“By this all men will know you are my disciples, by how you protest the sinners.”

Christians are sadly gaining a reputation for being quite judgmental, and it’s a reputation that we probably deserve. Certainly Christianity is judgmental towards sins, but we often leave out the aspect of grace and forgiveness. At some point we collectively decided that it’s okay to protest gay parades, abortion clinics, and the Democratic Convention. Certainly all of this is within the rights of any individual or group, but as G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.” Or to quote Paul, “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12). In other words, while we may have the Constitutional right to protest such actions, it doesn’t mean we’re doing the Gospel any favors when acting in such a manner.

Paul actually makes the matter even clearer earlier in 1 Corinthians where he states,

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

It would appear that all the protesting, all the judging, all the telling people to act holy, and all the attempts at legislation to hopefully legislate holiness are in vain from a Christian perspective. This doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t stick up for what is right (such as the abolishment of slavery, the protection of the environment, workers’ rights, etc), but instead that we shouldn’t expect non-Christians to act like Christians. We shouldn’t expect the non-Christian to follow Christian morals.

We can look to the life of Christ to see how He acted towards ‘sinners.’ He was often found in the company of drunkards, prostitutes, and tax collectors. As I’ve stated before, we’ve become immune to the shock of such a statement. So create a visual:

Imagine the stereotype of a prostitute, what she looks like, how she acts, and so on. Now imagine walking into church with her, sitting her down with you, and treating her as a friend. Imagine inviting your pastor over and when he gets there, he sees four prostitutes dining with you at the table. Or for those in a more progressive form of Christianity, imagine inviting a rich CEO over to have dinner with you.

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think I could do that. Not because “Jesus is God and I’m a human” (for Jesus is also human and He also had such people around His disciples who were all too human), but because I’m too judgmental, I’m too prideful, I’m too wrapped up in what people would think, I’m too arrogant to let go of my fear of losing my reputation. You won’t find me in the Red Light district any time soon inviting people to dinner because, sadly enough, I’m not humble enough or holy enough to attempt such a thing, but I know I should be. Yet, it is in the slums that we condemn where we find Christ establishing His Church; it is in our established churches where we find Christ condemning them as slums.

Consider the early Church and what the last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, had to say about them in his letter to Arsacius:

For it is disgraceful when no Jew is a beggar and the impious Galileans [the name given by Julian to Christians] support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our coreligionists are in want of aid from us.

What speaks louder for the Gospel: A large sign or washing the feet of the beggar? A rally or the silence of service? A piece of legislation to stop an unholy action or a piece of bread to stop the hunger of a child? We will always be criticized, but let us be criticized for the right reasons. Right now one can point to Christianity and call us hypocrites, call us oppressors, and show that the world would be no different without us and our only defense is, “Well look to the Gospel and not to the people who claim Christianity” or “well we’re human too.” These aren’t legitimate defenses! If we’re claiming that Christ is real, if we’re claiming that He indwells in us – which is a radical claim – then we ought to look different. We ought to live lives so exceptional that one is left without a natural explanation. When called hypocrites we should be able to say that such accusations are a lie. As it is, hardly anyone criticizes Christianity for helping the poor, the neglected, the sinners, not because they think we are admirable for doing so, but because hardly anyone see us doing it.

We should not expect those not in Christ to act as though they are in Christ. Rather, we should treat them as Jesus treated them; with love and as human beings. We never see Christ protesting outside of a whore house, but we do see Him turning over the tables of the money-changers in the temple. We never see Christ speak harshly towards the lowest of society, but we do see Him condemn the religious elite. No matter what we think, we should always see ourselves as the religious elite striving to be more like Christ. Stop it with the protests, stop it with the close-off culture of church, and realize that our faith is supposed to flow out into the streets; not by condemning, not by yelling at people, not by protesting them, not by handing out tracts, but by befriending people, helping people, and becoming the love of Christ to them.


4 thoughts on ““By this all men will know you are my disciples, by how you protest the sinners.”

  1. Good post Joel. I just saw that sign you have too (I block external content in emails). Made me laugh!
    It’s sometimes hard for me not to look down on someone who has less than I do. It’s easy to think I’m somehow superior to someone I perceive as having less than I, whatever I think less is. I can think of all sorts of good reasons, too. But…
    they’re all wrong!
    Nobody I’ve ever talked to believes this, but I think unless there’s a physical reason everyone starts pretty much on the same page. However, I’ve seen too many poor parents raise poor children. Too many parents that get into “trouble” raise children that also get into trouble. I wonder why that is. Most people think a “sinner” can change, but I don’t believe that is always the case. It’s very complex. Perhaps the people who live their lives closer to an animal do so because of some biological reason, like lack of inhibitory responses. I think a lot of it has to do with the environment, too. Does a mother who intensely doesn’t want to be pregnant transmit that feeling to her fetus? I wouldn’t be surprised if she does.
    I was taught that Jesus had no animosity toward the poor, or “sinners”. He understood these things. I try to as well, but like I said sometimes it’s hard. It’s hard to work at the homeless shelter where I live, and wonder how some of those people got there. I see patterns of abuse, lack of education, and generally growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks” as compelling reasons for why they are homeless. They just don’t wake up someday, and find they have no place to live. There’s history, there’s stories they tell.
    When a Christian thinks he or she is superior, I don’t think they’re truly understanding the word of Christ. They’re totally missing the point in my opinion. It’s not the goal to be better than someone else, but to humble self in order to help the fellow human. That is the message I was raised on since mom and dad read Jesus stories to me on their laps. It’s just the core belief of a creator, or that Jesus was somehow more than a man that I find very difficult to believe. I don’t think I need to announce my non-belief in every comment so I won’t. But again, good post!

    1. I do think there’s something to be said for someone’s ability to change. For instance, can a “crack baby” ever get over what was thrust onto him when he was in the womb? As a Christian, this is where grace comes into play and we work with such an individual and essentially help him live from day to day.

      And you’re right, Christ took compassion on sinners because, often times, those who are into self-destructive sin (such as drug abuse, prostitution, etc) found themselves in that situation because of horrible circumstances. No girl becomes a prostitute as a life goal. No one says, “I hope I’m addicted to drugs someday.” While I do think change is possible – because I’ve seen it – it’s not an overnight process like many Christians seem to believe. In fact, such an idea is contrary to Scripture, which tells us to work out our salvation, which indicates that it’s a long process of change, a long process of good days and bad days. But it’s this point you said that really stuck with me:

      When a Christian thinks he or she is superior, I don’t think they’re truly understanding the word of Christ. They’re totally missing the point in my opinion. It’s not the goal to be better than someone else, but to humble self in order to help the fellow human

      That, in short, summarizes everything I was trying to say.

  2. Joel, good post. Another thing these protestors are not considering is the fact the people which they encounter have to reason to trust what they say. For example, I’m more likely to trust a friend who tells me they are concerned with my lifestyle, and then proceeds to explain how it isn’t ‘good’ and in fact damaging not only my life but others too. If someone came up to me on the street who didn’t know me and simply said ‘you’re going to Hell because you do X’ then I’d say ‘thanks for that redundant info stranger’ and be on my way. We need to build relationships with these people before they will listen, but I guess watching tv instead is enough for many Christians I know. The subject is quite bothersome to my heart and soul. And then I ask myself ‘what are you doing about it?’ and I simply cannot give a sufficient answer. I suppose recognizing our shortcomings at least the first step. Now just to act on it!

    1. Exactly. It’s a matter of having a relationship with these people. For instance, I have many friends who flat out disagree with most of what I believe, but they let me talk to them about it because I get along with them.

      One of the central teachings of Christianity is that all humans are created in the image of God; perhaps we should live that doctrine.

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