We really need the biblical balance here:
There is a very fine line that Christians must walk: we must never be soft on sin nor make excuses for it, but we also must allow God room to move in grace, mercy and forgiveness. Some Christians can push one side of the equation to the exclusion of the other – but both are needed to keep the biblical balance.
On this site I have often dealt with those who wink at sin, minimise God’s holiness, and present a false view of God’s grace, as in the hyper grace teaching. But sometimes I have sought to get believers to learn how to cut others some slack, to show a bit more grace, and to be less keen to rush to judgment.
As I say, it is a balancing act, and it can be quite hard to get the right balance. Making cheap excuses for sin and basically pushing an unbiblical antinomianism is probably where too much of Western Christianity is at nowadays. As but one example of this, last year when some well-known Christians were found to have been caught out in immorality, one gal wrote a piece TRYING to get the balance right, but I think she failed.
Her main point was that we are ALL sinners (which is true), so we really are in no position to call out any other believer (which is not true). She seemed to make the case that since we all fail, none of us are in a position to point out the sins of others. Here is part of what she said:
Here’s my advice, Christians. The law disqualifies you, your mother, your father, your brother and your sister. Embrace the fact that you are going to sin and you are going to make mistakes. Embrace the fact that your neighbor, your pastor and your parent will sin and make mistakes. Think before you attempt to spread gossip about someone else’s failing. Show mercy. Extend grace. The same grace you want from your Father in heaven. https://www.christianpost.com/voices/christian-sex-scandals-make-a-case-for-my-own-guilt.html
Should we show mercy and extend grace? Sure, but never at the expense of standing firm for biblical holiness. The writer of the book of Hebrews was not just making things up when he warned, “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
This is all related to the two extremes of legalism versus licence. As I said in a recent piece, it seems that in Western Christianity the latter is the main problem. Sure, both extremes are wrong, but the order of the day for too many believers is to refuse to biblically judge, as they just make cheap excuses for sin of all sorts. See here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/08/04/on-legalism-and-license/
But as I say, there is another side where believers can go wrong. There indeed ARE many Christians who are quite happy to show no grace and mercy to others, and they end up being little more than Pharisees. They are always so quick to condemn and attack others, be it for their theological views, or what they do or do not do. They really are graceless Christians.
As has often been said, Christians tend to shoot their wounded. Instead of showing some understanding and some humility to those who stumble and fall, we can be so ready to judge and condemn. Sadly we can tend to enjoy pointing out the sins of others, but not so much the sins of ourselves. We love being merciful and forgiving to ourselves, but not so much to others.
We need to be careful here. How far would most of us get if somehow there was a giant screen where all your deepest, darkest and most private thoughts were shown to the whole world? We might tend to be less arrogant and condemning if that were to occur. But Jesus said one day this will in fact happen:
“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” (Luke 12:2-3)
The biblical Christian will reverse the order of the Pharisees: he will be hard on himself while softer on others. It was C. S. Lewis who gave some helpful advice in this regard. He said that we should be Arminians (emphasising our own choices) when it comes to our own weaknesses and our brothers’ strengths, and Calvinists (emphasising God’s initiative) when it comes to our own strengths and our brothers’ weaknesses. (I just read that again recently but cannot now recall where – grr!)
Having this sort of charitable and humble assessment of ourselves and others will help us go a long way in not being so quick to blast others and so slow to condemn ourselves. So yes it is true – properly understood – that we are all sinners, we are all fallen creatures, and even as redeemed and blood-bought Christians we are all still works in progress.
Understanding that should help us to be more patient with others – and ourselves at times – while we do encourage everyone to be all they can be in Christ, including holy, righteous and sensitive to sin. And keeping in mind that real biblical love is not winking at sin, but caring enough to confront, this should help us as well when we are tempted never to speak up when we should.
Sure, calling out sin and holding up others to the high standards of Christ can be a tricky issue to navigate, and must be done prayerfully and carefully. But avoiding this altogether helps no one. As the famous Puritan Richard Baxter once put it:
“A foolish physician he is, and a most unfaithful friend, that will let a sick man die for fear of troubling him; and cruel wretches are we to our friends, that will rather suffer them to go quietly to hell, then we will anger them, or hazard our reputation with them.”
And this involves things like church discipline when needed. This of course is almost fully forgotten in most Western churches today. As a case in point, on one Christian social media site the question was asked, “Should the Church discipline members who sin?” I replied by saying this: “Persistent unrepented of sin must of course lead to church discipline”.
And I also included a link to an older article: https://billmuehlenberg.com/1998/02/23/in-search-of-church-discipline/
While a number of others also affirmed the role and necessity of church discipline, it was rather sad to see how many Christians really seemed to have problems with it, pushing the ‘we are all sinners’ line as a way to suggest we should avoid all judgments and all forms of discipline.
As I keep saying, we must keep seeking to find the elusive biblical balance here. Being soft on sin is not biblical and it helps nobody. But being so quick to launch attacks on others is also not the way to proceed. What helps us the most is to be so aware of God’s holiness and our own lack of it, that we forever stay on our knees in humility and brokenness.
As we remain in that position of regular contrition and sensitivity to God, we will be far less likely to want to rush to condemning others – especially when we are aware of similar shortcomings and sins in our own life. Getting the balance right here is always very difficult. But that is what we are called to do.
Two concluding passages should be of help to us in this process:
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” -Galatians 6:1
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” -Hebrews 10:24