“In the world but not of the world” is getting harder to do. As Western culture leaves its Judeo-Christian roots behind and adopts an all-inclusive, secular humanism, Christians find themselves wrenched painfully between judgmentalism and compromise. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” He called us to love sinners like He did and to strive to become as pure as He was. Those two paths seem to diverge in a murky wood sometimes.
God’s Son left all that was perfect to bring love and grace into the lives of hopeless sinners. That must be what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. He spent time with prostitutes and lavished His attention on the unjust and immoral. And He did this out of His great love for lost and hurting souls. When I have to draw lines, I think I am safest erring on the side of love, but it will take me a lifetime to learn to do that well.
On the other hand, Jesus, though tempted in all things as we are, never sinned in thought, word or deed. As grace has been emphasized in recent Christian thought — and rightly so — I’ve noticed a tendency to forget our equally beautiful calling to personal holiness. While I may not have the right to judge you, I am required to take a good, hard look at my own heart and hands, keeping them out of sin’s honeypots. This, too, is a lifelong journey.
So how do I set myself apart (which is the literal meaning of holiness) while taking the incarnational love of Christ to other sinners? James 1:27 encapsulates the dilemma: Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. I understand this to mean that I clean my own vessel, fill it with God’s grace and pour it out upon the world. But there are many practical situations which are not entirely solved by philosophy. As a fictional example, if my Wiccan neighbors, whom I have hosted in my home, invite me to their fertility festival, should I attend? I can imagine that there are sincere believers on each side of this question.
So for now, until God shows me something different – and I beg Him to do so if I am offending His majesty or obscuring His image – I will draw the line at participation. I will try to be my real self in relationships so that others know I am a Christ-follower, and I will do my best to love people where they are, to refrain from legalism, not to rant unsolicited against others’ choices (which is different from preaching, teaching or discussing God’s word with willing participants), to be open and approachable, to reflect Christ’s kindness, and to judge only myself. But when I am asked to participate in something which affronts my own conscience, I will politely, even lovingly, decline. If my time, my money or my presence would directly promote sin in my life or someone else’s, that’s where I will draw my line.
Where will you draw yours?