On June 26th, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court voted in favor of recognizing gay marriage as a constitutional right, leaving in its wake a firestorm of arguments on social media outlets all throughout the country. Christians are rightfully appalled at the institutionalization of sin. We know that sin holds people back from the splendor and enjoyment of God they were created for and that is the reason why we are opposed to it (unpopular though it may seem). A very helpful article on this very idea can be found here.
But hopefully at this point, emotions have cooled a bit and we can begin to think level-headedly about how we are to respond. Now it seems that those who are in favor of gay marriage are all too eager to give us the answer…love like Jesus did… be a friend of sinners. And I think they’re right (though what we have in mind is probably different, to be sure). So in what ways was Jesus a friend of sinners?
Jesus knew their spiritually lost condition and so desired to be compassionate towards them.
We all know who the bad guys are in the New Testament…the Pharisees. It seemed they almost delighted in loading people down with guilt and heavy burdens that they themselves would not help them bear (Luke 11:46). But then Jesus shows up and knowing the weight of humanity’s guilt already, shows compassion rather than condemnation. This perplexed the Pharisees to say the least. In Mark 2:15, Jesus has dinner with Levi, a despised tax collector. When the Pharisees notice this they ask His disciples, “Why does Your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16). Now it is at this point that many stop reading the narrative and shouts of amen can be heard, as well as the exhortation to us Christians that we should stop judging and follow the example of our Leader for crying out loud!
But Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question is interesting. He says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” I’m afraid that Jesus’ compassion can sometimes be misconstrued as unconditional acceptance. But judging by the context of this passage, that would prove to be an interpretive blunder. Jesus here seems to have no qualms about identifying the people He’s with as sinners who are in need of repentance, (which was the underlying theme of His preaching, by the way. See also Mark 1:14-15) and thus the reason for His compassion. He (the doctor) desires to save them (the sick) from their sin. Jesus, because He is incredibly merciful, knows the enslaving hold sin has on us and that’s why He left His throne in glory to come save us! Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Jesus also loved sinners enough to share the truth with them, regardless of the reaction it generated.
Two stories immediately come to mind. First is the story of the rich young ruler, found in Mark 10:17-25…
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
In the first account we see a rich young man who undoubtedly had all of his theological and financial ducks in a row. He was likely expecting Jesus to say something like the following… Wow, hey man you’re in! But instead, Jesus says something that causes the young man to walk away sadly. What does He say to garner such a response? Cast away the idol of money that has so gripped your heart and then turn to Me. But the grip was too strong and the young man turned away from the Lord of life back to the darkness of his inward sin. Yet notice that Mark is careful to mention that Jesus loved him. So here we see that Jesus’ love was also intertwined with truth. Jesus knew that this man’s sin would hold him back from the kind of heart felt adoration he should have for God. In short, this sin was holding the young man back from experiencing the true joy that comes from trusting and following Jesus. And Jesus loved him enough to point it out, even if it resulted in a negative response. Our love for our gay friends must be marked with this same measure of truth, even if it means they turn away from us.
The second comes from John 8:2-11…
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
In this account of the woman caught in adultery, we see Jesus once again display His mercy. The Pharisees, hoping to trap Jesus, were only too eager to go ahead and stone her. Yet Jesus is able to expose their hypocrisy so that they were too ashamed to even stay there. Here again, many stop reading the narrative and beg Christians to do likewise… stop throwing your stones of condemnation! But at the end, does Jesus simply say, Ok go ahead and enjoy some more of your soul-destroying sin, and if the Pharisees ever try that again just remind them that they’re not suppose to judge? No, He then exhorts her to now leave her life of sin. The problem and solution for the Pharisees and the woman were the same… they both were sinful and they both needed to repent. She was graciously shown mercy and the expression of gratitude in light of that mercy is a desire to turn away from sin. Here again, we can’t try to make apologies for God. He has said in His Word that homosexuality is harmful and destructive to our souls (Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6) and if we want to love our gay friends the way Jesus loved, then we must not hide this truth.
I hope no one has taken this article to mean we now have permission to be jerks. But at the same time it does not give us the convenience of picking and choosing the sins we deem socially acceptable. As we seek to show the kind of love Jesus did to our gay friends, we do so from a posture of compassion and truth, knowing that we too were also once rebels against God Whom He has graciously pardoned and forgiven.