I want to address an issue that I seem to consistently run into. In a very general way the issue is this: What position should the church take in reference to people living a lifestyle that the scriptures clearly indicate is sin? The questions can often be phrased differently, but the core issue is the same. Some of the ways this question has come up recently include these:
- Should a couple who are living together and are unmarried be allowed to serve in church leadership or in a visible place of ministry?
- Would you allow a homosexual to attend your church? Could they sing on the worship team?
- Can a person with an addiction serve in the children’s ministry?
Whenever these issues come up, those asking the question or supporting one side of the issue or the other always divide the issue along a line that places the love of God on one side and the legalism of religion on the other.
I often see entire churches orient themselves and even advertise themselves based upon which side of this line they fall on. Having decided to be either a “loving” church or a “righteous” church they collect people of a like mindset. One side says things like…
“We want people to be comfortable around us and we want them to feel our love and then by that they will eventually be drawn away from their sin and draw close to God.”
All the while the other side of that line is saying something like…
“We have a responsibility to represent a life sacrificed to the Lord and a freedom from sin so that people can see how to live for God.”
Honestly, I’m called to do both at the same time. Scripture admonishes the body of Christ to beware of either of these absolute positions.
Notice if you will 2 Timothy 4:3-4 where we read…
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3–4, ESV)
But also notice John 13:35…
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV)
We in the church are commanded by God to do both of these at the same time. We are to love and to embrace sound doctrine. We are to love people while both teaching and setting an example of what a godly life looks like. How are we saved? Solely by grace! But the same grace that pays the price for our sins lifts us out of them. The same grace that removes the penalty for our sinful nature, gives us the ability to overcome it.
Ultimately as a pastor I am called to do the same thing Jesus was called to do. It was first written by the prophet Isaiah and then read by Jesus when he said…
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18–19, ESV)
We are to proclaim not only God’s favor but also that people can be free from the things that have kept them captive. They can regain their ability to see right from wrong. They can be more than they are not only in heaven but here as well!
Pastors are shepherds and as such we are to lead people in the right direction. That direction is away from sin and the things that might bind them. By lowering expectations grounded in the Word and expressed in an atmosphere of love we damage the potential of people and potentially create a misunderstanding in the lives of immature or new believers about the life that Christ calls us to; a life of sacrifice. Through the Holy Spirit lives can be radically transformed from lives bound and ravaged by sin’s use of the fleshly nature into lives free, whole, happy, and complete. One of the first steps in that transformation is a realization of what sin is and an acceptance of it’s destructive nature coupled by a community living in freedom from sin demonstrating the possibility of freedom. Said more simply, people have to know that something better is possible. People have to believe that God can make their lives better.
While it’s simplistic, here’s a video clip that illustrates what happens when people are challenged to be more than they think they can be.
People can accomplish incredible things, but they seldom do until they are challenged to do so. That challenge begins in the Word but the Word is often first realized through watching other’s lives then in reading it.
Let’s not be afraid to challenge people to press towards God and away from the world. Only in the challenge do we realize who we really are!