I walked into my local gym wanting to grow my muscles. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be growing my faith while in a building full of bodybuilders, track stars, and models in-training. However, I quickly made friends with the employees at the front desk, which was the beginning of a lesson God is still teaching me to this day.
Living in Sin
One of my favorite parts of going to the gym was talking to “Billy.” Billy was funny, kind to me, and hyped me up when I told him I was going to go on a first date with my now boyfriend. Soon, I considered him a friend rather than just an everyday acquaintance.
Before long, it became clear to me that Billy was living in sin, the sort of sin most Christians consider a blatant, rebellious lifestyle. Truthfully, though, I do not like the phrase “living in sin.” Don’t we all kind of live in sin? Isn’t that why Jesus came to earth? But Billy was living in a sin that kept him from wanting to get to know Jesus instead of pushing him into the redemptive and loving arms of the Father.
My heart ached for my friend. And I wanted nothing more than to see him follow Jesus. But, every time we would have a conversation, I felt stuck between either approving of Billy’s sin or making him think I was judging him. So I began praying that God would show me how to love Billy without loving and condoning his sin. I needed practical tools for how to eat with a sinner but make him realize, through kindness, that his lifestyle wasn’t pleasing to God. How could I let him know—without pushing him away—that a godly lifestyle is where ultimate freedom and purpose are fulfilled?
Who is This About?
This is a lesson that I still am learning today. In the pursuit of loving others, I fear that I let my values become discreet and that, in essence, I water down my faith. But in blatantly saying that I disagree, I fear I will be seen as judgmental. That’s the thing, though; it’s not about me. It’s not about how people see me or what they think of me. It’s about how they see Jesus and what they think of Him.
I’ve learned that the first step to loving those it is hard to love, or loving those whose lifestyles make us uncomfortable, is to love God. Mark 12:29 says that “Jesus replied, ‘The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these”. Jesus tells us here that we must first love Him if we want to love others, and we know how to love since He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Through knowing the Author of love, we can know how to love those who are complicated, traumatized, ignorant, bitter, nonchalant, and, in short, simply hard to love.
Think of it this way, Jesus loves every human. Every. Single. Human. Despite the different love languages, experiences, cultures, etc. Jesus perfectly loves us all in the unique way we need love. So, I think it is safe to say that loving Jesus will mirror His unique love for anyone and everyone.
Knowing What to Love and What to Hate
Another thought I had while discerning how to interact with Billy was to remember that I was called to love him, not his sin. Romans 12:9-10 says, “Don’t pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other”. If I wanted to truly love Billy as I am called to do, I was required to hate what was wrong. Billy knew I followed the Lord, and as an ambassador for Christ, I had to love what was just and hate what was wrong.
This friendship was full of awkward conversations where I tried not to comment on or dodge conversations that accentuated sin. And I failed a lot. But I pray that God used me as water to a seed in Billy’s walk towards Christ.
Loving people and hating sin is something I still struggle to navigate. But I know two things for sure. First, when I love the Lord and walk according to His will and Word, I will not be misdirected. Second, loving people is, by far, one of the most fulfilling aspects of this life. So, love God and follow Him wholeheartedly. He will lead you to those who need your love, and He will direct you on how to love them, even in your imperfect attempts.
For those who are intimidated by the gray areas, by engaging with those who live sinful lifestyles that make you feel awkward or uncomfortable, know that you aren’t alone as you think, “Ugh, I have no idea what to say… and I’m not even sure I want to say anything at all.” Evangelism is tough stuff. However, don’t shy away from extending Jesus’ love to others simply because they don’t look, think, dress, or believe as you do. (Also note that sometimes, appearances are deceiving, as Proverbs 31:30 reminds us.)
Don’t be so afraid of failing at witnessing to their hearts that you stay away from them completely, dodging the mere sight of their outlandish fashion or head-to-toe tattoos. You see, that’s what Satan wants. He wants to control you with the fear of failure or the threat of being uncomfortable, so you never show God’s love and light to a dark, hurt, lonely world.
Don’t let the enemy win. Think of the sinner, their soul at stake, above your comfortability. Let love defeat sin.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Dayne Topkin
Olivia Lauren is a graduate student passionate about Scripture, particularly the Book of Romans showcasing God’s grace. Outside her studies, she enjoys teaching her dog new tricks and finding quicker ways to silence the smoke alarm after trying a new recipe.