Of Love and Holiness

By Kersley Fitzgerald

We are overwhelmed by the pain and the hate. The racism, the elitism, the ever-present sexism. The holier than thou. The degrading tweets. The rampant injustices. The cold stares and the hot words. "Why don't they get a job?" "Why didn't he listen to the police?" "Why does she wear yoga pants in public?" For some, such questions act as bricks in a growing wall around their personal, fragile righteousness. Others see them as projectiles thrown at the least of these. And we are reminded of the abusive gauntlet Jesus went through before the crucifixion and how no one else should have to suffer what He did because He did (Matthew 27:27-31).

We're so tired of the hate and the judging and the Pharisaical laws (Matthew 23:23). We reject the hate and are drawn to His love. His care and tenderness with the woman in the dust (John 8:1-11) and His patience and understanding with the woman at the well. So we love. We listen and try to understand. We walk a mile in their shoes. Sometimes metaphorically and sometimes not. We see into their hearts. We weep for their wounds and fill their urgent needs.

But like dwarves we delve too deep. Get too wrapped up in the pain and the injustice, and we slide. We spread Jesus' love past the reach of His holiness until it isn't His love at all, but our sympathy that coats worldly excuses and ungodly solutions in a thin veneer. Feelings trump Scripture. Or, rather, if we feel Scripture doesn't adequately address our feelings, we decide we must be reading it wrong. So we rewrite God's Word in a more understanding hand.

And we slide. We listen to what the wounded say they need — what they are — and forget there's something bigger. We dive into the minutiae of their pain until we're consumed. Their point of view grows across our field of vision until we don't even see Jesus anymore. And we think it's okay because we're Jesus for them. It's okay because we care.

And then we slide from their pain into their sinful worldview and justify rebellion against God in the name of love. Scriptures tell us to forgive a million sins in the name of grace and ignore slights as lessons in the process of maturity (Proverbs 19:11). But we accept them. Justify them. Reframe the Scriptures to make them fit. "Yes, he hates, but he's white and poor and frustrated. And, if you think about it, he has a point..." "She's emotionally abusive because she's in so much pain. You would be, too..." "His nature is just to express love in a different way. No one should be expected to live without love..."

Then comes the backlash of holiness without love which looks a lot like hate and prejudice. Theologically-sound Pharisees pounding the Facebook pulpit until their hands bleed. Rightfully rejecting the excuses but ungraciously expecting immediate perfection. And demanding all others do, as well.

And to which direction will the baby Christians and unbelievers be drawn? In the Chutes and Ladders of holiness, those who have slid closer to the beginning are so much nearer than the Pharisees on their tottering ladders. The radically changed lifestyle becomes little more than a subtle shift. And so seeker services and Joel Osteen's un-church and ecumenicalism flourish.

Both sides dig in too far. Neither want to accept that the gospel is hard. Sanctification is a life-long struggle. The Spirit's job is to both convict and encourage. The love of Christ is gentle and kind but it is also fierce and demanding.

And both sides don't go far enough. The loving excusers don't love enough. They don't love with Christ's sacrificial love that forgives and then exhorts to sin no more. Their love gives in too easily, stopping at acceptance when Christ's loving words would split bone and marrow while they give life (Hebrews 4:12; John 6:63).

The Pharisees' legalism stops short, as well, accepting 1 John's insistence that love of God is obedience and obedience is love of God but forgetting that love of people is sacrificial and kind and gentle and bears one another's burdens (1 Corinthians 13:1-7). It doesn't stand over the broken and chastise them for being broken — it stays, coats their wounds with oil, and takes them to a place of healing (Luke 10:25-37).

I know this because I live it. My personality type is efficient and pragmatic and gets.things.done. But I can also be cold, impersonal, and have little patience for those who cannot keep up or who are over emotional or just boring. That is my nature, how I was made, but the fallen part of my nature is sinful and to stay in it is sinful. Whatever nature or nurture feeds those sins must not be accepted but overcome. God's Word promises (Philippians 1:6). Even if I don't want it. Even if my friends accept me as I am. Or condemn me as unloving. There is something between acceptance and condemnation that requires repentance and submission and hard work. And that something will lead me to be more Christ-like.

And that's true for everything that induces us to sin, whether it be a physiological defect or an unhealthy compensation for a lifetime of wounds. We cannot excuse sin as nature because sin nature was meant to be struggled against, not excused (Romans 7:13-25). But we can't categorically reject the least of these, either (James 5:19-20).

Getting back to truth takes work. Pray for clarity. Pray for understanding and discernment. Pray for tweezers that can handle a plank and clear speech (Matthew 7:3-5; Colossians 4:3-4). Pray thanks that God doesn't want any of us to remain enslaved to our sin nature, but is also so patient (2 Peter 3:9).

I neither accept nor condemn you in your sin. I am patient and understanding with your sin because Christ is with mine. And I wish to help you out of it because I know greater freedom awaits both of us.

Image Credit: Make Lemons; "Chutes and Ladders"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Hardships  | Jesus-Christ  | Personal-Relationships  | Political-Issues  | Sin-Evil

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Published 12-6-16