In their song, “Sawmill Road,” Diamond Rio reminisces about the past, lamenting that innocence went out of style, and we just watched it go.
Too often these days, I feel the truth of that statement. In an effort to be politically correct, we have forsaken not only morality but even decency in our misguided efforts to avoid giving offense or to simply appear “cool.”
Could our failures come from a lack of understanding of the true nature of love? Jesus tells us that the whole of the commandments can be summed up in two objectives: first, love God above all things, and second, love others as you yourself want to be loved.
Too many of us make the mistake of thinking love means putting no restraints on others, that if we really love someone, we will let them just be themselves. But the love God models for us just doesn’t work that way. The freedom God gives us in love is to choose to do right, to choose to stay in relationship with Him, where the only true peace on this earth can be found. That also means we have the choice to disobey God, to take ourselves out of relationship with Him because of our sin. That choice usually brings about very unpleasant consequences. God’s love means letting us experience those things, too.
Choices that go against what God clearly asks of us disrespect our Maker and put us out of close relationship with Him. We all make these mistakes at some point in life, which is why we all need grace to save us. But, when we continually make choices that show God we do not actually love Him or even want anything to do with Him, we have to be aware that eventually He may just give us what we ask for. Is it possible that hell is not so much fire and brimstone but a reality in which there is no God?
For God, love is not never having to say you’re sorry. His word repeatedly reminds us that a loving father disciplines his children, that God will humble a proud spirit, that He alone determines not only how the tides ebb and flow but also the rights and wrongs of a world He alone created.
We humans too often mistake freedom of choice for a license to be free. God has gifted us with the will to choose to serve Him. But that free will does not negate the straight and narrow path that God has defined as the true sign of walking by faith. Our freedom to do whatever we feel like is really limited to the narrow choice between following God or refusing to accept Him as Master.
What does God-love do with sinners? One of the best examples comes from Jesus’ experience with the adulteress in John 8. The spiritual leaders in the town want to stone the woman who has been caught in adultery. They are within their rights according to Mosaic law, but they want to catch Jesus in a trap. So, they ask Him what they should do. He replies, let the person who is guiltless himself throw the first stone. Since no one is without sin, the crowd disperses without lifting so much as a pebble. Jesus tells the woman He will not condemn her for her one sin, but He tells her to go forth and sin no more.
There are several love lessons in this interlude. The first is that God alone has the right to condemn. This does not mean that God alone has the ability to recognize sin. Not only did the spiritual leaders know the sin committed by the adulteress. They also knew the sins they themselves were guilty of, the sins that kept them from picking up the first stone. The responsibility for not sinning falls on the shoulders of the individual. Jesus tells the woman, “Go, and sin no more.” Having been forgiven this sin, the woman is now tasked with refusing to fall into the trap of that sin ever again.
God loves the sinner but hates the sin, a balancing act we humans find hard to accommodate at times. We don’t quite know how to speak out against sins like adultery without giving offense to the adulterer. Sometimes, we take the risk and wind up making enemies because our listener hears only condemnation and not love. Other times, we remain silent and leave the impression that actions that actually go against God are somehow OK.
When I live my life right, I am so busy keeping my thoughts on God and the ways that He wants me to make a mark on this world through helping others, that I am too caught up in living Christ to find time for judging other people. When I do these things correctly, I am also reflecting the kind of peace and “togetherness” that draws other people. They want to know what it is about me that makes me who I am. I become a living example for them of the importance of Christ in one’s life. When they decide to accept Christ, He does the work in them that will keep them from sin, just like He works on me every day of my life.
Trusting God to do the heavy lifting in this life is one of the hardest things for me to do, and yet when I succeed in embracing this philosophy, my life is always at its best. I pray to remember this lesson the next time I am confronted by those who want me to accept choices that go against God’s definition of right.