Loving Sinners the Way Jesus Loves

by Luke Wayne

We are often told that, if we truly love someone the way Jesus loves, we will accept them as they are and not expect them to change. Jesus, we are told, preached a message of tolerance and embraced people in all kinds of lifestyles that religious leaders denounced as sinful. If Christians today were truly Christ-like, they would not oppose things like sexual immorality, homosexuality, or abortion and would just accept people and support them for who they are, or so it is often said. But this is a complete misunderstanding of Jesus' teaching. Jesus certainly put great emphasis on love, but He also defined what it means to love. When we really look at the scriptures, we find that Jesus' idea of love is not what the sinful world tells us it is.

Jesus was pretty straightforward when He said:

"As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent," (Revelation 3:19).

After healing a desperate man in the streets who could not walk, Jesus tells him:

"See, you are well. Do not sin anymore, so that something worse doesn’t happen to you," (John 5:14).

And in the famous story of the woman caught in adultery, after it is said that Jesus delivered the woman from the crowd that wanted to stone her, it is also said that he told her:

"Go, and from now on do not sin anymore," (John 8:11).

Jesus didn't love people by leaving them the way they are or by embracing or accepting their sin. He saw their sin as a cancerous disease and Himself as a doctor who had come to rid them of it (Luke 5:31) and plainly clarifies that He came to call sinners to repent of their sins (Luke 5:32). The very message Jesus preached is "repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 4:17) and He instructed His followers that "repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, (Luke 24:47).

Jesus said that the second greatest commandment was to, "love your neighbor as yourself." Here He was quoting Leviticus 19. Read what the passage says:

"You must not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD," (Leviticus 19:17-18).

Notice that directly rebuking your neighbor is part of loving them. This does not endorse just being a jerk, but it does mean that if you actually love your neighbor you will care enough to correct them of their sin for the purpose of restoring them. Jesus said:

"Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him," (Luke 17:3).

James likewise wrote:

"My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins," (James 5:19-20).

True love seeks to turn people from sin, not leave them in it to their condemnation. Yes, rebuke hurts. Correction doesn't make people happy. It doesn't feel good, at least not in the short run. But it is what's truly in their best interest, and if we really love them, we will do it even when they might hate us for it. This is why the Psalmist writes:

"Let the righteous one strike me — it is an act of faithful love; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head; let me not refuse it. Even now my prayer is against the evil acts of the wicked," (Psalm 141:5).

Love must always oppose evil and strive to stir ourselves and others on to what is good before God, as Paul writes:

"Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good," (Romans 12:9).

"Love finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth," (1 Corinthians 13:6).

So it is true that we Christians today are often guilty of failing to love the way Jesus loved, but for the opposite reason than people claim. We are often too accepting of sin and too willing to leave others in their condemnation simply so they will like us and will not be offended or hurt. This is not love. This is selfishness and indifference. True love for our neighbor is zeal for the gospel and commitment to one another's holiness.

"let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne." (Hebrews 12:1b-2).