24:47). Paul spent his life preaching repentance, urging the lost to “turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:17-20).
Showing grace to others does not mean tolerance and acceptance of sinful behavior. The most gracious thing we can do for someone else is to point him or her to the forgiveness and eternal life found only in Jesus Christ.
Government Authority? Submit or Not Submit
The Bible repeatedly commands believers to submit to the laws of government and to human authority. This is God’s will for us (1 Peter 2:13-15). In fact, in His sovereignty, God has established them (Romans 13:1-5). Yet, the Bible also shows that when human authority contradicts God’s commands, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27-29 and Acts 4:18-20).
There’s a case right now before the U.S. Supreme Court that demonstrates this truth. (For more information see this previous post.) The Green family, who owns Hobby Lobby, loves God and wants to obey His Word. They are not trying to force their beliefs or God’s commands on anyone else. They just don’t want to go against God’s Word themselves. The Greens believe the Affordable Care Act would force them to be a party to disobedience by forcing them to spend their money on contraceptives that could possibly cause abortions.
In my view, the Green family bravely demonstrates how we must choose the truth of God’s Word over human authority, even when it costs us.
Love and truth. Holiness and grace.
We cannot take one side and leave the other. It must be both.
We can talk about it in principle all day long. But what does that look like practically, in our every day lives? Consider this your official invitation to talk this through with me. Let’s toss around some examples!