Thursday, December 14, 2006

Faith and Sinners

Maybe it’s just because of the particular blogs that I read, or some that I read, but I have been thinking a lot lately about my faith, or my religion if you prefer to term it that way. I have a lot on my mind, and I’m going to share it here. Not all at once, you understand, because I have a whole lot of thoughts, but bits and pieces as time and inclination allows.

It seems to me that there is a group of Christians out there (and no I’ll do no finger pointing at all here, if you think I mean you that’s between you and your conscience) who take a very hard line when it comes to sin, sinning and sinners. I would liken this group to the group in the Bible who were about to stone a woman for her sin. To the best of my memory of my reading of that particular event, Jesus said something to that group of people like “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Amazingly, all eventually dropped their stones and walked away. Not one could claim to be without sin.

Now, the group of modern day Christians about whom I’m speaking are likely to quickly point out here that Jesus did not stop there but also told the woman, “Go and sin no more.” Yes, yes he did. And that was between Jesus and the woman. Do I believe that she never committed another sin in her entire lifetime? No, I don’t. She was still human and still subject to human weakness and frailty. As a matter of fact, the Bible does not address whatever happened to this woman after her encounter with Jesus. We simply do not know. Point #1: What happens in your life with your sin and your relationship with God is yours and yours alone. It is not anyone else’s business.

This brings us back to the group that was prepared to stone the woman. Are we not often like that today? Although we don’t often stone people (although that does happen on occasion) we often openly ridicule people for their actions and their choices or gossip about them behind their backs. We often try to “punish” the sinners in one way or another. What we seem to fail to recognize is that we ourselves are sinners, or maybe we make ourselves feel better about ourselves by rationalizing that the sins we’ve committed aren’t nearly as bad as those of our neighbor. Then we feel justified in cutting down our sinning brethren or shunning them. But Jesus addressed this too at some point in time, likening this to pointing to the sty in another’s eye while ignoring the log in our own. Point #2: You have no business judging others and their sins while ignoring your own.

Now, let’s think this through further. Doesn’t it say in the Bible that we should confront our Christian brethren in love when we know them to be sinning? Why, yes, yes it does. (Sorry that I don’t have chapter and verse to quote throughout this diatribe. You want chapter and verse, attend Bible study.) So what would it mean to confront a fellow Christian in love about their sin? You’ll get many different answers to that one my friend.

A lot of hardliners will go to the extent of excommunication for some sins such as those of someone who divorces, or divorces and remarries. Does this help that sinner in his faith? Does that make him more or less likely to turn to his Christian community for help and support and guidance? My sense is that it will turn him away, and sometimes I believe that the hardline Christian community prefers that. They would prefer not to have the sinners in their midst (never mind what sins they may be committing and hiding from the world).

It seems to me that to confront a fellow Christian about their sin it does need to be done in love. If the person is truly Christian then they are likely already aware of the sin as sin. They likely are already struggling with it in their mind and their heart. There is a good chance they are already praying about it on a regular basis. So what should a fellow Christian do to confront this person? I believe that if it is to be done at all it must be done in a non-judgmental kind of way. Even if you cannot imagine yourself ever indulging in the sin that the other person is committing you can liken it in your mind to a sin that you yourself struggle with. Acknowledge to the person that we all sin, that you sin, that you are not there to condemn but to try to help the person through their struggle with sin. It is hard, very hard, to do this sometimes. It is harder to try to empathize and treat kindly those for whom there are struggles, but Jesus did exactly that. Jesus never said it was okay to sin, but He also never allowed anyone to believe that they could feel themselves better than anyone else no matter the part of society from which they came. Jesus ate with tax collectors. He spoke to prostitutes. He did all sorts of things that were considered outrageously radical at the time to many of the leaders of that day. I dare say that if he were here now, He would be considered as outrageously radical by many of our Christian leaders as He was then. Point #3: Pattern your life after Jesus rather than after “church leaders.”

Does God turn His back on us when we are sinning? No, not at all. He sent His Son to die for us for my sins and for yours. He made the Ultimate Sacrifice for us, and yet rather than appreciate that and share the joy of that grace with those around us we go around gossiping, backbiting, looking down at others, condemning others for their sins, all the while committing our own sins whether “small” or “large.” No wonder the world looks at us Christians as a bunch of holier-than-thou hypocrites. Perhaps, as Christians, we should be kneeling and praying fervently for forgiveness for turning more people away from Christ than bringing them to Him.

So ends today’s sermon by one wretched sinner. You can send your generous tithes, gifts and offerings to Trueself care of my blog. All monies received will go towards fighting hunger, disease, and homelessness. (In other words, I’ll use it to buy groceries, pay medical bills and pay off my home equity loan.)


Desmond Jones said...

Hi Trueself. I don't think I've commented here before, but I'm sure we've bumped into each other in blog-space.

I would never judge you, though I might, uh, question some of your choices. Bottom line, tho - your life, and your choices are your own, and I'll leave you to deal with God on your own behalf.

There is an ancient tradition, btw, that identifies the 'woman taken in adultery' as Mary Magdalene. FWIW. . .

Finished Last said...

I find myself reading this post from two different perspectives. On one hand there is the perspective of one who has been deeply involved in the "church culture' (conservative one might even say fundamentalist) all my life. While there are plenty within that culture who have a holier than thou approach to life (often while hiding their own indescretions) most in my experience are sincere loving people trying to do what they honestly believe is right. The Bible does in fact call on believers to confront open sin in the lives of fellow believers. (Matt. 18, I Cor. 5, Gal. 6 ) but it is always to be done in the spirit of restoration and not with a puinitve agenda. The thing is Jesus himself instructs that if confronted once by an individual and then again with one or two others and then by the congregation as a whole that the unrepentent sinner needs to be put out of fellowship. paul says that they shouuld not even eat with someone who calls himself a brother yet lives in open immorality. the point is to show the individual the seriousness of their sin and not to look down or be hateful towards them. I have seen it happen and have seen tears shed by those doing it wish ing that they didn;t have to but believeing that they needed to in order to follow Christ's teachings.

I also see this from the perspective of one who is probably going to be facing this in the near future. I worry about losing almost every friend I have in the world. I worry about what is going to happen to my relationship with my family. I understand that there wil people that will turn theior backs on me, not because they hate me , but because they honestly will believe that it is what is in my best interests. yes, they know that they are sinners too but from there perspective they are willing to try and work on it where as I will be choosing to engage in it. I have to decide if beinghonest about where I am is worth the cost that admiting it will be.

trueself said...

Desmond & FL,

Thanks both for your comments. I appreciate them, and believe me, I do take them to heart. I am the first one to say that I struggle mightily with the decisions I've made in the past several months. I do not think they would be such a struggle for me if it were not for my Christian faith. If I didn't have that my conscience would be much clearer right now. Just because I do it, doesn't mean I condone it. It means that for now I am succumbing to my human frailties and turning away from God. I know that. I hate that. I struggle daily with it. I'm not sure having my church excommunicate me for it would be helpful to me at this point. Not that they have, but I feel that they might if I were to open up and approach the pastor about my situation. It is sad when you are afraid to reach out for the help you feel you need the most.