When you take the time and energy to consider “What Jesus would say to [person A, B, or C]” please also take the time and energy to consider the circumstances and context under which he would say those things. Based on the way the Bible shows Jesus dealing with sinful people, I shy away from thinking that he would be using social media to call them out.
There is NO written account of Jesus publicly shaming someone for their sin, or calling them out on it before the multitudes. When Jesus approached a broken woman whose life was marred by sin, he met her while she was alone at the well. He shared an intimate moment with her. He offered her acceptance and hope. In that private moment, he loved her well and called her to repentance. Only then did she race to tell everyone what Jesus had done for her. (John 4) Another time, Jesus set out to change the life of Zacchaeus, a well-known tax collector. Zacchaeus was waiting in a tree hoping to spot Jesus in a crowd when Jesus walked right up to him and called him down from the tree. But he didn’t call him down harshly or begin by addressing his sin. Instead, he invited himself over! Zacchaeus was so moved that he gave half of his money to the poor and repaid all of his stolen money fourfold. (Luke 19) Even in the very famous story in John 8, when in the presence of Jesus an adulterous woman’s sin is brought to light, Jesus responds only with grace and love. As the crowd gathers to stone her, Jesus shifts the focus away from her individual sin and calls each to examine his own heart. “Okay,” he says, “let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” One by one her accusers disperse and Jesus, left alone with this woman who is broken and terrified, offers her hope. He reminds her that he is not there to accuse her either, and lifting her from the dirt he charges her to “Go and sin no more.” You see, he doesn’t deny or tolerate her sin, but he refuses to let her be shamed for it.
When we decide to approach a person’s sin differently or more boldly than Jesus did, I think we’ve entered into a very dangerous space. In all three of the stories above, Jesus is interacting with an individual who did not previously know or claim the gospel. And after an encounter with him, THEY DID. So we need to ask ourselves: Are we coming to broken people in a way that allows them to see the truth of the gospel and meet Jesus? Are we giving them a way OUT of sin, or are we just highlighting their sin and putting it on display? Are we calling them humbly to repentance, or are we condemning them and putting a feather in our own hat?
The truth of the matter is that the Bible lays out a very specific way for dealing with sin within the church. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18: 15-17) You may notice that according to this method, dealing with sin within the church is meant to remain WITHIN THE CHURCH. Never does the Word of God allow for you to bring the sins of your brother or sister in Christ publicly before the pagan world. There is no addendum for Facebook posts or a loving-but-firm-stance in your Christian blog. Don’t bring the sins of a specific person before the world. PERIOD.
And if you really think about this, it should be common sense. If a friend from church is living in active sin, how are you really going to handle it? It would be my guess that you would never consider calling them out by name on a public forum. Because that would HURT them! It would drive a wedge between you. It would alienate them further from the church. Instead, you would go to them privately and speak over them with love. You would pray FOR them and WITH them. You would maybe bring other believers in to help, perhaps seek the counsel of a pastor. But you would not write a blog with their name in the title.
So why do we feel entitled to do just that when our brother or sister in question is a celebrity? Social status is not a factor that the God of Creation considers when choosing how to deal with his children. When we determine that some people are worth more of our respect than others based on whether or not we know them personally, we are not disciples; we are bigots.
I think these things are true when dealing with the sins of believers and unbelievers alike. We are called to show kindness and grace. We are called to represent Christ to everyone we encounter. But I do think that there is an especially important distinction to make here: When a brother or sister in Christ is sinning, it IS our responsibility to bring that specific sin into light and walk with them in repentance. That’s where the steps in Matthew 18 come into play. But when we are dealing with the sins of a person who is not yet in Christ, their individual sins are NOT the primary issue, and it would be a waste of time to treat them as if they are.
I’m not saying that a non-Christian is not held accountable for their sins; it is clear in the scripture that they are. “ He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil… but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good… For God shows no partiality.” (Romans 2:7-11)
What I am saying is that they are accountable for ALL of their sins, and focusing in on just the ones that are particularly offensive to us is doing a disservice to them as well as to the Kingdom of God. The primary issue for someone who has not received the gospel then is not HOW they are sinful, it is THAT they are sinful. Our hope should be not that they would stop sinning first, but that they would understand their sin. In Psalm 51 David writes, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” When a person can grasp this truth – that they are sinful at their core, then they might come to understand their need for a Savior. We must beg the Holy Spirit to open their hearts to who Jesus is before we can ever expect them to turn from their individual sins. Proclaim to them the truth of the gospel: that they are broken in need of saving; that there is life abundantly waiting for them; that there is HOPE to be free from sin. Pray that they would be found in Christ a new creation, crucified with him and adopted as heirs to the throne. Because then and only then can the sinner cry out to the Lord, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.” (Psalm 51: 7-9)
Christian brothers and sisters, I implore you to join me. Let us find ourselves face down at the feet of Jesus, leaving there all judgment and self-righteousness that does not lead to his name being glorified among the church and among the nations. To our fellow Christ followers, let’s approach them with humility and love. Let’s walk with them in community and uphold them to the standard to which they have already been called.
To those who do not yet know the forgiveness of sin or the life found in Christ, let’s represent him well to them. Let’s offer them light in darkness and freedom from their present slavery. And let’s be careful to prioritize their salvation over their obedience. Let’s not be opportunistic to call them out and humiliate them.
Let’s remember the words of Paul: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29-32)
Most of all, let’s follow the example of our King Jesus, who treated even the very worst transgressors with respect and dignity and kindness.
Lastly, I want to be clear: I’m not suggesting that we quit writing challenging blogs. I’m suggesting that we be intelligent enough to discuss challenging and sensitive topics without name calling or nitpicking or shaming individual people. Write about hot topics under a gospel world view—please please please do this. Show the world where we stand on current events and ethical debates. Absolutely call out sin for what it is. But write about the sin issue at hand, rather than one isolated instance of it being committed. And write about the love of Christ that is big enough to cover it.