There’s a fear Christians have. The fear is that if we love sinners without telling them they’re sinners, they might take that as an acceptance of sin. They might even view it as a license to keep on sinning. I think that concern is what leads many Christians to hold back from really loving people until they stop sinning. We want them to behave first. So instead of leading with love, we lead with truth. We try to change people by telling them truth about their sin. Then if they change and start behaving, we feel like we can offer them love.
And that is the exact opposite of what Jesus did. And, honestly, it’s ridiculous.
Shawn Hornbeck disappeared on October 6, 2002, when he was eleven years old. After his disappearance, his mother and stepfather quit their jobs, depleted their savings, and borrowed heavily as they devoted their lives to searching for him. After four years they had nearly given up hope. Then one day the phone rang. The voice on the other end was that of a local prosecutor. He said, “We think we’ve found Shawn; we’re 95 percent sure.”
Shawn’s stepfather said, “Those were the sweetest words I ever heard in my life.” Soon Shawn, by this time fifteen years old, was reunited with his parents.
Now let’s imagine that phone call going a bit differently. Let’s pretend the prosecutor said, “We think we’ve found Shawn. We’re 95 percent sure. There’s only one problem: he was caught shoplifting. It seems that while Shawn was living with his kidnapper, he developed the habit of shoplifting.”
How do you think Shawn’s parents would have responded? Do you think they’d say, “Well then, we don’t want him back”? Or perhaps, “Well, please tell Shawn that he can come back home, but only after he cleans up his act. There will be no shoplifters in our home!”
I’m sure they would have said, “Shoplifting? Who cares if he was shoplifting? Just bring him home. We need to hold him! We’ll talk to him about shoplifting later. In fact, we’re confident that once he’s back home and experiences our love and provision, he won’t feel the need to shoplift anymore. But we’re not worried about that right now. We just want him home!”
So why is it okay for us not to judge sin and to instead lead with love?
Mistaking grace for an acceptance of sin is a mistake, because they are not the same. An attitude of accepting sin says, “God loves you just the way you are, so keep doing whatever you’re doing.” The attitude of grace says, “God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you way too much to leave you that way.”
To be honest, the reality is that some will mistake grace for an acceptance of sin. But it’s worth the risk. How do I know that? Because God is willing to take that risk. God’s grace is so amazing and outlandish that people do mistake it for an acceptance of sin. That’s the way it’s always been. Check out Romans 6 and you’ll see that it was happening two thousand years ago.
If God is willing to offer a grace so amazing, knowing that some would mistake it for acceptance of or a license to sin, shouldn’t we also be willing to take that risk?
We hope people won’t make that mistake, but we offer grace regardless. We speak truth as we go out and proclaim the message, but not like big-headed guy in the trucker hat probably does, and not like Jonah. We speak the truth but always lead with love.
Taken from God for the Rest of Us copyright © 2015 by Vince Antonucci. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
Photo by (flickr CC) Zarrion Walker