By Lisa Bevere
Walk into most churches nowadays and you will likely hear a message of love, hope, encouragement, and identity. And all that is good and well. After decades of overly harsh messages, the pendulum has naturally swung to the other side—but have we swung it too far? Are we so set on being seeker-friendly that we neglect what it means to be a true friend to those walking through our doors?
The mistake we made in previous decades was to tell the truth in ways that weren’t always loving. The answer to this is not to shrink back from speaking truth. It is to learn to speak the truth in love.
Jesus was certainly a friend of sinners—and we should be too—but it’s time we reassess what being a friend actually looks like. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, expect my friends to tell me the truth. I don’t want them to bash me over the head with it, but I do want them to tell me the things I need to hear in a loving way.
We’ve all been given truth without love at times. It doesn’t feel good. Truth without love is mean—but love without truth is meaningless. We need both. And when we look at Jesus, we see these two qualities on full display. He is the God who so loved the world, the One who is Himself the very nature of love, yet He is also the truth (John 14:6).
Consider the example of the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8.
She is exposed in her sin and is surrounded by her self-righteous accusers who want to stone her. Most of us know the story. Jesus reaches down and writes something mysterious in the sand. Then he stands up and says to those condemning her, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, beginning with the older ones, her accusers begin to turn away. And then comes the moment of beautiful grace we’re all familiar with. Jesus turns to her and says, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She responds, “No one, sir.” And He says, “Then neither do I condemn you.”
What an amazing embodiment of love and grace and beauty all wrapped up into this potent moment. The God of eternity reached down into the dust of our existence and transformed it with a single touch.
But if Jesus had the attitude of most churches today, that’s where the story would end. Thankfully, it doesn’t. His love for us extends well beyond that.
As beautiful as the words “then neither do I condemn you” are, His next words are equally charged with grace, love, and truth.
He tells her, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Why? Because He knows she’s been looking for life in places she can’t find it. Because He knows she’s been trying to drink from cracked, dry cisterns that can’t touch her thirst for more. Because He sees the broken ways of living she’s embraced and is inviting her to leave them behind. Because His desire for her is that she run fully in the identity He created her for, and He knows she’s been living far below it. He sees the pain her choices have caused in her life and in the lives of others, and He has much better things in store.
Do you see this? This call is an invitation to more, and it’s breathtakingly BEAUTIFUL. You see, Jesus loves us where we are but he never leaves us where we are. He calls us into life.
My question is, as a church, are we doing the same?
When I look at the body of Christ at large, we are eerily silent on so many things that are wreaking havoc in people’s lives—things like same-sex attraction, hypocrisy, gossip, self-identification, slander, moral relativism, gender confusion, greed, abortion, pornography, and more. Is this what truly loving people equates to—silence?
Would we rather risk leaving someone in bondage and shame than saying something in love that may temporarily offend or discomfort them? Have we confused loving people unconditionally with blindly approving of their actions? Do we believe God’s Word still speaks to these things? It is not God’s Word that is silent on the controversial topics of our day—it’s us. And the hard truth is that we are not truly loving people the way Jesus did if we shy back from the truth in the name of love. Jesus never did that. His love runs so much deeper.
Beloved, let’s be like Jesus—full of compassion, yet uncompromising in truth. May we never cease to declare with boldness the unchanging, constant, unconditional, infinite, undeserved, adamant love of God—but let’s remember that love always calls us out of brokenness into something better.
Let’s never forget that the same Jesus who says, “Neither do I condemn you,” says, “Go and leave your life of sin.” He doesn’t just forgive our sins and remove our shame. He sets us free from sin’s tyrannical rule in our lives and invites us into life as He intended for us. God, in His adamant love for us, won’t settle for anything less.
We shouldn’t either.
Lisa Bevere is a New York Times bestselling author and internationally known speaker. Her previous books, which include Fight Like a Girl, Lioness Arising, Girls with Swords, and Without Rival, are in the hands of millions worldwide. Lisa and her husband John are the founders of Messenger International, an organization committed to developing uncompromising followers of Christ who transform their world. Bevere has spent more than two decades empowering women of all ages to find their identity and purpose. Her latest book, Adamant: Finding Truth in a Universe of Opinions, released nationwide on April 17, 2018.