Thursday, May 15, 2008

Learning to Love: 101

While life once again has interrupted my plans of some serious spring cleaning both inside and out (and both literal and emotional and spiritual as well), I really must address something that I read yesterday. Joe Carter at the evangelical outpost asks a question that I suppose every Christian privately asks themselves at some point in their walk with God:

"How do we make a friend of someone who chooses to remain an enemy of God?"

I need to address this because it's one of those things that God has been dealing with me on, on a very personal level, for quite some time. I need to address this because Joe wrote:

"On this one, though, I not only don't have an answer; I don't have a clue. Somehow I've managed to spend thirty years as a Christian without learning something so basic as how to truly love an impenitent sinner."
While I will not pretend for a moment that I've learned this well, I can say that it's an ongoing, humbling, learning process that must take place in the life of every Christian, before we can dare say that we're genuinely living the "law of Christ" in loving our neighbor as ourselves. I felt I needed to address this because I think it was really good of Joe to be so honest about this and admit what a lot of Christians aren't comfortable admitting - myself included.

Yesterday at school, Ruth's Bible lesson was on "who is my neighbor?" We read the story of the good Samaritan and then we discussed it afterward. It's a familiar story to every Christian, and one that every child ought to be taught from birth, and have reinforced consistantly throughout childhood so that they grow up understanding the concept of treating others as they ought to be treated simply because all human beings are made in the image of God, and ought to be treated with the same kindness and compassion that we ourselves would hope to be recipients of, when needed.

I think one of the biggest barriers to this however, is the conflict of spirit. As much as any believer may truly desire to love and befriend an impenitant sinner, there will always be this conflict. The one who loves the Lord and desires to live according to His word, is driven by the Holy Spirit of God. The one who loves their own sin and who has made themselves the lord of their own life, is driven by the desires of this world. This is a very real barrier to friendship, since it effectively cuts off a "togetherness" or like-mindedness on various levels. Worldviews, moral issues, relationship issues, spiritual and religious issues and more. Amos 3:3 says "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" The answer to that question is no. While you can easily have much in common in certain areas, there will always be a certain seperation.

The one who loves their own sin and sinful lifestyle certainly doesn't see it as sinful or wrong, and will by nature be put off by the Christian lifestyle. Likewise, the believer who desires to run from sin and cling to Christ will equally be put off by the sinful lifestyle choices of the unbeliever. There is a wall there that cannot be broken down, but by the grace and mercy of God.

While this is a very real barrier, it is also something that can be worked "around" in a way, but only after a few other barriers are broken down first.

Christian Arrogance

I don't know any Christians that would admit that they have this, but to one degree or another a lot of us do. It's not that we wake up one day and think "today would be a good day to feel holier-than-thou and I think I'll look down my spiritual nose at those outside of Christ". No, it doesn't happen that way at all. I think for a lot of Christians, being so far removed from a life of sin we might begin to insulate ourselves from the former ways, and become so detached and divorced from those still living that way, that we begin to feel a bit of "us and them" or superiority over them (even if we don't admit it). Sadly, pride is natural to all men, and even among Christians sometimes we far too easily forget that were it not for the grace of God, we'd still be living a life of sin ourselves.

Hardened Hearts

If we allow the holier-than-thou attitude to prevail even in the tiniest way without dealing with it by prayer and repentance and humility before God, we'll become hard and harsh and uncaring toward those that are "not like us". In other words, we become the kinds of Christians that non-Christians can't stand to be around. The offense they find is not the natural offense that comes from a sinner confronted by the sinfulness of sin, but they are rightly offended by the ugly and compassionless attitude of a so-called follower of Christ. Unchecked arrogance leads to (among other things) apathy and seperation and this is always a bad thing.

I've only been a Christian for 14 years, so there is still much for me to learn. One of the things I am learning however, is that we have to be very careful in these two areas so that we don't become the person described on those two paragraphs above. We as Christians have to always remember that it was by grace WE were saved, and that while WE were yet sinners, Christ died for us. If we really take that to heart, and we should, it's much easier to have a genuine compassion and care for those outside of Christ. When we truly take into consideration what Christ did for us while we were in the world, loving the things of the world, loving our own sin, rebelling against Him, even mocking what Christianity stands for, it should make us feel very very small, and desirous to show that same kind of care, and love, and compassion on others (even when their sinful lives grieve us, as we all know ours grieved Him).

Sometimes, as it's needed, the Lord will ordain circumstances in a believers life that will break their hearts and cause them to see things in a much different light, before they will ever begin to truly deal with these things. Sometimes, it can be so hard, especially when you didn't know you needed your heart broken to begin to deal with it in your own life. Indeed it is a process, and while it is not always easy, it is what He has called us to do - to love our neighbor.

Something to always keep in mind is that He has called us to love them, the person. He didn't say love their sin, or endorse their opinions, or agree with their choices - He said to love them.

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