Jesus reaches out to sinners with love, but Jesus does not condone their sins. He offers sinners not a tolerance to live in their sins but deliverance from their sins. If we need an example to show us how to implement the Golden Rule, surely this example is found in Jesus as revealed to us in Scripture.
Society is pressuring the church to accept certain sexual sins which are strongly condemned in the Bible as morally acceptable life choices. One of the arguments for this is that this sort of acceptance is only consistent with Christian love and the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, of course, is that we should do to others as we would have them do to us. When someone who is openly committed to practicing such sexual sins as their chosen lifestyle asks to join a church, what does the Golden Rule require the church to do? Many today would answer that the Golden Rule requires the church to open its doors to all who want to join, regardless of their sexual lifestyle. Yet is that really what the Golden Rule means? No, that is the Golden Rule taken out of context.
Let me give you an example of the Golden Rule taken out of context. A man might be a bank robber. A friend might visit him and tell him that he wants to rob a bank but that he doesn’t know how to crack a safe. So the bank robber says to himself, “The Golden Rule says to do to others as I would have them do to me. If I didn’t know how to crack a safe, I would certainly want someone to teach me how. So I will follow the Golden Rule and offer to teach my friend how to crack a safe so that he can rob a bank.” I think that most would agree that that is taking the Golden Rule out of context.
What then is the context of the Golden Rule? The Golden Rule is found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:12: Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
The context is found in the second clause: “for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The Law and the Prophets is a reference to the Old Testament, the Bible of Jesus’ day. The Golden Rule is just a quick summary of the ethics of the Bible. The Bible is the sword of the Spirit, and the Golden Rule is the pocketknife version that we always have with us. The Golden Rule shouldn’t be interpreted to endorse anything that is contrary to the morality which the Golden Rule summarizes. The Golden Rule in its proper context means that we should do to other people what we would want them to do to us, with the understanding that we want other people to do to us what is right and good and true according to the teaching of the Bible. That is the proper understanding of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
The Golden Rule then does not require us to accept sexually sinful practices as moral. In fact, the Golden Rule does the opposite. If a friend or a relative told us that he was adopting a sexually sinful lifestyle, how should we respond? We should do to him as we would want him or another to do to us. What we should want for someone to do to us in such a situation is to reach out to us with compassion without condoning our sin. We should want someone to be firm with us that what we are doing is a serious violation of God’s law. We should want him to remind us that the Bible clearly says both that those who practice certain sins as a way of life will not inherit the kingdom of God and that the Gospel has the power to deliver sinners from the dominance of any sin. That is what we should want others to do to us in such a situation. That is not the easy thing to do. The easy thing for others to do in such a situation would be to say what the sinner wants to hear, and that is to condone the sinner’s sin. That is not the loving thing to do in such a situation; it is the easy thing to do and the selfish thing to do. It is substituting virtue signaling for genuine help. The only true love in such a situation is the tough love which speaks the truth in a compassionate way.
But some might say, Didn’t Christ accept sinners? Christ did eat with sinners in Matthew’s house, and the scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus for doing this. This does not mean, however, that Jesus condoned their sin. Jesus reached out to sinners with the good news of the gospel and sincerely desired their salvation from sin and judgment. Jesus loved certain sinners with the love of benevolence, the love of good will. Yet Jesus did not love any sinners as sinners with the love of complacency, the love of good pleasure. Jesus took no pleasure in their sinful ways. When sinners came to Christ in faith, Christ not only forgave their sins but also gave them a new heart. As their lives progressively changed from sinful lives to holy lives, Christ increasingly loved them with the love of good pleasure. Christ takes no pleasure in sin, but He does take pleasure in holiness.
It is like the little boy who did not want to go to school. He asked his father why he did not love him the way that he was. If his father really loved him the way that he was, then his father would not make him go to school. The father’s reply was that he did love his son the way that he was. But he also loved his son too much to allow him to remain the way that he was, in ignorance and immaturity. That is why the father made him go to school. He loved his son unconditionally with the love of good will. But that does not mean that he condoned his son’s ignorance and immaturity. He sent his son to school, and loved him increasingly with the love of pleasure as he saw his son mature and grow in knowledge and understanding.
When Jesus was criticized for eating with sinners, Jesus didn’t respond by saying that we should accept people’s sinful ways. No, not at all. “When Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’” (Mark 2:17).
Jesus ate with sinners, but he referred to their sin as a spiritual sickness. He came to them as a physician of the soul offering healing. He came to them to call them to repent of their sins. We should compassionately reach out to people with the gospel, but we do a disservice to them if we refuse to call their sin what it is. If we treat those engaged in sinful lifestyles as if they were righteous people, how can we call them to repentance?
Let me give you one more example. Here is part of Jesus’ conversion with the woman at the well in Samaria:
“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’ The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” (John 4:13-18).
The woman had asked Jesus for this water that springs up into everlasting life. She seemed at that point to show an openness to the gospel message. We might think that moment was the opportunity to challenge the woman to pray a simple prayer of faith. Yet Jesus did something different. The woman had quite a history of sexual sin, and Jesus chose to bring that up at that point in the conversation. Saving faith looks to Jesus not only for forgiveness but also for deliverance from sin as a way of life. Jesus was awakening her to her sin so that He could call her to repentance.
Jesus reaches out to sinners in love, but Jesus does not condone their sins. He offers sinners not tolerance of their sins but deliverance from their sins. If we need an example to show us how to implement the Golden Rule, surely that example is found in Jesus as revealed to us in Scripture.