by ProfDave, ©2021
(Jan. 3, 2021) — Christians are in trouble if calling sin “sin” is a hate crime. Would you allow me to explain what a Christ-like attitude is or ought to be?
The basis of any Christian worldview is that there is meaning and purpose in the cosmos, human life, and your life. This world is not an accident, it is on purpose. It was designed as our home. It has a right orbit, tilt, atmosphere and all the rest. Likewise human DNA is not an accident. Life has a design and a purpose. Therefore, there is a right way to live. And there are wrong ways. There is a healthy way to order human relationships and society. And there are toxic ways. There are right ways to do sexuality, marriage and family. And there are wrong ways that lead to destruction. That is what Christian faith teaches.
Anyone living without purpose is lost. We see the consequences in dysfunctional behavior, depression and suicide. This is not to say that good people never do the wrong thing or suffer from depression and other maladies. We are all broken people living in a broken world. Living contrary to our purpose or in the wrong way leads to additional dysfunction and pain, both for ourselves and for those around us. Christians are supposed to be in right relationship to the Designer and the Creator of our world. They are supposed to be reading His book – the owner’s manual of life and love-letter to His children. The right thing for them is to do their best to live right – by the Good Book – and to share it with the rest of us. Is that hateful? Is there a right way to share the right way? Above I pointed out that those who believe there is design and purpose in the cosmos and seek purpose in their own lives from their Maker distinguish right and wrong ways to do life. They feel ethically required to point out the right ways to others, particularly their own children. Is this hateful?
Jesus-followers are required to speak the truth in love, not in condemnation. The origins narrative of the Judeo-Christian worldview defines all mankind – regardless of sex, race, social status, creed, handicap or sin – as made in the image of God. Every human being is sacred. So is sex, race and conscience. At the same time Christians believe that we all have sinned – no exceptions. The whole human race is sacred, but already condemned by our separation from God. So I am no better than you are. Jesus-followers believe that all need to be forgiven – and that Jesus died and rose again to make justice combined with forgiveness, reconciliation and transformation possible. Is that hateful?
Any sort of hate or disrespect to any son of Adam or daughter of Eve is wrong in Christian ethics. Condemnation is the devil’s job, not the Christian’s. Condemnation is not from God. So if I do or say something that implies that something you do is wrong, any condemnation you feel is not from God. It might be from your own conscience. The cross of Christ says “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” and the empty tomb says there is power to deliver you from any wrong (as it is delivering me) and make you right with God. Is that hateful?
According to the cliché, Christians are supposed to hate sin but love the sinner. People are offended to be called ‘sinners’ – never mind that there has only been one human being who never sinned (and we crucified him). Worse, people are finding their identity in what they do, so to call anything ‘sin’ is to risk offending someone. Sin is anything that separates us from God. Separation from God excludes us permanently from His presence (heaven) in the end – and the alternative, if the Bible is right, will be most unpleasant. But in order to un-offend everyone, are we required to obliterate right and wrong?
But meanwhile, God loves sinners, sacrifices to redeem and reconcile them to himself, and directs his children to do the same. Jesus-followers are told to love their enemies. That is who they are. God loves them, even though they were his enemies, even though they deliberately barricaded themselves against him – trapped in a prison cell of wrong. Should his children shrug their shoulders and say “whatever?” Or should they imitate the Father? Which is hate?
So how do I and other Jesus-followers feel about those who are separated from Him? Let me try again.
- I am no better than you are. We are all broken people living in a broken world. Things have happened to us and we have damage and we made choices that have set us on the path or in the brambles.
- God loves you just as much as He loves me – more than a whole galaxy! He cares about your pain and your destiny. And in my small way, so do I.
- There are right and wrong ways to live. Do not ask me to deny the truth. There are ways that lead to wholeness, health, safety and spiritual growth and ways that seem good but lead to pain, death and alienation. The short cut ends in the woods. The bridge is out. Sometimes the way is narrow and steep that leads to life, but you will appreciate the destination.
- I do not condemn you for where you are today, but in good conscience I may need to warn you to get out of there before it is too late. You can’t change your path? Of course not, but there is a Savior who can. I’m urging you to let Him. Is that hateful?
If you have ‘issues’ you need to watch out for CINOs, hypocrites and legalists. But don’t blame Jesus for the way they act. CINOs are Christians In Name Only. They check the box on the form and perhaps go to church now and then, but do not know and follow Jesus in any meaningful way. They don’t even try to love their neighbors or care about those who are broken. Christ is not responsible for their behavior.
Most Christians get called hypocrites at some time in their lives, because they espouse standards of right-ness in action and attitude that they do not reach. God said “be perfect” but they obviously aren’t. There are two kinds of ‘hypocrites’ however: those who admit their failures and those who don’t – those in recovery and those in denial. The first kind are just human beings the Lord isn’t finished with yet – forgive them – but the second kind are none of His. They don’t practice what they preach and will accuse you of the same things they are guilty of. It makes them feel better about themselves to put others down. Watch out.
Legalists are always drawing lines. Every addict protests, “I do X, but I would never do Y or Z.” Well, not yet. They keep score. Legalists are quick to tell you what you should be doing, but you wonder if they care more about the rule than about you. Laws and ethical standards are handy to help us know the boundaries of right and wrong and what to aim for, but in themselves do not make us good or bad. That would be our hearts. Do you say “welcome to Walmart” because that is your job, or are you really happy to see me? Do you greet me with a hug out of warm personal regard or just because you get a buzz out of hugging? It is the heart that counts. Legalism is a temptation all of us face. Often we act as if religion were a code of conduct. And most religions are. But not Christianity. Christianity is a relationship. Your ‘sin’ may separate you from Jesus, but He is not responsible for legalism. Self-righteousness bothers Him more than infractions. Read the Gospels and see the Messiah who came to rescue sinners.
Are Christians haters? Let me remind you that anything short of love and respect is directly contrary to the teachings of Jesus. In fact, that is where the enemies of Christianity get the idea of accusing Christians of hatred. Most religions and ethical traditions have no rules against hating people who hurt us, disagree with us, or are just different from us. It is perfectly OK for Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists and secularists to hate Christians. Even Jews are allowed to hate their enemies. But Christians are not supposed to hate anyone – even if they hate us. Christians-in-name-only and hypocrites are off the record, but legalists are forbidden to hate, too.
There is one more class of Christ-people you need to watch out for if you have “issues:” fixers. Jesus joked about the folks who want to take the speck out of your eye when they have a plank in their own. They may be right and well-meaning, but they are co-dependent and they make you hate them. They may be right, but that only makes it worse. They haven’t a clue what you are going through, tell you what you already know, suggest easy solutions you have already tried (in vain) and generally make you feel guilty for your failure and pain. If you know you have a problem, you don’t need anyone else to tell you. If you don’t know, you will still have to figure it out for yourself. It is so much easier for fixers to solve someone else’s problems than their own. The bad news is, fixing is just another addiction to which we are all too vulnerable. We have a strict rule against fixing in Celebrate Recovery. Only Jesus gets to do that. Only He has the knowledge and power. Let Him do His job. What you need is support and encouragement from folks who have been where you are.
No, real Jesus-followers are not haters.
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.