Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
—Matthew 7:3-5, NIV
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
—John 3:16-17, NIV
We live in a sinful and hateful world that trips us up at every turn. We wail to heaven every day for rescue from this world, and yet sometimes I think we might discern Jesus saying, “Be careful what you say about my world.” It was this same hateful, sinful world that God loved so much that He sent His Son to save it. We also fall into the trap that Jesus pointed out, that we spend so much time denouncing the sins of others that we fail to see our own sins. In fact, sometimes the denouncing itself becomes a sin—hypocrisy on the one hand, and lack of love on the other. So I agree with Saint Mark the Ascetic, who lived in the fifth century, that when we read those passages of scripture that deal with sin, we should apply them to ourselves and not to others. If we apply them to ourselves, we achieve humility and righteousness through Jesus’ blood and forgiveness, but if we apply them to others, we become the Pharisees that condemned our Lord.
I have on many occasions spoken about the Bible to groups who have been alienated from the church, demonstrating from the scriptures that they are not categorically condemned. In fact, I am fighting Pelagianism, the heresy that people can or must do meritorious acts or abstain from evil acts in order to make themselves worthy of salvation by faith. When I was done, they would scream and yell and jump up and down and shout that they were free! Then they would calm down and ask, “How do we live moral lives?” And I’d preach another two hours.
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
—Matthew 13:45-46, NIV
Jesus said that if a man finds a pearl of great price, he will sacrifice everything he has to purchase it. How true that is! Car salesman use this technique all the time. They get the customer obsessed with the joy of possessing the car, they get the customer to choose the color and the options, only then do they pull out the credit application. But the sons of God are not as wise as the sons of Mammon. Imagine if when you entered a car dealership, they made you fill out the paperwork and get approval from the bank before they’d even let you in the showroom! And yet that is how many “evangelize.”
If your dog is doing something bad, and you want him to drop it and come to you, yelling “bad dog” has the opposite effect of what you want. He cowers and hides from you. But if you entice him with something better, he comes, and if you praise him for coming, he comes all the quicker. This works for small children and sinners too.
So I believe in showing sinners the pearl. I know full well that when they see the pearl and when they see its value, they will give everything they have to possess it.
Jesus won the battle on the cross. The power of sin and death is broken. I can be soft on sin, if you want to put it that way, because righteousness is stronger. I could curse the darkness of sin, but then sinners would only think me a madman, because my cursing changes nothing, except the noise level. Or I could turn on the light of God! Then the darkness will flee.
One of my favorite prayers is what the Orthodox call the Jesus Prayer, which is designed to be repeated until it becomes part of your mind, your soul, and your being, like a song you can’t get out of your head. The prayer is simply:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
For I am a great sinner, and Jesus has extended me great mercy. I can’t begin to tell you how stupid and shortsighted and thoughtless and inconsiderate I’ve been, and how I regret, when in spite of my repentance, I turn to these sins again. The Jesus Prayer has become the background of my thoughts, and while it goes on in there, I consciously pray great prayers of repentance, and I have been transformed. I said I am a great sinner, but I used to be much worse. Yet I am not depressed or down, nor do I have negative thoughts about myself; only good thoughts about Jesus and His grace.
When I think I see lost people engaged in some dreadful sin, I realize a number of things. My idea of sin is not necessarily God’s idea of sin, and I am not the judge. If I invoke judgment upon others, I invoke it upon myself twofold, for judges are held to higher standards. And if God hates sin, He loves people even more, because He sent His Son to get rid of the sin and save the people. So I realize that I should not waste my time hating sin, but spend it loving people, in taking the beam out of my own eye, so I can remove splinters from others’ eyes, and above all, I should show people the pearl.
Let us put aside all hatreds, however righteous we think they are, and save the lambs for whom Christ died.