One of my favorite pastors Jonathan Martin of Renovatus Church in Charlotte, NC recently preached a sermon called “Don’t Stand Up For Jesus.” Listen to it here. His point was that Jesus can stand up for Himself. What we should be doing is standing with Jesus while He stands up for sinners as their advocate and intercessor, instead of thinking we have to “defend” Jesus by signing online petitions, saying we’re not going to take it anymore through our facebook status updates, or eating chicken sandwiches. Jonathan was responding to the tendency of Christians to get sucked into the never-ending, all-consuming argument in our society that we call the culture war. As Jonathan talked, I realized that the real battle in the culture war is not between liberals and conservatives, but between advocates and accusers. Those who take the side of Jesus join Him in His role as the advocate for sinners (1 John 2:1); those who take the side of Satan join him in his role as the accuser (Revelation 12:10). The battle between Jesus and Satan takes place on every side of the surface battle that we think is going on.
John 8:2-11 illustrates perfectly the type of stance that Jesus would take in our culture wars. The Pharisees brought him an adulteress who was caught in the act of the adultery. The Biblical law of Moses was clear. They were commanded to stone her to death. So they asked Jesus what they should do, knowing that He could not go against the Torah. Jesus’ famous response was to say, “You that are without sin cast the first stone.” So one by one, they walked away, and Jesus asked the woman who remained to condemn her, saying, “Neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.” Somebody will point out that Jesus’ lack of condemnation doesn’t mean he didn’t acknowledge her sin. That’s true, but she is given the means of being convicted by her sin precisely in his lack of condemnation for that sin.
That’s the amazing thing about grace. Our realization that God forgives our sins is how we discover we actually have sins that need to be forgiven. Accusation does not bring about conviction for sinful behavior. Accusation brings about defensiveness. When people are attacked for their behaviors or beliefs, they take consolation in their persecution, which becomes “injustice, ” regardless of whether it’s warranted or not. Then the question becomes whether the accuser is being self-righteous and judgmental. Of course there are circumstances in which personal sin has to be called out, but we are told in Matthew 18:15-20 to do this in private with great discretion.
The primary public stance that Christians should be taking is to tell people in the world that God loves them and has provided a means for us to live in authentic, richly meaningful community together. Sin should be dealt with inside the community of people who share the common presumption of God’s mercy that makes speaking the truth in love possible and productive. We should absolutely vote for our convictions in political elections. And I think we can speak out on our convictions publicly insofar as they are relevant to actual decision-making processes like city council meetings and so forth. But to spend all our time sharing articles and making snarky comments on the Internet in the never-ending, time-sucking meme war that has nothing to do with building the kingdom is a waste of God’s time (and yes, I’ve done it too).
What’s more relevant than whether or not we eat at Chick-Fil-A is whether or not we take pleasure in trashing other people. Satan, whose name means “accuser” in Hebrew, gets his power from our love of accusation. Accusation always begets more accusation. A world filled with accusers who are blind to their own sin and the mercy God has shown them is a world under the dominion of Satan. On the contrary, a world filled with people who stick up for the dignity of their ideological opponents is a world in which Satan is getting beaten up by love. Love is a much more compelling argument than the most ruthlessly impeccable logic. As Christians, our vocation is to love Satan out of the world in the same way that Jesus showed us. It wasn’t the sinners who crucified Jesus; it was the Pharisees whose purpose in living flawless lives was to gain the license to denounce and accuse others, the work of Satan.
There are accusers on every side of every argument. They are the ones who cannot share their own convictions without demonizing other people and making all sorts of cynical assumptions about their motives. Right now, there are a ton of liberal accusers who aren’t interested in understanding where Chick-Fil-A’s Cathy brothers are coming from in their passion for supporting marriage in a society filled with divorce. They’re just “bigots.” It’s a label that encompasses the whole of their identity and delegitimizes every kind, Christlike thing that they’ve ever done. There are also conservative accusers who cannot imagine what it feels like to be called an “abomination” for having an identity that you’ve genuinely wrestled with and agonized over for years until you finally come to the place of saying this is just who I am and I’m not going to repress it or hide it any longer. People who are advocates like Jesus don’t condone bigotry or any other sin. They simply realize that love is always the first step and arguing with people outside of a covenant disciple relationship is not the Biblical method for spiritual growth and sanctification from sin.
There’s definitely a place for public prophecy in confronting the sins of society, and I’m not always sure where the line falls between prophecy and accusation. But I do know that when Jesus was confronted with a sinner caught in the act of adultery, he took her side over her accusers. We should do likewise anytime we see people having their character assassinated, especially when they are ideological opponents, because “the insults that fall on [them] have fallen on [our savior]” (Romans 15:3). Paul offers a critically important distinction in 1 Corinthians 13:6, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” Yes, tell the truth, by all means. Speak truth to power. But don’t take pleasure in exposing other peoples’ evil, however legitimate, because when you delight in evil, you are doing the work of Satan. The loudest words that people should hear from Christians are not the accusations that the Accuser exploits to keep people eternally separated from God, but the invitation from our Advocate for sinners to come to His table and eat.
Morgan Guyton is the associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Burke, Virginia, and a Christian who continues to seek God’s liberation from the prison of self-justification Jesus died to help him overcome. Morgan’s blog “Mercy Not Sacrifice” is located at http://morganguyton.wordpress.com. Follow Morgan on twitter at https://www.twitter.com/maguyton.