All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and it is by faith we are saved, not by works, that no man may boast. If you love Jesus, you will obey His commandments.
Arguing over the relative merit of various groups of people is moot, since no one has merit before God. God is the judge, not us. So when we quarrel about whether this or that person is worthy to have faith and be saved, or whether their repentance is sufficient or their obedience is enough, we are only revealing ourselves as sinners playing God, like little children playing dress-up with Mommy’s and Daddy’s clothes. When Mommy and Daddy return, they are not amused.
It is for sinners that Christ died, not the righteous. So if we are righteous enough to judge the sons of men, righteous enough to rebuke Jesus for His plan to wait until the Last Day, and righteous enough to pronounce the final result now, we have neither regard nor need for God! If we cull the lambs before we allow Jesus to select from among them for His flock, we have set ourselves up as judges, not of the lambs, but of the Shepherd!
Hate the Sin
On the other hand, Paul told us to hate evil in Romans 12:9. So we set out to do just that. We think we have determined what is evil, and if we think it is a great threat, we invite those who agree to join us at the steps of an important government building, where we set up a podium and deliver stirring speeches through megaphones to the people gathered on the lawn at our feet. We gather outdoors because want to be overheard. We want politicians to hear our reasoning, find it compelling, and pass legislation. We want the media to see our gathering, find it newsworthy, and spread our message, through their reporting, further than we ever could by ourselves.
Let us leave such breathtaking bluster and arrogance behind. How nice of us to volunteer to be God’s bodyguards, but do we really think that He is so weak and we are so strong? No, that can’t be right! Let us stick to our scriptural duty, to preach the good news, and let the Judge be the judge.
There is evil that arises from the corporate sin of the human race, such as poverty, sickness, and cruelty. The Bible commands us to fix it, not hate it, because hating it makes us sit in an armchair, not fight on the battlefield. We set up homeless shelters, schools, and clinics, and take up other projects to fix the evils of this world. So that's not the evil that Paul tells us to hate.
There is evil that arises from the sins of other people, taken individually or in groups. Our job is to save sinners, not waste time hating their sins. We cannot hate the sins of a sinner without identifying who is a sinner, and that is wrong, not just because it is it a waste of time, it violates a commandment. So that's not it, either.
There is evil that arises from within ourselves, our carnal desires and lusts. Confession, repentance, and forgiveness is the threshold to our Christian life. We must hate the evil within ourselves, or we can’t confess it or repent of it. The only evil we are permitted to hate is within ourselves.
We have a curious way of reading Scripture. We read in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and stop in the middle the sentence. Go back and look. It continues “they are now justified by his grace as a gift” It’s the same people in both halves of the sentence. When it says “all have sinned,” that includes us, and when it says “they are justified,” it includes them. It doesn’t say that we are justified now and they might be justified in the future, because it says that they are justified now. That destroys our “us versus them” thinking, doesn’t it? Does this mean that everyone is going to heaven no matter what and evangelism is unnecessary? No, since it says “justified,” not “saved,” there must be a difference in the meaning. Not all of these people who are apparently “justified” are trusting in Jesus Christ, and it is only through trust in Him that we are saved.
Everyone has sinned, but the Court has dropped the charges. All they have to do is go to the courthouse and pick up the pardon. Some people have done that and some have not; as people who figured that out early, our duty is to make sure that everyone does. Since we are sinners, we are not qualified to judge, and since everyone’s sins are equally serious, what difference does it make which ones they are? After you receive a pardon, it doesn’t matter what you’ve been pardoned from, it has been wiped from the record. All that remains is for us to preach, not the bad news that we are sinners, but the good news that God is ready to pardon us.
Sometimes we judge to restore good order, which is really just the way things used to be. Sometimes we judge because we feel we must avert God’s wrath against our nation or the world, not having faith in Him to preserve us. Even if God brings disaster on a land or a city, the righteous do not suffer the penalty of the wicked (Genesis 18:15). Faith and panic cannot coexist in the same soul. The Lord brought disaster on Sodom, but spared the righteous. The Lord brought disaster on Judah, but spared Jeremiah and others, who continued to live peacefully in the land.
A few people judge others in order to figure out who is in greatest need of their love. They winnow out those whom they think are not worthy of their love. Suppose we scrutinize 100 people and determine that 30 are horrible sinners by our personal assessment. That cuts down on our workload, because we think we only have to love 70 of them. Sometimes a person will say that they do good things for people, but not for those who deserve their calamity. If you are one of them, ask yourself if anyone has ever met your criterion and received your help.
Even if Jesus didn’t give us a commandment not to judge, judging would still be a dangerous thing to do. Imagine: You are at a fancy party with all your friends and relatives. Suddenly Aunt Tillie raises her voice, accusing Uncle Herkimer of some horrible deed. Uncle Herkimer is overcome by intense embarrassment, sees no way to defend himself, runs outside, and hangs himself from a tree. After a gasp or two, everyone agrees that Tillie did the right thing and Herkimer’s demise is his own fault. Then Hortense comes out of the kitchen and whispers something into Tillie’s ear. Tillie collapses in grief as she realizes, based on Hortense’s information, that Herkimer was innocent all along. He was the victim of her false accusation based on partial information. Her grief never ends because her judgment precipitated his demise. For Tillie, the road to hell is truly paved with good intentions.
Some people think they can live by the principle hate the sin while loving the sinner, which makes them disciples of Mahatma Ghandi, not Jesus Christ. In order to love a sinner, they have to identify the sin and determine that he is doing it, which means they have to judge him. Attempting to hate the sin while loving the sinner is just a mind trick that lets them hate people while thinking that they are not! It makes them sinners, for anyone who breaks a divine commandment is a sinner, and in Luke 6:37, Jesus commanded us not to judge. In order to judge at all, they must confer righteousness upon themselves, which means it does not come from God.
By repenting, confessing, and professing our faith, we climbed out of a hole, but if we try to hate other people’s sins—as if there were even a point to that—we fall backwards into it before we’ve even dusted off our hands. What a spectacle!
Jesus commanded us not to judge people, because the safest way not to judge incorrectly is not to judge at all, and since our knowledge is limited and our righteousness is imperfect, our judgments are much more likely to be wrong than right. It is presumptuous or even blasphemous, because judgment is a divine prerogative; by judging we make ourselves out to be God.
If we judge the worthy, we may literally have hell to pay.
Love the Sinner
Jesus told us to love everybody, but that seems so wimpy when we put it into practice, because it makes us vulnerable. Other people might think we are gullible or daft or that we lack discernment. Some people are not ready to be fools for Christ, and some people don’t realize that we are supposed to discern spirits, not souls. Loving everybody is the right thing to do nonetheless, and not just because Jesus commanded it. Judgment makes people defiant, but love transform them. Haven’t you seen a movie in which one character did a kind deed that completely transformed the life of the character who seemed irredeemable in the beginning? Jesus loved us without holding our sins against you, so are we greater than Jesus that we can withhold our love from people we think are sinners?
The only smart thing to do is to love without judging. If you judge someone who does not deserve it, you are in big trouble. If you love someone who does not deserve it, Jesus only sees the love. Jesus loved you when you did not deserve it, now you love others when they do not deserve it. Love is not a characteristic of the thing that is loved, but the person who loves. Loving people can love unlovely things. An unloving person cannot love even lovely things.
Love the “unlovely” and do good things for the “wicked,” because in doing so, the unlovely might turn out to be lovely, and the wicked might not be so wicked after all. It will save you a lot of regret and repentance. Some people are good judges of character, but no one is a good judge of souls.
What do we mean by ‘Loving Others’?
Imagine there is a tragedy in your household: someone died. All your neighbors tell you that they are keeping you in their thoughts and prayers, but how can you tell if they are? Then one of those neighbors brings you a casserole. Even if you have to feed that whole casserole to the garbage disposal, you know for certain: that’s the neighbor who truly loves you.
Love that dies in the heart without spreading to the hands and feet is not love at all. It’s a mental trick we play to deceive ourselves into thinking we possess a virtue that we don’t. It’s okay to keep people in our thoughts and prayers, in fact we should, but we have to take them a casserole too. Well, not necessarily an actual, literal casserole, but you know what I mean. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. I could go on, but you get the point.
This is a long-winded essay. When will you get to the point?
“Can _______ be saved?”
Haven’t you figured it out by now? It is not your place to sit upon the throne of God, so it is best if you neither ask this question nor seek its answer. It's up to Jesus, not you. Your job is to love, not to judge, so assume that everyone is going to heaven, treat them accordingly, and leave the judging to Jesus. Even if you can correctly discern that people are on the wrong path, judging them makes them even more determined to go the wrong way. It’s generally true that the louder you shout, the less people listen. Love always steers people to the right path, even if you don’t know where the right path is. You’ll find out, because loving others will point you in the right direction. You don’t need a powerful brain if you have a good heart.
You win a crown for saving sinners, not for picking them out of a line up.