To sin is to break relationship with God. Therefore, sin is the biggest enemy of happiness, and forgiveness its greatest friend. Confession reunites us with the God of happiness.
If we believe that sin is never in our best interests, it will clarify many otherwise hard decisions in which we imagine we must choose between helping people do right and helping them be happy. It will also help us understand what true, Christlike love looks like.
Responding to a post I shared, a woman wrote on my Facebook page about how she felt a real friend would help someone seeking an abortion: “Jesus would hold your hand as you walk through the angry, non-love-displaying mob; wait for you while you got the procedure; and drive you home to make sure you were safe/be a listening ear.”
I had a similar conversation with a young woman who believed that abortion takes the life of an innocent child, yet nonetheless told me that because she loved her friend, she was going to drive her to the clinic to get an abortion. She said, “That’s what you do when you love someone, even if you disagree.”
I asked, “If your friend wanted to kill her parents and had a shotgun in hand, would you drive her to her parents’ house?”
“Of course not.”
But other than legality, what’s the difference? It’s never in a mother’s best interest to kill her child—it will ultimately take from her far more happiness than it brings. Too often, in the name of love, we assist people in taking wrong actions which, because they are wrong, will rob them of happiness. We may congratulate ourselves for being “loving,” but what good does our love do them if it encourages their self-destruction?
Years ago, when she was in high school, one of my daughters had a friend who found herself pregnant and was determined to get an abortion. My daughter, along with an older friend, showed up outside the clinic at the time of the appointment and pleaded with her friend and her friend’s mom to save the life of her baby. She offered help and support, including free babysitting. But sadly, the friend went through with the abortion. (Though this was obviously difficult, later my daughter heard from someone else that her friend actually respected her for doing what she did.) So encouraging others to do the right thing doesn’t always mean they’ll do it, or that they will like you. But even then, real love doesn’t quit or give up; it will offer help and point to Jesus Christ as the only true source of healing and forgiveness.
Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love, not to withhold the truth in love. We should be full of grace and truth, as Jesus was and is (John 1:14). “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” No one did either like Jesus.
Christ is our substitute and our example. And with Christ as our example, our command is this: we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. This is why love is so much more difficult than the bumper stickers make it out to be. It requires so much more than a general sentiment of good will. It is so much deeper and better than unconditional affirmation.
What does unconditional affirmation require of you by way of sacrifice? Nothing. All it requires is a wave of the hand—“Whatever you do, I’m fine. However you live, that’s fine.” The problem with unconditional affirmation is not that it is too lavishly loving, but that it is not nearly loving enough. When God tells us to love our brothers he means more than saying, “I’m okay. You’re okay. Whatever you do is fine and I don’t judge.” To really love your brother is to lay down your life for him. It requires you to die to yourself, which may mean a sacrifice of your time, a sacrifice of your reputation, and a sacrifice of your comfort. Unconditional affirmation only asks that you sacrifice your principles.
Love is harder than we think. Of course we love our kids and grandkids and those who treat us well. We love nice people. But Jesus says even the pagans do this. That’s not hard. People love people who love them. But will we keep on loving when it means bearing burdens we would rather not be bothered with? Will we love when the people we love do not love us in return? Will we lay down our lives for those who are unlovely, undeserving, ungrateful?
Isn’t that what Christ did for us? When we were unlovely and undeserving and ungrateful, Christ died for us. He loved us not because we were holy, but so that we might be holy. His love was self-sacrificing, sin-atoning, and life-transforming.
He loves us with a love the world does not understand. And it is so much better than unconditional affirmation.