After my friend told me his story, I started thinking about how we approach the world. The one passage I keep coming back to is John 12:47, the famous, “I did not come into the world to judge the world, but to save the world.” The context around this passage is what’s most fascinating because it deals with salvation; in other words, John 12:47 and its surrounding context seemingly tell us that Christ doesn’t judge sinners, He merely lets them engage in the natural consequences of sin.
But the deeper view is that everyone knows we’re sinners, everyone knows they sin. Only the most ardent of narcissists would deny they are sinners. To function in society we have to acknowledge that we’re sinners; anytime we apologize, admit a mistake, try to change our lives for the better, or feel bad about something we did (have a conscience), we’re acknowledging that we sin. What good would it have done if Christ simply came into the world to harp on and on about how we were lost? He didn’t need to do so because deep down we know we’re lost.
The world already knows it’s in darkness. Every religion and philosophy that has existed has acknowledged that we’re in darkness. Even the ones that deny sin or deny darkness always say that the only problem we have is that we think we have a problem; thus, in denying that we have an overall problem, they still acknowledge we have a problem. Prior to verse 47 Jesus says He came into the world to be light, so that whoever believes in Him will not remain in darkness. Think about that for a second; Christ is the light to our dark world. Why do we need to convince people they are in darkness? Just show them the light and they’ll realize it all on their own.
Imagine people born in a cave. Their entire lives they roam in darkness, so they don’t understand what true light is. While walking along they come along pockets of light from holes in the roof of the cave, holes that allow a little light to come in, but they still never experience true light. They only experience enough light to know they’re in some form of darkness. What is needed, then, is not to convince them that they’re in the dark or explain that there is a light, but to show them that there is a light. Once they see the light and experience the light, they are then left with the choice to accept the light or to remain in darkness.
I say all of this to point out that many Christians, conservative evangelicals in particular, would feel uneasy with my friend’s approach to the lesbian couple. After all, he didn’t tell them they were going to Hell, he didn’t tell them they were sinners lost without hope, he didn’t emphasize their sin. He didn’t treat them as any well-trained Christian would treat them. Yet, if we look to the example of Christ and how He dealt with sinners, I have to wonder where modern evangelicals get this idea we must emphasize that we are sinners.
My friend pointed out the woman at the well and the adulterous woman. In both instances, Jesus confronts two people stuck in sin. While he recognizes that they are in darkness, He doesn’t perform some Socratic dialogue with them until they come to the conclusion that they are lost without God and need to repent. Rather, He reveals who He is to them, He reveals Himself as the true light. By doing so, by seeing the true light, they automatically recognize they are in darkness.
The problem, at least as I see it, is that we’re too focused on saying the right things. We’re attempting to get people to intellectually accept Christ when they haven’t seen Christ put into action. But if Christ came to show us the light, then shouldn’t we do the same? Certainly words are involved, but there has to be content behind those words. And what speaks louder – going on and on about how someone is engaged in a sin, or loving the person and demonstrating Christ to them, to the point that your light reveals their darkness?
We should also remember that if Christ didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, then we are in no position to do so either. We are in no position to look someone square in the eyes and say, “Yeah, you’re going to Hell” because we just don’t know. If Christ does not condemn the world, then how can we?
This is not to say that we can’t speak out against sin, especially when that sin is extremely destructive to both individuals and society as a whole. It doesn’t mean that we can’t talk to people about their sin – but it does mean we need to put sin in its proper context when dealing with those outside the body of Christ. Rather than going on and on about how fallen we are – something Christ never does in the Gospels (not on an individual level) – we should bring to light a person’s sin by being the true light they are seeking after. We don’t use the light to point out how dark it is in a room, we use the light to eradicate the darkness entirely.