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Jamie Johnson
29 February 2020

Erring on the side of love?

NOTE: This is the basis for a men's breakfast devotion/study/discussion I led on February 29, 2020.

I've been seeing them bounce around social media for weeks (I started writing this in January after seeing a few in the previous year): the "Christian memes" that start off saying good things only to leave the door open for error. One says, "We all make errors in our theology; you and me both. So my recommendation is to error on the side of love. Why? Because God is not doctrine. God is not denomination. God is not war. God is not law. God is not hate. God is not hell. God is Love." There's a lot of truth there, but there is also room for error. It is important to frame love in truth (and vice versa). If we are considering true love, is it possible to have error in true love? That of course is a rhetorical question. God isn't doctrine, but John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." His Word is quite important. 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV) says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." God is not war, but Revelation 19:11, speaking of Jesus returning, says, "with justice He judges and makes war." God is not law, but in Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus says He hasn't come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. God certainly isn't hate, but He does hate sin. Nor is God hell, but He brings wrath. Consider Romans 1:18 (NASB): "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." And that also shows our need for Him. He poured out His wrath on His Son Jesus at the cross for the sake of those who believe. The hope is that while God hates sin, Christ has paid the penalty once for all time (see Hebrews 9:12). The meme gets it right when it says, "God is Love" as that reflects 1 John 4:8. However, love -- true love -- goes hand-in-hand with the truth. It isn't a free-for-all that denies Biblical teaching. And that is where the meme breaks down -- with the potential misuse of the word "love" into something that enables and condones sin. By all means love, but don't compromise God's truth in attempting to do so. Many have embraced a cultural definition of "love" and divorced it from God's holiness.

Dr. David Jeremiah reflects on this in his book Escape the Coming Night (p. 209): "Today, people often replace God's holiness with a God of sweetness and light. How often do we hear of God's judgment? It is not a popular subject and doesn't provide a catchy sermon title for the church bulletin. The crowds come to have their ears tickled, not their consciences rattled. ... In our generation, we have lost sight of the holiness of God as the focus of His nature."

There's another meme about the Bible being clear about a group being bad, but then someone comes along and turns that on its head and it concludes with "The story may begin with prejudice, discrimination and animosity, but the Spirit moves God's people towards openness, welcome, inclusion, acceptance and affirmation." Sounds loving, right? What it gets right is that God can work redemptively. However, aren't the redeemed changed? Does God leave us where He finds us? Are you still the same person you were before you became a believer in Jesus Christ? Also, it uses a lot of buzzwords. And the Spirit does move God's people, but in that case, the openness, welcome, inclusion, acceptance and affirmation are of things that honor God. They are not the tainted things of our culture often captured by using those buzzwords.

And finally, there is this meme: "If your theology doesn't lead you to love people more, you should question your theology." This one is more subtle as I totally agree with the statement per se. The important consideration with this one is how love is defined. And that is where it can break down. If love is not abiding in truth, then it is not really love. If loving someone means that I condone his or her sin, then that really isn't loving them. Truly loving people should not compromise the truth. If so, then it is not true love. Rather, it is moving further down a destructive path while feeling good about yourself. The persons I see posting this meme are often those who are on a bandwagon to "love" while denying some clear teachings from Scripture. Sometimes, they may deny the Bible outright or cherry-pick parts of it to mold the message to fit the culture. And they call this "love." And that is what I want to address.

There is a relationship between love and truth. Ephesians 4:15 says that we are to speak the truth in love. And 1 Corinthians 13:6 (NIV) says, "Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth." While we may have error in and of ourselves, let us not give into the error of a "love" that condones sin or denies truth. Such "love" is not true love at all. I mentioned in an earlier article the following: "Truth without love is fruitless as 1 Corinthians 13 makes clear. And love without truth is not true love. Rather, it is a man-made construct and an idol."

In addition to memes, I encounter people who are hostile to truth, particularly if I agree with the Bible that something is a sin while they deny it being a sin. In these cases, the person will often call evil good and good evil or even deny objective truth for the sake of laying claim to the tainted cultural approval of sin.

So, in the sense of thinking of the struggling person: We all struggle. Don't let anyone fool you. Our struggles are not the same and some struggles are more difficult than others, but we all struggle. Don't let the struggle define you. And I am telling myself that. Some struggles we have to wrestle with every day. Some may be hurting, but I want to be honest with them for if I am not, that would be unloving. I can love others and disagree with them at the same time. That really is possible -- to love and disagree. Being able to disagree civilly takes honesty and respect for dignity and merges them -- hallmarks of true love.

As mentioned, the "err on the side of love" meme is used to condone or justify a particular sin that the culture approves of despite it standing in stark contrast to Biblical teaching. In some of these cases, proponents of the sin deny it as such and say that to call it a sin is wrong. The Bible says, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil" in Isaiah 5:20 (NASB). When someone makes such a claim, it is helpful to engage. Calling something wrong (even in error) is to make a moral claim and to claim that there is an objective truth. And that is where one can engage. If there is objective truth, what is the basis? What about God? If the claim is used to condone or justify what the Bible calls sin, then that makes a claim that the Bible's teachings on the subject are wrong (where the question asked could be "On what authority?"). However, there is objective truth, including the truth that the Bible is good, not evil. "Love" without truth is not true love.

Even if the culture thinks something is acceptable, that is irrelevant. Even if people vote for it, that still is irrelevant. Even if people protest for it, that holds no bearing on the truth. Even if there is a court case supporting it, that has little to nothing to do with the Biblical worldview. That is the court of man trying to make a judgment on God's Word, which is above man. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) states the following:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the Lord.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Even what you or I think about it is irrelevant. What God thinks about it is what is relevant. My hope is that my words point others to the truth and ultimately to Him.

Agreeing with the Bible that something is a sin per se does not abase persons struggling with that particular sin. While some can use anything to abase persons, that is failing to treat people as being created in the image of God and to deny their human dignity. And yes, that is sin. Now, respecting human dignity does not mean we accept or go along with or support everything others do. We are not clones and we are not going to agree on everything across the board. We should not agree that sin is ok (even our own). And the Bible is clear about not loving the world in 1 John 2:15-17 (NASB):

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

Acknowledging the truth that a sin is indeed a sin is not intended to say persons struggling with that particular sin are lesser any more than it is to say I am lesser because of my sins. Rather, it shows yet another way that we all are sinners. There is a myriad of sins among humanity. 1 John 1:8 (NASB) says, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." And without truth, there cannot be true love.

Using the Bible to deny persons of their dignity is wrong. However, using the Bible to condone sin in the name of "love" is to delight in evil and deny the truth, and that is unloving. If I see one on a destructive path and just say that it's okay, then I am not loving that person. "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6, NIV). Not "my truth," but "the truth." The phrase "my truth" implies subjectivity and is not objective truth at all. I could say, "my perspective" though I am echoing what the Bible teaches. There are many different perspectives, some closer to the objective truth than others. My hope is that my perspective accurately reflects the Bible and thus, the truth.

In pondering love, we are to love who God made us to be, but there is more to consider just as there is with the aforementioned memes. I learned this when I was in college as I struggled with abasing myself (and I still battle it at times). Jesus echoed Leviticus 19:18 when He mentioned the second greatest commandment in Mark 12:31: "Love your neighbor as yourself." I am to love my neighbor to what standard? To the standard that I love myself. That challenges self-abasement. Now, knowing what the Bible teaches about love, this love of self is not a self-centered love or a love that condones falsehood. It is loving that God made me. However, some take it further than that and create a "love" that is used to condone sin. To excuse whatever in the name of "loving who I am" is to be closed to the change that God wants for us -- repentance and Christlikeness. And we all fail at that (though there is hope in the work of the Holy Spirit). If loving yourself for who you are is loving yourself when you are an adulterer or pedophile and being okay with such sins, then that is wrong. In fact, being okay with it would not be loving at all. Love the sinner hate the sin. Apply that to yourself. Love who you are, but not your sin. And love your neighbor likewise -- not selfishly, not promoting falsehood and not condoning sin, but rather Christlikeness (remembering that it is impossible for the lost to be Christlike, but in the Spirit, you can show Christlikeness). Remember God hates sin (as mentioned earlier). We are not to love our sins though we all struggle daily with them. God loves us too much to leave us as we are. That is what sanctification for the Christian believer is all about. The mistake our culture makes about love is that it perverts it into something else that condones whatever one wants, including sin. It denies the truth of 1 Corinthians 13:6 -- again that love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.

Yet, even in speaking the truth in love, some will make accusations. Let's consider a few.

Some will think my perspective is hateful and accuse me of being "judgy." However, my perspective is to simply agree with the truth of the Bible. If one denies that something is sin while I agree with the Bible calling it sin, then we disagree. That doesn't mean I hate the person. It means I disagree with them. And even loving people disagree. However, ultimately what I think is not important. What God thinks is. Hopefully my words point others to Him. When Jesus caught the woman in sin (John 8:1-11), while He did not condemn her, He did say to her to go and sin no more. I am in no place to condemn anyone. That doesn't mean I am not to speak the truth in love. And the truth can be hard and so can love. Have compassion for the broken. Meet with them, put an arm around them, be a listening ear, extend grace, but don't taint the compassion into something else by celebrating the brokenness.

In addition to accusations of hatred, there is the accusation of ignorance thrown at those who agree with the Bible that something is sin while the culture denies it as being sin. Ignorance means that one lacks knowledge or information. Many intelligent -- and yes, loving -- people arrive at the same conclusion based on clear teaching of the Bible and research thereof that some things of which the culture approves are clearly sin, products of our broken and fallen world. To say that concluding that something is a sin is "ignorance" based on the cultural acceptance of it while the Bible offers no support for it, but rather the contrary, denies Biblical Christianity. It denies the Bible. Disagreement, not "ignorance" is a more appropriate term to use.

Sometimes accusers will use the Bible to attack a Biblical perspective, but in order to deny something is a sin when the Bible says otherwise requires one having to deny the Bible or at least parts of it. At that point, he or she has no basis to call something a sin. Or he or she must conclude that the Bible is evil (or parts of it are, which is essentially the same thing).

The reality is the Bible is good, we are all sinners (whatever the sin) and there is hope for us all in Jesus Christ. After a list of various sins in the prior two verses, 1 Corinthians 6:11 (NIV) says, "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." Jesus is our hope. The Bible says that if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves in 1 John 1:8. You and I are sinners. And there is a holy God. Left alone with our sin, we are separated from God, but there is hope in Jesus. If you haven't believed, maybe the Holy Spirit is working in you to place faith in Him, that He took your sin -- past, present, future -- upon Himself and put it to death on the cross with His sacrifice. Yet, He rose again and offers new hope in new life in Him. He is merciful and holy. He doesn't wink at sin and move along. He personifies love and truth. They cannot be separated. In Him and His Word, there is no error. Speaking the truth and telling you about Him is the most loving thing I can do.

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