One of the biggest dangers, I believe, that we have as believers in the Church is to think that we are above those around us. It is easy to have a certain ‘holy pride,’ knowing that we have been chosen to be numbered among God’s elect, and also that we are striving to live a godly life. We may become, in our minds and in our speech with fellow Christians, condescending towards those we know who are not of the Church, or who are walking a life of sin.
There is a certain pride that is acceptable and even good in the life of the Christian. It is referenced in Professor Engelsma’s pamphlet on the importance of good Christian self-esteem, where he points out that we have been chosen by (and are therefore precious to) God from eternity, and have been redeemed with the blood of our Lord, regenerated by the Holy Spirit. We have a pride, in our good and all-powerful Lord, who has worked salvation in us. It is a self-less and God-oriented pride, for absolutely none of this is our own doing. As we read in Psalm 103, we are as dust (vs.14-16). That same chapter reminds us that we have anything that we have only because of God’s everlasting mercy. Therefore, we know that a condescending pride is what ill-suits a Christian.
Yet, still, it is easy to judge our neighbors. This could be anyone from the worker at the local gas station, to a professor in college, even to a classmate who is a fellow church member. Those around us do, after all, often appall us in their blatantly antichristian lives. We cannot deny that there are many around us who are living their lives in wretched sin. Or at least, even if their lifestyles aren’t so blatant, we can see that they have no heart for their Lord, or that they have a shaky faith.
Other times, too, we label sinners because of something they may represent, or because they apply to a point we are trying to make. For example, we may speak strongly and bitterly against certain heretics prevalent around us, because of their wrongs. Their names may become household talk. If it is done in any way that is not with a spirit love for that person, this is wrong.
We might see the sins of others, but we never know whom God has determined to save. Even the most horrible sinners, even the greatest opponents may be those who are numbered amongst God’s elect. We remember the apostle Paul; he was one of the greatest persecutors of the Church. One never would have guessed him to be of the body of Christ. But yet, it was in God’s plan to convert him. And even the thief on the cross, unbelieving his whole life, was told by Christ at the time of his death, “today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
It is God’s place to judge others (Matt. 7:1). Only he alone knows who he has chosen to save, regardless of the evidence their lives may give us. It is our duty as unknowing pilgrims here on this earth to follow the example of the Good Samaritan and love our neighbors (Luke 10:27).
But now, lest this sound like a proclamation of tolerance to sin, the flipside must be remembered. We are called to love the sinner, but to hate the sin. We ought not speak ill or hatred of our neighbor, for we do not know their eternal end, but we are called to speak against sin, for in loving God we hate what displeases him, and in loving our neighbor we seek their spiritual good. We don’t know God’s plan for each other, but we do know the corruption and vileness of sin–even those “small” and “acceptable” ones–and must eschew it. We hate the sin, because we love God and our neighbor, and sin is both detrimental to the neighbor (and ourselves!) and displeasing to our Lord. Any actions that we take then, or words that we speak, are to be at their heart released out of love for God and love for our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39).
Readers, let us love one another! Let us seek good for each other and those around us! Let us not let God’s name be defiled, or his commands trodden by those around us–let us defend the Word, but let our steps be directed to the glory of our God. And what an amazing God we have, that he has in his grace chosen to save even us!