The most commonly quoted (and often misunderstood) verse in churches is no longer John 3:16 but Matthew 7:1, “Judge not.” Ironically, people who routinely violate what the verse is really saying quote the verse to justify their own failure to assist other people in following Jesus. Hence, they interpret “Judge not” as if it were “Care not” and “Help not.”
All too often, as believers we don’t realize that the greatest kindness we can offer each other is the truth. Our job is not just to help each other feel good but to help each other be good. We often seem to think that our only options are to: 1) speak the truth hurtfully; or 2) say nothing in the name of grace. This is a lie.
Jesus came full of grace AND truth. We should not choose between them, but do both. We are told that we should be “speaking the truth in love” to each other (Ephesians 4:15). We should share the truth with humility, as an act of grace, reminding ourselves and each other that we desperately need God’s grace every bit as much as do those we’re offering it to.
Let’s say, for example, that you meet and befriend a young couple who are fairly new at your church. They are living together and say they want to follow Christ. You face a choice. Do you tell them what God says about sex outside of marriage, or do you assume it’s none of your business and say nothing?
I believe that when people who are living together visit our churches or small groups or homes, it’s not our first job to try to correct their behavior, but instead to demonstrate the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. I don’t believe we should expect Christian behavior among nonbelievers or even nominal believers. Where we should expect Christian behavior is among those who declare they are Christ’s followers and identify themselves with the church, the body of Christ. In such cases, if we fail to graciously tell them God’s truth about sex and marriage, and fail to assist them in making right choices, then we fail to help them fulfill their own stated goal of following Christ.
So when someone says “I want to follow Jesus” but is living in sin, I think we should point to what Christ commands of us and remind them that He gives the power and strength to obey Him. Scripture says that the grace of God “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). God’s grace is not only for forgiveness of sin, but empowerment to live in holiness.