Loving the Sinner

An acquaintance posted this article on Facebook recently.  I thought I had read this once before, but perhaps it was a variation on the same theme.

The basic gist of it is that we need to stop thinking of ourselves and others as sinners.  The old mantra of love the sinner and hate the sin is now being protested against because it insists on reminding everyone of sin.  In Christ, we are no longer sinners, the argument goes, and to characterize others or ourselves in this way is not accurate, since this is not how God sees us.  In this article, the primary cause of offense in this issue is that gay people are singled out as sinners where others are not, and this is unloving and inaccurate.  
There are a few problems with this approach as presented in this essay.  First off is the assumption that only gay people are referred to as sinners, rather than as brothers or sisters in Christ or some other less offensive term.  I agree – the term sinner is offensive.  That’s the point.  The Bible offends us because it calls us sinners.  All of us.  No exceptions.  Nobody gets over sin.  Nobody leaves it behind completely.  The only person this term does not apply to is the incarnate Son of God, Jesus.  Everybody else is and remains a sinner until they die, whether they accept Jesus as the savior from their sins or not.
For those who accept Jesus as their savior, another identity comes into play.  The identity of sinner remains, because Christians sin.  Even really nice Christians.  But a new identity is gained in baptism – saint.  Our identity as sinner no longer is the last, defining word on who we are.  A new word is spoken to define us – forgiveness.  The grace of God the Father becomes ours not because we are not sinners, but rather because Jesus offered himself as payment for the punishment of our sins – death and separation from God.  His sacrifice makes me clean.  It provides me forgiveness so that I live in a condition of grace.  I still sin, but those sins are no longer my defining identity – or at least not all of it.  I am now saint and sinner.  Simultaneously.  And by the grace of God, when I die the saint part of my identity will be fully recognized and the sinner part of my identity will go away.
This is Romans 7:7-25 stuff.  It is hard stuff, but it is very, very good stuff.
The problem in this article is that it sounds loving, but it comes at the expense of ignoring the sinner aspect of our identity.  Regardless of whether that sin is homosexual behavior or inappropriate heterosexual behavior.  Or gossiping, or spending our life wishing we had what other people have, or hating people.  Whatever the sin is, it has to be acknowledged as sin.  When we acknowledge it as sin, in Christ there is forgiveness.  Grace.  Sainthood in exchange for sinnerdom.  
But if we refuse to acknowledge the sin as sin, if we insist that the sin is not a sin, then we run into a problem.  John says in 1 John 1:8-10 that we must acknowledge our sin to receive forgiveness.  By refusing to acknowledge something as sin, we call God a liar, if He has indicated that something is sinful.  
The article attempts to show Jesus doing this.  Jesus not condemning.  And in one way, this is accurate.  As John also says in John 3, Jesus did not come to judge but rather to rescue.  But if we don’t recognize we are dying and need to be rescued, then He isn’t able to help us.  We wave him on to somebody else because we’re doing just fine.  And then we die.  
Jesus never ignores the sin in a person, pretending that it isn’t sinful.  In the example the author uses from John 8 of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus recognizes the sinful motivations of the religious authorities and refuses to validate their sinfulness.  But after her accusers leave, Jesus addresses the issue of the woman’s sin.  True, he doesn’t pick up a rock to smash her head in, as He alone would have the right to.  Instead, he tells her to go and quit sinning.  Yes, he sees the woman as more than a sinner.  He sees the woman as someone with self-control.  Someone who can make a choice to begin changing her life.  The sin remains a problem, but as he saves her from the judgment of her peers, He reminds her that her sin is still an issue that must be addressed.
If the woman would deny that her behavior as sinful, she would still have left Jesus saved from a temporary execution order.  But she also still would have died in her sin, separated from God by her refusal to acknowledge her need for his Son.  
Gay people are sinners.  So are liars.  So are thiefs.  So are hateful people and murderers.  So are those who deny God.  Every single one of us is a sinner.  The only thing that differentiates sinners is our response to this identity.  Once we know from God’s Word that something is sinful, do we continue to insist that it is acceptable, or do we acknowledge our sin, praying for not only forgiveness but the power to resist the sin?  It all goes together as one big package.  Just as I can’t claim to love God and be following his instructions while insisting that being an ax murderer is perfectly fine and unsinful, so I can’t claim  to love God and be following his instructions while engaging in sexual behavior that is inappropriate (outside of marriage as God defines it, not us).  I can’t claim to love God and be following his instructions if I refuse to acknowledge that my hurtful words about others are wrong, or that my constant lust for more money or things is wrong.  
Because we’re all sinners, we are prone to viewing some sins as more serious than others.  Among us sinners, we have to do this.  We can’t treat murder the same as shoplifting.  But before God, we must remember that every sin is equal, every sin is a rebellious fist in the air against God, and that the punishment for this rebellion is death.  Jesus came to save sinners from this death, but it means that they also have to admit that they are rebels.  
So I’ll continue to love the sinner and hate the sin.  I’ll continue to see every single person I meet (including and foremost the person in the mirror) as a sinner.  I’ll do this because it should help me remember to pray for them, and to intentionally seek a way to share the good news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ with them, so that their final identity needn’t remain always and forever sinner, but rather sinner and saint for now, and one day, finally and only saint.  

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