I read an article this morning emphasizing a response to the Supreme Court decisions about marriage based on the grace of the gospel.
While I appreciated the tone and many of the reminders, a particular line from it troubled me. The author invited us to reflect on the way that, “Jesus first welcomed and received unrepentant sinners” before saying, “Go and sin no more.”
The word “unrepentant” is what concerns me.
The author rightly suggested that, “The love that is meant to mark us as Christians is meant to receive people in the generous and gracious way Jesus received people.”
This emphasis, however, could be a little misleading when it comes to unrepentant people — even in relation to the courts’ decision.
First, in keeping with the theme of the article, Jesus was often ran with the “wrong people” of society. Why do you think they labeled him “the friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19)? The self-righteous crowd shook their heads in disgust at the people he spent time with and used his associations to renounce him. Even at the end of his life, when he died for us on the cross, Isaiah foretold his final association — “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
Secondly, Jesus also clearly and repeatedly jolted the self-righteous religious establishment with culturally scandalous statements and stories. Imagine their response when he said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31). How could he tell a story that placed a tax collector in the temple and sent him home justified before God instead of the Pharisee? Wow! There is no softly and tenderly Jesus is calling in this – just bold truth to cut to the heart of our self-righteous ways!
Yet the unrepentant sinners of Jesus’ day were mostly the religious leaders. And we could hardly say that he warmly welcomed them. Broken sinners, yes; self-righteous, arrogant (“see and do things my way, or else” sinners), no. It’s important not to be confused on this matter so that we don’t melt everything into a non-Christ-like kind of “just accept everyone no matter what” approach.
When His disciples began to mimic the behavior of the religious leaders, asking about greatness in the kingdom, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2). Yes, changes must be made because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5). Without these changes, you will not even enter heaven. It is reserved for the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3).
Now I certainly agree with the author that, “To receive an ‘other’ as they are, without first mandating behavior changes, requires us to tolerate a bit of anxiety or discomfort. It demands that we release, or at least relax, our natural impulse to announce our opinions. To receive another as they are, and not as we wish them to be, is to agree with the apostle Paul’s conviction that it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance.”
But many of those who argue for gay marriage mirror the intolerant religious leaders of Jesus’ day more than the broken and contrite ones to whom the kingdom is open. They are not the “sinners” who seek grace but act more like the self-righteous who condemn and ostracize any one who disagrees.
Many of those promoting gay marriage have become some of the most intolerant people in our country. They operate with a “see things my way, or else” approach. If you hope to show them kindness it will only be accepted if it comes with full endorsement and celebration of what they want. The slightest disagreement with them wins one labels like “hate-monger, bigot, racist, homophobic, etc…
Many don’t realize that anger and bitterness underlies much of the homosexual lifestyle, not because of society but because of personal histories of those who choose to live it. This is one reason that gay relationships are notorious for domestic problems.
I hope this balanced perspective leads to deeper discussions on our calling as Christ followers — especially in a context of responsible citizenship in a democratic form of government.