Talk of sin is commonly frowned upon today. Even many pastors avoid making statements that could be seen as remotely condemning or reproachful. The conventional wisdom is that it is unkind or unloving—and therefore ungodly—to take a stand against certain activities. However, what is socially acceptable is not always biblically acceptable, and the issue of loving someone doesn’t really have anything to do with whether or not that person’s behavior is acceptable to God.
Yes, God loves everyone, and, since everyone is a sinner, God loves sinners. God loves the whole world (John 3:16), but it doesn’t follow that He approves of sin. A good parent loves his children, but that doesn’t mean he lets them do everything they want. When a son lies to his mother, she can still love him; but she doesn’t have to approve of lying, and she can, in love, correct him.
It is entirely possible to love someone and, at the same time, point out his or her error. In fact, love sometimes requires us to point out an error. If a relative is dabbling in illicit drugs, isn’t the most loving thing to confront the drug use and offer to help? If a married friend is flirting with someone not his spouse, what’s more loving—turning a blind eye and hoping for the best, or warning the friend of imminent consequences? Sin destroys (James 1:15), and love attempts to prevent destruction. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).
It is important to define love correctly. If by “love” one means “applaud a sinful lifestyle,” “ignore sin,” or “profess that actions don’t matter,” then that’s a faulty view of love. Biblically, love is doing what is best for someone, regardless of the cost. Love is therefore truthful. Deception cannot bring about the “best” for anyone.
Jesus exhibited the perfect balance between truth and grace (John 1:14). He embodied both. Jesus always spoke what was precisely and unequivocally true, and He countered those who opposed the truth with harsh reproofs (see Matthew 23:33). But Jesus had nothing but words of comfort and grace for those who came to Him in repentance, no matter what their sin (see Luke 7:48). We can’t ignore the truth and call it “grace” any more than we can ignore grace and call it “truth.” The truth is, God will judge sin; the grace is, God saves us from sin.
We can and should love unrepentant sinners and those who refuse to acknowledge their sin. We should want what is best for them, and we should do good to them. And we should tell them the truth about their sin, along with the message of God’s grace in Christ—sin can be forgiven, and hearts can be renewed.
In all of this, it is important to allow the Bible (and the Bible alone) to define sin and righteousness. If the Bible says something is sin, then no amount of societal pressure, worldly wisdom, or personal experience should make us say anything different. Truth is truth, no matter what anyone says or how anyone feels.
It is just as important to communicate the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and to strive for a Christlike balance of truth and grace. Also, it’s important to approach every situation with a spirit of humility and forgiveness. “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). We don’t need to point out every sin or pick apart every deed.
Paul, who frequently found himself in social and religious maelstroms, said it well: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24–25). As we instruct others of the truth, let us do so gently and with kindness to everyone.