Jesus said in Luke 6:32, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”
Christianity is filled with words that are profound in their true significance, yet are over simplified for various reasons. Some of these reasons are valid and need no chastisement. More often than not though, these over-simplified definitions, good for sabbath school classes, doctrinal teaching, and evangelistic sharing, at times lead us to stop digging and thus stop discovering. Jesus has pushed our minds on a word such as this in Luke 6 with the word “sinner.”
Here Christ describes a sinner as someone capable of love. A sinner loves people. People who are estranged from God CAN love, and Do love. As the Lord goes on, we learn that a sinner is capable of doing good and in fact does do good. A sinner lends to others, even other sinners. This seems to fly in the face of our “total depravity” approach sometimes in trying to get people to see that they are sinners.
Indeed, I, having been on the other end of the gospel message, remember how pounded it felt to hear some of the things preachers would say to “convict,” my soul of sin. But the painting of their preaching colored something that seemed foreign to my own experience.
They painted a portrait of humanity that I found untrue to some extent in my own life and the lives of others. I loved my mom. I would die for my brother. I unselfishly gave to my best friend. (And maybe someone will be quick to say, “there are too many “I”‘s in those statements…that’s the problem…) I believe that even in evangelistic outreach we run up against souls, who see their need of Jesus, but just have that nagging itch inside that says, “but I’m not at that place of desperation.” We will be quick to play the “you’re resisting the Spirit” card or “walk while you have the light” card. But I think this nagging stems from a failure to acknowledge what even Jesus acknowledged: Sinners love. Sinners do good. Sinners lend.
But, what makes a sinner a sinner is not that he or she cannot love, lend, or do good at all; it is who a sinner will not love, not lend to, and not do good at all. Their enemies. Those who hate them. Those who persecute them. Those who despitefully abuse them. Those who mingle among them for mischief and mockery. The talebearers of their vices and failures.
A sinner cannot love them. A sinner will not. Ask your unbelieving friend(s) who has hurt them the most? Who despises them? Who has gossiped bitterly about them? And then say, “You should love them.” “You should lend to them hoping for nothing in return.” “You should do good to them.” “You should be merciful.”
Then you will see a sinner. Not a loveless being. But a love-ish being. Someone who can only love those who love him. Some will rush to say, “conditional lover.” I concede to this title as the text suggests that everyone a sinner loves, does good by, lends to, has the same to offer her and indeed has offered it and given it. (One would think sinners would have no problem loving God for that matter! But that is for the next blog post.)
Jesus says that God is not a sinner or even like them. The Most High is kind to the unthankful and evil. Those who do not love Him back, or do Him good, or lend anything to Him expecting nothing in return. Thus, a sinner is a soul that does not love as God loves. A son of Adam, alienated by his own nature, who has forgotten how to love as He was created to love. A sinner is not a non-church member, or someone who just breaks the rules or transgresses the law. A sinner is someone who simply loves those who love him. The evidence that we have passed from death to life, from sinner to saved, from wicked to righteous is our ability to love those who do us no good, give us no love, and lend us only in hopes of return.
Indeed, this is what makes the cross defining. Defining in its revelation of God. Jesus died in the place and at the time when most human beings around Him hated Him, despised Him, abused Him, and did Him no good. The cross reveals to us that we are sinners. That we are reverent at his death but repulsed at repeating it. Repeating it when we take a gift to the person who abused us while they rot in prison. Repeating it when we embrace the father that was never there and honor him. Repeating it when we speak well of the friend who back-stabbed us so effortlessly and without remorse. So much so that if souls in the church or outside did not get it on the cross in the bible, they will get it through our lives. And repetition deepens impression.