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Enjoying God Blog

Let me begin with a confession: I’ve never seen a single episode of either the Bachelor or the Bachelorette. And I don’t intend to. That’s no judgment on you who do watch the show (but now that we’re at it, why do you watch it?). It’s simply a way of saying that if I have misunderstood or misinterpreted what actually happened on the episode in question, it’s because I never actually saw it. My information is based on an article that appeared last week on a Christian news site.

According to the article, a bachelor named Luke informs the bachelorette, Hannah, what he believes about sex outside of marriage. Although he confesses he’s not a virgin, he makes it clear that from now on he is committed to abstaining from sex until he is married. And he informs Hannah that if she has been physically intimate with any of the other contestants, he would withdraw from the show.

Hannah is also a “professing Christian.” But she takes offense at Luke’s comments. She admits that she has had “physical relations” with some of the other contestants but declares, confidently, that “Jesus still loves her.”

She then proceeds to say: “Regardless of anything that I've done, I can do whatever; I sin daily and Jesus still loves me. It's all washed and if the Lord doesn't judge me and it's all forgiven, then no other man, woman [or] anything can judge me.” Again, “Nobody's gonna judge me, I won't stand for it.” According to the promotional clip for the show, Hannah “flips off” Luke as he is leaving.

What are we to make of this? My guess is that most people watching the show probably think that Luke is a prude, a legalistic, self-righteous Pharisee who has failed to grasp what “freedom” in Christ really means. I have no way of knowing anything about this man, but my concern is the perspective on the Christian life displayed by Hannah. I hope and pray that I have misunderstood her comments. Perhaps you who watch the show will set me straight.

Is it true that when we sin “Jesus still loves” us? Yes, of course. His love is unwavering. All of us sin. It may not be sexual in nature, but we sin in countless other ways. And we are indescribably grateful for the compassion, love, and forgiveness that we have in Jesus when we do.

But is Hannah’s way of thinking truly “Christian”? Are we free to minimize our sin based on the fact that “Jesus still loves us”? There is no way I can be certain if Hannah is actually justifying her sin based on her belief that Jesus still loves her (or even if she believes her behavior constitutes sin). I pray that isn’t the case. Still, to say or think, “It doesn’t matter if I choose to sin sexually over and over again, because Jesus loves me,” is not the perspective presented in the NT.

I was also troubled by her statement, “I can do whatever.” Again, I can’t be certain what she intended by this, but it sounds as if she is asserting her freedom to behave in any way she sees fit. She is under the moral authority of no one. Only her personal will dictates what she “can” or “should” do. True Christian freedom, on the other hand, is the joy of doing “whatever” Jesus commands us to do, not “whatever” we might prefer.

How much better and more biblical it would have been had Hannah said: “It is precisely because Jesus loves me and has forgiven me of all my sin that I am determined, by his grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit, to walk in sexual purity and to defy the promptings of my flesh.”

The Apostle Paul made the stunning declaration that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). Some immediately concluded from this that we are then free “to continue in sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1), to which Paul loudly responded: “By no means!” (Rom. 6:2a). Indeed, “how can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2b). I fear that Hannah’s reasoning is tragically backwards. She appears to conclude from Jesus’ love for her that she is free to fornicate with impunity. She rather casually dismisses Luke’s perspective as judgmental and self-righteous.

But would not the born-again heart say in response to Luke: “You know, you’re right. It was wrong of me to presume upon the grace and love of Christ in this way. When I think of the magnitude of his sacrifice for me on the cross, and when I remember Paul’s words that Jesus ‘gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works’ (Titus 2:14), I can’t bear the thought that I would so readily and repeatedly give myself over to sexual immorality. Lord, please help me resist this temptation. Give me strength to live consistently with the truth that you died for me so that I might not live as the world does. I want to honor you with my body. Yes, Lord, I sinned. And I thank you and praise you that you are a forgiving God. Let the truth of my forgiveness energize my soul to say No to sinful passions.”

Some of you may think I’m being unduly harsh on Hannah. Maybe I am. Maybe she is truly born-again after all. Perhaps she has simply misunderstood the call to holiness that God issues to each of his beloved children. Let’s be honest. All of us do, at one time or another. That being said, my point here is simply to alert us to the profound inconsistency in claiming to be among the “beloved” of God at the same time we appeal to that glorious reality to casually dismiss, perhaps even justify, our continuance in willful rebellion.

Am I suggesting that God’s people are capable of attaining sinless perfection in this life? No, of course not. I’m constantly reminded of what John writes in his first epistle:

“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:6-10).

Praise God for his immutable love! Praise him for his longsuffering and forgiving grace! Praise God for the fact that when we do sin, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

And may those incredible, majestic truths of his love, mercy, and grace impel us to holiness, to repentance, to a commitment that by the power of the indwelling Spirit we will live in obedience to his commands, all to his glory.

I can only hope that this is what Hannah had in mind when she spoke of her “physical relationships” with several men she had only recently met. I pray that her heart was broken by the reality of having dishonored the One who loves us and gave himself for us. I pray that this realization of such remarkable love for hell-deserving sinners will guide her steps and guard her heart from falling back into the sinful ways from which Jesus died to deliver us.

Ah, but what of Hannah’s declaration: “Nobody's gonna judge me, I won't stand for it.” She likely had in mind Matthew 7:1 – “Judge not, that you be not judged.” People use this text to denounce any and all who venture to criticize or expose the sins, shortcomings, or doctrinal aberrations of others. One dare not speak ill of homosexuality, adultery, gossip, cheating on your income tax, fornication, abortion, non-Christian religions, humanism, etc. without incurring the wrath of multitudes who are convinced that Jesus said that we shouldn’t judge one another.

Many would have us believe that this verse demands that we never exercise ethical discernment in our evaluation of others, indeed that we never evaluate others at all. We are told we must always manifest complete and uncritical tolerance toward every conceivable lifestyle or belief, Hannah’s included.

The irony, of course, is that in judging us for judging others they are themselves violating the very commandment to which they want to hold us accountable! To insist that it is wrong to pronounce others wrong for embracing a particular belief or moral practice is itself an ethical position, a moral stand. To insist on uncritical tolerance of all views is extremely intolerant of those who embrace a different perspective.

Stott reminds us that “our Lord’s injunction to ‘judge not’ cannot be understood as a command to suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people, to turn a blind eye to their faults (pretending not to notice them), to eschew all criticism and to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil” (Christian Counter Culture, 175).

That Jesus was not forbidding us from expressing our opinion on right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsity, can be demonstrated by noting two factors: the immediate context and the rest of the NT teaching on judging.

Let’s start with the immediate context. Virtually all of the Sermon on the Mount both preceding and following this text is based on the assumption that we will (and should) use our critical powers in making ethical and logical judgments. Jesus has told us to be different from the world around us, to pursue a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees (because theirs is a “bad” or inadequate righteousness), to do “more” than what unbelievers would do (because what they do isn’t enough, another judgment), to avoid being like the hypocrites (now there’s a word of judgment if ever I saw one!) when we give, pray, and fast, etc. “But how can we possibly obey all this teaching unless we first evaluate the performance of others and then ensure that ours is different from and higher than theirs?” (Stott, 176).

Not only this, but immediately following this word of exhortation in 7:1 Jesus issues two more commands: don’t give what is holy to dogs or pearls to pigs (again, powerfully critical words of judgment!), and beware of false prophets (there it is again!). “It would be impossible to obey either of these commands without using our critical judgment. For in order to determine our behavior toward ‘dogs’, ‘pigs’ and ‘false prophets’ we must first be able to recognize them, and in order to do that we must exercise some critical discernment” (Stott, 176). Furthermore, such critical judgments can only be made if there is an absolute standard against which such behavior can be measured.

As for the rest of the NT, I simply direct your attention to such texts as Matt. 18:15-17; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 5:3; Gal. 1:8; Phil. 3:2 (where Paul refers to his enemies as “dogs, evil workers, false circumcision”!); Titus 3:10-11; 1 John 4:1-4; 2 John 9-11; 3 John 9-10; and especially John 7:24 where Jesus himself says, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

What, then, does Jesus mean in Matthew 7:1-6? It would appear that Jesus is prohibiting that sort of judgmental criticism which is self-righteous (in that we think we are wholly free of the sin which we so readily see in others), hyper-critical (in that it often is excessive and beyond what is necessary to achieve the end in view), and destructive (in that it does not edify or restore but tears down the person whom we attack). He is prohibiting that sort of judgment which we pass on others not out of concern for their spiritual health and welfare but solely to parade our alleged righteousness before men. Jesus is not prohibiting loving rebuke and constructive criticism, but rather self-serving censoriousness.

To sum up, “the command to judge not is not a requirement to be blind, but rather a plea to be generous. Jesus does not tell us to cease to be men (by suspending our critical powers which help to distinguish us from animals) but to renounce the presumptuous ambition to be God (by setting ourselves up as judges)” (Stott, 177).

But we must not stop with v. 1, for Jesus has much more to say on this subject in the verses that follow. The reason he gives for not judging others in a self-righteous and censorious manner is that “with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (7:2). When we set up a standard to which others must conform, we are no less obliged to keep it than they are. That is why humility and love must govern our judgments. All criticism must be preceded by confession. Before we point out a fault in others let us first confess its presence in our own lives.

Thus, far from forbidding all criticism and rebuke, Jesus actually commands it in v. 5. What he opposes is judgment that precedes rather than follows self-examination. “Again, it is evident that Jesus is not condemning criticism as such, but rather the criticism of others when we exercise no comparable self-criticism; nor correction as such, but rather the correction of others when we have not first corrected ourselves” (Stott, 179. See Gal. 6:1; Ps. 51:10-13).

I sincerely pray that my response to Hannah’s comments and behavior is not borne of a scintilla of self-righteousness or from a failure on my part to acknowledge that I, too, am a sinner saved by grace. I pray that I have written this from a sincere confession that I am as equally hell-deserving as she, and that my only hope (and her only hope) is in the love of Christ who died to set me free from both the guilt and practice of selfish, sinful conduct. May God continue to have mercy upon us all!

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