“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes…(Rev 7:9)
“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands, I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school… My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the Gospel of Grace.” Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
“Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Is this really the answer? In a culture so saturated by unmitigated sin, broken hearts, and God-less logic, is this pithy quote really the best we have? Is it even possible to love the sinner and hate the sin? Doesn’t the term “sinner” immediately identify and connect the individual to the action (i.e. “sinning”)? While on the surface “love the sinner, hate the sin” sounds reasonable, it is often little more than lip service. It’s a lovely sentiment from the comforts of our sanctuaries. It is a convenient way to keep the church out of the gutters, to offer grace to those we’d rather avoid, and to express our theoretical love without having to actually make relationships. It’s clean. It’s simple. It’s naïve. And, what’s more… It is the death rattle of Evangelicalism.
I am struck by all of the “ragamuffins” that Jesus called into his Kingdom- tax collectors, prostitutes, pagans, fishermen, lepers, the unclean, Gentiles, the broken, the outcast, the miserable, the destitute, the ones who made terrible life decisions, the ones who have no one but themselves to blame- you know, the sinners we say we “love.” Loving like Jesus is messy. It means finding people in the shadows, showing compassion, and maybe even sharing a meal. The church is really good at “hating the sin,” but we struggle with the whole “loving the sinner” part. Jesus has not called his Bride to lock herself into gleaming cathedrals of self-righteousness. No, Jesus incarnationally and intentionally sought out people the religious establishment shunned.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not positing a false dichotomy- We don’t have to choose between loving the sinner and hating sin. However, Jesus showed us that it is possible to love, to show compassion, and to care without compromising our values. Jesus never endorsed the sinner’s sin. But, he did recognize that sinners are who they are because of depravity, because of our adamic nature. Sin is never merely surface- sin is a spiritual state of death that must be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. As the spiritual position of scalawags and ragamuffins are changed, so will be their behavior. And this is exactly why Jesus came. He took on flesh in order to atone for sin so that sinners relegated to the lowest rungs of society might have a place at the King’s table. Yes, Jesus died for ragamuffins like you and me. Let us not be afraid to demonstrate the very grace that we’ve been shown.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Matthew S. Rickett