A Jesus kind of church (See an introductory post on this here) is called to represent God, just as Christ did. The church is Christ continuing to manifest the true God. Bonhoeffer put it this way, “The Church is not a religious community of worshippers of Christ but is Christ Himself who has taken form among men.” Hence, the church is called “the body of Christ” in the Bible. Living out this truth is the way we testify to a life that is free from judgmental accusation. Let’s consider three concrete ways that this is lived out:
God’s love is merciful; so must our love be. If even God does not hold his rightful knowledge of good and evil over us in judgment but rather loves us where we are, how much less can we who are sinners judge others, or even ourselves? How much more should we rather extend mercy and love to one another and to ourselves? We ourselves live before God only because we have had our shame clothed in mercy, not because we are covered in judgment.
God’s love is patient; so must ours be. God’s love does not start with an ethical ideal and then pronounce judgment. God doesn’t start where he wishes we were, condemning us for what we are not. God starts where we actually are and then pronounces hope and patiently and graciously loves us into becoming what we can be and what we, in fact, already are in Christ.
The body of Christ is to love mercifully and patiently. We are to accept people wherever they are and patiently love them and view them with hope. While we cannot ignore practical considerations of safety, we are to embrace people as they are, trust that the Spirit of God will use our love to lead them to a place closer to where God wants them to be. We are to love like this because this is how we ourselves are loved.
Finally, God’s love is accommodating; so must ours be. Unlike ethical principles, which are always abstract, universal, and idealistic, God’s love is always perfectly tailored to the complex uniqueness of each individual’s nonideal life situation in the present. When we live out our calling and embody God’s triune love, the church does the same thing. We do not live by our knowledge of ethical principles, however good and noble and true they may be. While we do not relativize ethical truths, we make them subservient to love. We love people where they are by following the leading of the Spirit, in the complexity and the uniqueness of their nonideal situations.
People who live by ethical principles cannot get close to people like prostitutes and tax collectors like Jesus did. Their judgment filters their relationships and keeps them from fully entering into the concreteness of another’s situation. They can only pronounce what such people ought to do and should have done.
God is merciful. God is patient. God is accommodating. How is the church doing?
—Adapted from Repenting of Religion, pg 178-179