Should We Condemn Unbelievers For Their Own Good?
We are to have faith that what God says about himself in Christ is true, what God says about us in Christ is true, and what God says about others in Christ is true. So whatever the appearances may be, we are to have faith that God is working in others to do what only God can do. This means that we must never condition our love and acceptance of people with judgment about how much or how little progress they are making in their relationship with God.
Conditioning our love and acceptance of people on the basis of our judgment reveals that we don’t believe what God says about them or that God is working in their lives. Since “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23), we should in this case be concerned with the tree trunk of sin in our own life rather than trying to fix the sin we think we perceive in others’ lives.
We should focus on what God commands us to do rather than speculating about the extent to which others are or are not doing what God has commanded them to do. When we try to detach ourselves and critically evaluate the progress of others, we act as though we are their masters, and we thereby disobey God (Matt 7:1-5, Rom 14:4).
This also applies to people who haven’t yet surrendered their lives to Christ. They, too, must be unconditionally embraced and invited into the celebration of the cessation of the banishment from communion with God. Indeed, our unconditional, loving embrace is the central way these people are to come to know we are disciples of Christ. They encounter the reality of Jesus Christ as they experience his love through us (Jn 17:20-26). Though they cannot see God, they experience his love as it is manifested through us (1 Jn 4:12). Our outrageous love becomes a puzzle to them for which Jesus Christ is the only adequate explanation.
But doesn’t such an unconditionally loving approach to sinners make light of sin? As Bonhoeffer asked, “Does not the evil in the other person make me condemn him just for his own good, for the sake of love?” The answer, according to Bonhoeffer, is a decisive no. Indeed, just the opposite is the case.
We radically trivialize sin when we make it a matter of more or less. We undermine its absolute seriousness when we allow for supposed “holier” people to love “less holy” people conditionally, based on “holier” people’s own judgment and according to their own standards. Sin is only taken seriously when we realize that, apart from Christ, we are all in the same septic tank of condemnation together. It is taken seriously only when we realize that sin has been irrevocably exposed, condemned, and overcome on the cross. And we repeat this condemnation of sin and confess our conviction about its absolute seriousness every time we love others as Christ has loved us—unconditionally, despite our sin.
Regardless of whether people are believers or not, and regardless of how things may appear, we are called to unconditionally embrace them with Christ’s love and trust that God is at work in their lives, despite their sin, just as he is in our own lives.
—Adapted from Repenting of Religion, pages 213-214