I was recently approached by Simone, a young woman I have known for a number of years. She had a huge grin on her face and was obviously excited with her news. “I’ve got a boyfriend and we’re moving in together”, she announced proudly.
It is a dilemma all Christians inevitably face: how do we respond to those who are not living out values we know to be true? Do we confront them with the law of God? Do we condemn their sinful choices? Do we make it clear they could lead to an eternal separation from their Heavenly Father? Or do we simply ignore the facts and remain neutral, allowing everyone to make their own decisions?
The answers are not easy because, I believe, they are never black and white.
That is why Jesus so adamantly instructs us not to judge one another.
Only God knows every detail of an individual’s life which is why we are answerable only to Him.
I have seen Christians respond with the ‘Hell and Damnation’ approach which may have the intended effect on some but in the majority of cases I have only seen it further alienate those who do not know the love of God.
Jesus did not adopt a “one hat fits all” approach. In fact, his responses appeared to be inconsistent.
To Church leaders, he did not dilute his disapproval, “Alas for you Scribes and Pharisees, you Hypocrites.
You shut up the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to” (Matt 23:13).
Yet to the woman caught in adultery, he shows only mercy and compassion, “Neither do I condemn you … Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
Why the discrepancy? Because Jesus knew the hearts of those who stood before Him.
He knew whether it was brokenness or pride driving choices and knew external behaviours were not an accurate reflection of intimacy with his Father.
Simone is a perfect example. When I first met her, she was addicted to heroin and prostitution to support the habit.
Her relationships were usually with violent men who abused her and she would often brutally vent her own anger on others.
She is covered with the scars of self-mutilation, has spent time in prison and has attempted suicide on several occasions.
So when she proudly announces she has found a man who treats her with respect and she wants to commit herself to a monogamous relationship, in her own eyes she has made choices that would be pleasing to God.
And I believe they would be. Simone says she now talks to God and is taking steps to reduce her drug intake.
She is making choices to forgive those who have hurt her in the past and has been stepping away from violent confrontations rather than aggressively lashing out.
So how did I respond to her pre-marital relationship without being condemning or judgemental, but also knowing she was obstructing her own path in receiving the fullness of her Heavenly Father’s love? I decided to tell her how proud I was – not for her new living arrangements – but for the incredible, heroic changes she had made since we first met.
These, I said, would be pleasing to God. In time, as her relationship with Him deepens, He will open the doors for her to come to understand the beauty of a life-long commitment in marriage, because God will always provide doors for those who seek Him.
I know some of Simone’s abusive history and how it has been devoid of loving relationships.
To have burdened her with the law would, I believe, only confirm the sense of unworthiness and hopelessness that had led to the self-destructive decisions of the past.
Does that mean we allow her, or others we know, to remain in the darkness that is separating them from the fullness of God’s love? Not at all – in fact, it is our call as followers of Christ.
But it is vital we first introduce them to His love, mercy, justice, forgiveness and perfect Fatherhood so they will come to understand any “law” in this context.
Jesus created the Church as a vehicle to deliver his Father’s love and mercy to the world. We are called to be messengers of this love, not dictators of the law.
This does not mean there is no place for the law. With our inherent nature gravitating us toward a life of self-preservation and self-desire it is essential that we come to know the parameters of these boundaries.
However, if we do not first come to know the foundations of love on which they were created, we will see them only as prison walls and not as guiding lights leading us to the fullness of freedom in Christ.