Jesus called us to love God and to love our neighbor. These are the summation of God’s commands for us. Yet putting them to practice can be difficult. This can be particularly tough because our neighbors are sinners often involved with sinful lifestyles. How do we love our neighbor without condoning his sin? How do we love a homosexual while at the same time standing strong on the biblical view against homosexuality? These are tough questions that have been answered in a host of ways. A recent article by Brandon Ambrosing in the Atlanta, “Being Against Gay Marriage Doesn’t Make You a Homophobe,” contains some valuable insight. The author is a gay man who argues that one can oppose gay marriage for religious or secular reasons and still not be a bigot. He goes on to write:
To me, recognizing the distinction between opposing gay marriage and opposing gay people is a natural outgrowth of an internal distinction: When it comes to my identity, I take care not to reduce myself to my sexual orientation. Sure, it’s a huge part of who I am, but I see myself to be larger than my sexual expression: I contain my gayness; it doesn’t contain me. If it’s true that my gayness is not the most fundamental aspect of my identity as Brandon, then it seems to me that someone could ideologically disapprove of my sexual expression while simultaneously loving and affirming my larger identity.
I find this quote to be particularly useful. The old adage, “love the sinner-hate the sin” seems appropriate here. Ambrosing is saying that homosexuals are more than the expression of their sexuality. His conclusion is that someone may disapprove of his homosexuality and yet still love him. Ambrosing probably doesn’t recognize it but his argument finds support in the Bible.
It may be helpful to break it down a little further to see what the Bible teaches on the doctrine of man. The doctrine of man teaches that God is the creator of every person and that humans have a sinful nature because of the fall. Understanding these two points will help us determine how we can be obedient to all of Christ’s commandments.
First, we must understand that God is the creator of all humans. Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’ … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” What does it mean to be be made in the image of God. It does not mean that man is made to physically resemble God. God is spirit and therefore man can not physically resemble God. It also does not mean that men are gods. Answers in Genesis(AIG) along with other Christian thinkers through time have thought of this image as a bestowing upon man some of the divine attributes. Prof. J. Rendle-Short of AIG writes
The main impact of the image is that God endues man with some of his divine attributes, thereby separating and making him different from the beasts. What are these special Godlike qualities which man is permitted to share? I shall mention six: language, creativity, love, holiness, immortality and freedom.
Others have offered a different take on this. They have postulated that the image of God means that man is to be God’s representative on earth. Thus man is to be a reflective image of God for the world. This places the emphasis on man’s responsibilities. John Piper after surveying the different views comes to the most honest conclusion, that the text does not give a complete answer to the question. Piper does offer this definition: The imago Dei is that in man which constitutes him as he-whom-God-loves.
Never the less, the most important thing for our discussion is that man is the creation of God described as the image of God. This bestows a great amount of dignity upon human life. Later in Genesis this is codified when God tells Noah “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” Murder is wrong because it destroys what God created in his own image.
God also bestows people with gifts and talents. He does this to his good pleasure. This concept is called common grace. Common Grace is what allows people of all races and genders to be able to accomplish a lot of good things. It is often through the lives of non-believers that God works to bring about human flourishing. In Genesis, the sinful descendents of Cain are the ones who are described inventing animal husbandry and music among other things. Gays, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists can and have contributed to many genuinely good things. People have a unique value and dignity because they are creations of a loving and giving God. Going back to the Atlantic article, this allows us to be able to love and affirm the larger identify of all people because they are created in God’s image.
The second thing that must also be simultaneously understood is that humans are fallen sinful creatures. We all are born with a sinful nature inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve. This means that while non-believers may accomplish genuinely good things they operate from sinful motives and a sinful nature. People do sinful things that are an affront to the image they were created to be. Mankind is in rebellion against its Creator. If it were not for God’s common grace then man would never be able to accomplish anything good. The fact that mankind has not already destroyed itself is a testament to God’s goodness. Because men have sinful natures they are in need of a new nature. They are in need of savior who will take the punishment of their sin and give them a heart that will allow them to complete their purpose as the image of God. The Bible teaches that everyone must repent of their sin and turn to God.
This full understanding of human nature will have a massive impact in how we love. Without this understanding as a foundation and desire to follow the Bible, there is no way for someone to be able to accurately define what love is. (This understanding of human nature will also have an impact on our view of government and economics which I have written on here and here)
Some Christians have been and may still be guilty of having an imbalanced view of mankind. The danger lies in putting too much emphasis on either point. When their view becomes out of balance the Christian will no longer be able to love another person as God would have us to. They will end up with something they may call love but is not love at all.
One problem that Christians have had is to put too much focus on the sinful nature of humans. This has led many to have a very dim view of others. It can lead to self-righteousness and a judgmental heart. When we begin to see others as only sinners we will then begin to see them as enemies. Other people begin to become nothing more than obstacles to overcome. We then become in danger of finding nothing worth of love in others. It is easy to see how this imbalance can lead to hate instead of love.
The other side of the coin leads to the same place. When we neglect to realize that others are sinners in need of a savior we neglect to truly love them. We begin to idolize others or worse we begin to celebrate their sin. We can also take an approach that is blind to the harm that sin causes others. We remain hands off and neglect to call others to repentance in Christ. By staying quite, we can become complicit in not only allowing but encouraging others to continue to sin. Sin is evil and will lead to the destruction of those we are called to love. I can think of nothing more hateful then to stand by quietly while watching others destroy themselves. This is often called love but it is nothing more than hatred.
A proper balance between the two important points will help us to love our neighbors. Love will push us to speak out against the destructive power of sin while at the same time being able to truly find value in those same people. We can as Brandon Ambrosing wrote be able to disapprove of homosexuality without being homophobes. We can acknowledge where our unbelieving friends and acquaintances do good things and affirm their identity as a creation of God. Acknowledging that we all made in the image of God, will allow us to truly love each other because we will by loving God’s creation be loving God. By doing this we will be obedient to the two most important commandments.