Loving sinners comes both naturally and unnaturally to me. Having grown up in a Mennonite culture that was deeply insecure, I developed a heart for the socially unlovable because I knew what it was like to feel “unlovable.” But this same socially insecure culture was also self-righteous and quick to judge the outward behavior of others. On the one hand I learned to love people so they didn’t feel bad about themselves; on the other hand I judged anyone who sinned outwardly. Both are rooted in self rather than the glory of God.
Serving at our local detention centre and ministering to inmates is teaching me to love like Jesus loves. During my interview to become a volunteer, I was asked how I would respond in the following scenario:
There was pregnant woman serving time at the jail for a drug related charge. She herself was addicted to needles. In fact, she would insert her drugs into her abdomen, causing her unborn baby to get immediate access to the drug that she was injecting.
How would I respond?
I knew at that moment that I was incapable of loving these women on my own. I had been waiting for this day, waiting to minister to the women at the jail, but I hadn’t expected this. Over the next couple of days I earnestly prayed and asked the Lord to help me to love these prisoners and see them as God sees them.
God sees these women as broken and sinful women who need to be rescued through his love! As we serve, teach, preach and evangelize, we must never forget to not only love God’s Word but to also love actual people. No love = No effectiveness.
Our love for sinners must be based on truth, modelled after Christ and compelled out of a heart that has experienced God’s healing love! Here are some questions to ask yourself that will serve to make this personal:
1. Is my love based on the truth of the Gospel?
The truth is we all were prisoners to our own sin. But Christ came to set the captives free (Lk. 4:18). Christ has given us the ministry of reconciliation by declaring the Gospel (2 Cor. 5:18-21). That is a loving act.
2. Is my loved modelled after Christ?
Is my love sacrificial? Christ gave His life as a ransom and surrendered His will to the Father’s (Mt. 20:28 Mt. 26:39). How is God calling me to be sacrificial in my love to others? What area of my life do I need to surrender to the mission of God?
Is my love filled with compassion? Jesus showed compassion (Mt. 9:36), Jesus wept (Lk. 19:41), and Jesus loved broken people (Mk. 10:21). So ask yourself, “When was the last time I had compassion on or wept over the destiny of sinners?”
Is my love active? Jesus demonstrated his love by dying for us (Rm 5:8). How am I actively loving sinners?
3. Is my love compelled by God’s love for me?
We love because He first loved us (1 John 1:19). Am I overcome by the depth of God’s love for me, and if so, am I reaching the unlovable? Am I sharing Jesus with those who wouldn’t usually hear about Him?
We have been given the greatest mission: to bring glory to God by making disciples! Let’s do so by making this simple request: “Lord, help me to love because you have first loved me.”