“Just a bunch of Mexicans that should be shipped back to where they came from! They’re all illegal, here taking our money and sending it to Mexico. They just need to leave!”
“My goodness, the gays! These folk are demon possessed: men have a female demon and women have a male demon. They need deliverance. But I ain’t got time for them.”
“Can you believe some Muslims just moved next door? Things are gonna start getting bad around here. You can’t trust them because they’re surely up to something.”
“There were some foreigners in the grocery store the other day blacker than me—I mean b-l-a-c-k—and they’ve got the nerve to think they’re better than us.”
These were real comments I heard made by professing Christians that caused my heart to sink. I cannot understand why people who say they are Christians can feel so graceless and speak so ruthlessly about people with whom they should be sharing the love of Jesus. When I hear these kinds of comments coming from Christians, I’m tempted to go “Jesus vs. The Money Changers” crazy and shut everybody down. But enough is already written in their Bibles, which they are obviously not reading well.
Have you ever felt like one alone on an island in the middle of the ocean? I know there are a host of other Christians around me striving to walk in the fruit of the Spirit; however, the journey for me gets lonely sometimes when the faithful seem to cling to worldly notions more than taking their cues from Christ. I just don’t get why loving God and people is a Christian essential for me and not for everyone else.
Getting Down in the Pit
Maybe the question needs to be reworked. So let me start by addressing the two issues—homosexuality and xenophobia—in the comments above and use them in proxy to address the issue of loving others whoever they are.
Many Christians don’t know how to talk about homosexuality without feeling they must come down hard on it lest they be viewed as condoning. Yet the very ones who would claim they love everybody could never really have a friend who was gay, a person they could act the fool with, respect, and enjoy life together, because their own faith would be a jagged blade between them stabbing both ways.
I consider homosexual behavior sinful. But I also know that the deepest differences of opinion on any subject don’t necessarily have to divide. Christ’s approach was always toward the person. He understood that getting some people (of any habit) out of the rut might mean having to jump over into the slum with them and pulling them out. (No, I’m not advocating any type of gay therapy.) Why? It’s because people—those bearing the image of God—have primacy in the heart of God, and no distance is too greatly traversed to recover them. (I cover this topic in-depth in Communication Barriers Between Christians and Gays.)
It reads simply but is quite profound: We like to say that God loves the sinner and hates the sin, which is very true, but it doesn’t get us to what we need to see. Jesus shows us a God who chooses love for people over his contempt for sin. God, who is perfect love, hates sin with perfect disdain and yet his love for humankind is preferred to his love and need for justice. Thus, space is created for pardon, for redemption.
So for Christians, loving others with God’s heart is transforming to the one who receives it, and if that’s not happening, the problem is not with God.
As it relates to other cultures and people groups, Jesus was often criticized for associating with street people and those of the seedier side of society—and by those who felt they had a handle on their own righteousness. (Read “People of Your Kind!”) But Jesus’s message was broadly inclusive of everyone, especially the outsider.
It isn’t just the Great Commission where we are told to go to the four corners of the earth with the message. Jesus predicted (in Mark 12:1-12) a spiritual “fumble” that would bypass God’s chosen and bless the Gentile first in a way unintended. Further, in Christ’s final embodied scene in the Gospels, he instructs the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit—the one who would enable them to bridge the barriers of culture—and take his message, as if in ever-widening concentric circles, to Jerusalem (home), Judea and Samaria (city, state, nation), and to “the ends of the earth.”
Crux of the Matter
So I come to my reworked question: What made Jesus so approachable? And, he being God, why was it easy for him to mingle with sinners? It is more of that which we so desperately need. Moreover, why can’t all Christ followers see that loving God through people really is a Christian essential? What Christ shows me is that the faith God offers is amazingly well suited to human need. To say even this is an understatement, for God has made us to need him. It is a wonderful thing that is sorely missed by those who take the lesser road.
God needs us Christians to acquaint their Lord. Without intimacy we will not have God’s heart or understand his ways. We must live in the words of Christ, think through the scriptures, deliberate with our faith, and follow the Holy Spirit who reveals Christ perfectly. When we do, we’ll lend credibility to the Christian name and others will come to know the Lord, if only by observing that he truly dwells in us.