Galatians 6:1-3 “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.”
Dr. H. A. Ironside told of a missionary who visited the church he attended when he was a little boy. After he showed them artifacts that he brought back from Africa the missionary asked, “How many good boys have we here?” Ironside said, “A lot of us thought we were good, but our mothers were there, and so not one of us dared hold up his hand.” The missionary said, “I have the same message for you that we have for the heathen in Africa: God loves naughty boys.” Ironside said he thought, “He is all mixed up. If you are good God will love you. That is what I had heard, but that is not true. God is not waiting for you to be good so He can love you; God loves sinners.”
Reading this little story hit me hard with a truth to which I had long been trying to give words but as yet had not. I have always been a person with a black-and-white perspective of the world: people are either villains or angels and the villains are to be caustically avoided as able to do no right, while the angels are to be breathlessly adored as able to do no wrong. Of course that’s a stupid and naïve philosophy, and I knew it; but until this year and basically this month I wasn’t sure how else to look at things. It seemed simply too messy to have to deal with giving everyone the benefit of the doubt until I got to know them better before passing irrevocable verdict on the state of their character or lack thereof.
2 Chronicles 28:10-11 “And now ye purpose to keep under the children of Judah and Jerusalem for bondmen and bondwomen unto you: but are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord your God? Now hear me therefore, and deliver the captives again, which ye have taken captive of your brethren: for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.”
But this month several profound verses of Scripture (and a handful of encounters with some people I had condemned to the villain category) started to season my thinking with grace. I had to face the fact that I was holding my brethren in bondage to my acrid opinion; cherishing a highly uncivil, not to mention unchristian, attitude toward other Christians with low standards and worldly lifestyles. The Lord reminded me that if I were judged as I was judging others, by my actions instead of my intentions, I would probably be in the same boat I placed them in. The parable of the cup and the platter came to mind—how the outer appearance isn’t always the most reliable way to measure a person because a great many people (myself included) can become expert exterior decorators while our interior is sadly neglected.
Of course we as Christians ought to be striving to be good…we are saved unto good works, the Bible says. God says to “be ye holy as I am holy.” We ought to seek to please the Lord with all we are and have, leading blameless lives so that we are not causing the lost to blaspheme our God.
But that isn’t the reason God loved us in the first place. He loved us, not for our perfection, but for our faults. He loved us because of our need, not our sufficiency. I assume I will be admired and accepted for being the best, for appearing perfect, for looking the part of a good Christian girl…for my creativity or strength or brains. But at every turn I realize anew that most people do not admire or accept a person more for looking like a superhuman. They feel affinity for a courageously flawed, humbly imperfect human who needs their friendship. And God is the same way, in a higher, holier manner. God loves sinners. God loves us despite (or perhaps because of) the messes we make, the mistakes and missteps we blunder through on our own.
And that’s what we as Christians are to do–to love as God loves. To love the flawed, the maimed, the unlovable; the annoying, the pompous, the vain, the selfish, the unruly and unthankful and unregenerate. That’s what God does best. That’s our job as His children, His ambassadors of reconciliation.
Thus, I learned that I don’t have to approve of the lifestyles of fellow Christians to accept them. Meaning, I can be civil and maintain a gracious attitude towards Christians I may not fully agree with; not make nasty comments or treat them with contempt. If they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, they are a child of God as I am; and the Bible says “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Not a human, selfish love—“as I have loved you,” Jesus said. To love worldly Christians as Christ loves them might be the most superhuman thing I will ever do. But it is a Biblical response, as well as the most natural response, considering how God chose to love me even though I am infinitely unworthy and fail His standard of Christlikeness every day.
Hebrews 5:2 “Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.”
Acts 10:15 “And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”