Christ promised his Church that the world would hate us on his account. That hatred seldom becomes clearer than when obvious sin goes mainstream. And by obvious sin, I mean sin that is clearly condemned in the Bible–so clearly that you can’t sideline the condemnation without also sidelining Scripture. While that poses no difficulty for theological liberals and others who already live and breathe the obfuscation of God’s Word, it’s another matter for Bible-believing Christians. When sins like fornication, homosexuality, or contempt for family become fashionable, faithful Christians are quickly going to earn the world’s ire when they confess Christ’s teachings.
The way we react to that hatred makes all the difference in the world. Jesus’ instructions on the matter are clear: our response should be to rejoice! Not only is our reward in heaven great, but it puts us in the company of the prophets, the Apostles, and Christ himself. But that is, admittedly, easier said than done, because that hatred has real consequences for our lives here and provokes real suffering among the persecuted. Most of us in America have only experienced this hatred in very mild ways, but even then, if the suffering weren’t real, it wouldn’t be such a real temptation to try and avoid it.
And we do try to avoid it. We would much rather be liked than hated–or at least left alone. Unfortunately, we’ve developed any number of rationalizations to assist that avoidance. For example, “Hate the sin; Love the sinner” is an extremely common motto among Christians who want to hold to Scripture while we stand accused of hating one identity group or another. “No, no, no,” we explain, “we don’t hate you, we just hate something you happen to be doing. We love you.” Like any functional rationalization, it has a ring of truth to it. After all, Christ does teach us to love sinners, just as he did. When we give a reason for the hope that we have, we do so with gentleness and respect. We really should hate sins. We really should love sinners.
The problem is not so much in the rationalization’s content as in its context. When its a response to the world’s hatred, our motivation in saying “hate the sin; love the sinner” is not to love but to be seen as loving. In other words, we’re less interested in loving them than we are in them liking us. And, of course, the motto doesn’t accomplish much in this regard. When sins become lifestyles and identities, the participants don’t really see much of a distinction between the sin and themselves. And on the Christian end, there isn’t really as much of a distinction as we’d like to think. Sin is death. Sin is uncreation. In reality, hating the sin is loving the sinner. They aren’t two separate endeavors that need to be balanced with one another as the motto implies. Our true endeavor is to proclaim Law and Gospel–hatred and foolishness respectively in the world’s eyes.
The upshot is that when we embrace that motto out of fear, we end up twisting our own practice. Instead of loving the sinner, our goal becomes to flatter the sinner until he feels loved. And as we fail in that ill-conceived goal, we try to double-down by separating hating the sin from loving the sinner and attempting to balance them against one another. In this way, we work to soften our hatred of sin to facilitate our flattery of the sinner.
You can see this at work everywhere among conservative Christians in America. In the face of rampant fornication and illegitimacy, we flatter the single moms (while condemning the Christian men who are hesitant about marrying them.) In the face of divorce, we flatter the perpetrators (while going on and on about what the victims did to deserve it.) Both of these, of course, are tied to our overall reaction to feminist rebellion–we flatter women and denigrate men because we don’t want to be seen as misogynistic. And the result has been feminism becoming ubiquitous in American churches. But it’s not stopping there.
Having tired of being called homophobic, there are increasing efforts to rationalize homosexuality as holy and God-pleasing–with specific acts of sodomy just being an unfortunate side-effect of a fallen world. Consider the following contention from a gay man:
“Is it too dangerous, too unorthodox, to believe that I am uniquely designed to reflect the glory of God? That my orientation, before the fall, was meant to be a gift in appreciating the beauty of my own sex as I celebrated the friendship of the opposite sex?”
Normally, speculation like that would be recognized as a pretty transparent rationalization–akin to a pornography addict speaking of his superior God-given ability to appreciate sexuality and the female body. But when we possess a fear of the world and a desperate desire to be seen as loving, a rationalization like that can be perceived by Christians as a lifeline–a way to finally be seen as gay-affirming without overtly giving up on Scripture.
It’s a rather cunning strategy to neutralize conservative Christians on the subject. Once we try to balance flattery for an identity group against the proclamation of the law, the former is always going to win out. Despite what we’d like to believe, there is no amount of care and sensitivity that will prevent the world’s hatred. Once we commit ourselves to that desire, the only way out is to slowly discard Christ as we hope that just a little more flattery will finally work. But it won’t. Sinners’ pain will remain, and they shall continue to blame us for it.
And while I stand by calling it a “strategy,” make no mistake: there is also very real pain in knowing oneself to be broken from the inside by something that you can never change no matter how hard you try. It’s natural to want to avoid that pain oneself and for Christians to try and help those who are experiencing it. But the Church has something better to offer than lipstick for our pigs–pandering, self-justifying attempts to say that our brokenness is really some heretofore unknown aspect of God’s perfect design before the Fall. Instead, we have this:
Oh, almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto you all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.
I said this almost every week in church growing up. There is something about publicly & repeatedly identifying as “a poor, miserable sinner” that undercuts the impulse to justify yourself by saying that your actions, impulses, proclivities, and nature are actually Very Good. It reveals the falsity of the entire self-righteous endeavor and upon taking away the illusion, it grants a tremendous liberty. Yes, I am broken–irrevocably. Beyond my own power to fix. Beyond the power of human society to fix. But Christ has died for me regardless and welcomes me to newness of life in the new creation where I shall not be broken anymore. And when Christ absolves me through my Pastor’s declaration of His grace, I know that I am absolved at my worst instead of as I would like to imagine myself.
It’s the Truth that will set us free. When the world rages, the Church should concern herself more with delivering that Truth than with our reputation.