I have always struggled with this part of things when it comes to my faith, and living it out in the midst of others. And I think if we’re honest with ourselves, all Christians struggle with striking a balance with these things. I know I certainly do. I struggle to love others in the way Jesus does, and I also struggle to avoid my weaknesses and sins with better discipline. I often fail at these things, so I feel that admonishing the sinner isn’t something I am in a good enough place to do. We’re supposed to somehow love others in a compassionate and understanding way, and yet warn people of hell and their sinfulness? That flies in the face of how I’m wired and what I personally believe.
We’re told to strike a balance between showing people God’s justice by warning other sinners, and yet show His mercy by loving them compassionately? It’s weird to me. Personally, I don’t know if any of us has the right to do this. There is only one case where somebody doing this makes perfect sense and is completely right and justified: Jesus Christ Himself while He was physically here on earth. Jesus showed both compassion and mercy when He loved those who needed it the most. And He showed anger and sternness of when the Pharisees and others needed put in their place.
But to me, He is justified in doing this because He is perfect. As far as we know and believe, He remains the only perfect, sinless human being to have ever walked the earth. And since we are not perfect (not even close), are we justified in “admonishing the sinner” when we ourselves are ALL sinners?
At face value, the spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner still seems like a foreign concept to me. It reeks of being judgmental when we have no right to be, but I think I understand it much better after reading this article.
After reading the article, I think SO many Christians get admonishing the sinner wrong. So many see admonishing the sinner, as “Repent! Turn to Jesus or you’re going to Hell!” They focus on shaming people. Shunning people. Looking down their noses at them. They don’t seem to do it from a genuine place of love and concern. And people react predictably, with a “mind your own damn business!” And then no one is better after that exchange. The Christian misses the opportunity to genuinely show the love of Jesus. And the person they attempted to admonish sees them as every negative Christian stereotype possible. Both lose out.
But then I saw something in the article that made complete and total sense to me. When someone is admonishing someone else, there need to be two things in place: The Christian’s heart needs to be focused on coming from a place of genuine love and care for the other person, and they also need to know the person really well and be close with them. I know personally, I am far more likely to listen, and be receptive to being corrected if it’s coming from someone I know and care about, than when it comes from a “street preacher.”
Perhaps another spot where some Christians fail, is that when they are tasked with spreading the Good News, that they feel like they have to “pull a Saint Peter” and convert THOUSANDS in one fell swoop, and so they are hyper-aggressive when they preach. They think the harder, and more forcefully they preach, the more people will positively respond to them. But they seem to be completely ignoring reaching people on a personal, human-to-human level, when it’s arguably the most important part of things, aside from Jesus’ message.
But I am reminded of a really cool Bible verse that shows me that spreading the Good News is not a race. “In the same way I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) This is how I have approached sharing my faith with others, even those who may not agree with me or believe in Jesus or God. I try to focus more on showing God’s compassion, love and mercy. I do what I do, and say what I say, to comfort people, and reach smaller groups of people by relating to them on a personal level. Perhaps I will eventually feel confident enough in my own faith to admonish people in the right way. But until then, and even after I get to that point, my style of reaching people will remain the same: Share my faith in my writing here on Luke’s Thoughts, on Facebook, and in person with people who will listen and are curious about who Jesus is. And do it from a place of love instead of aggressiveness. For as Saint Francis of Assisi says: “Preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.”