Just the other day, I found myself on ESPN.com reading about Josh Hamilton’s super-hero like season. While reading Tim MacMahon’s fantastic blog entry about Hamilton’s game-winning homer in the 13th inning of Texas’ May 27 game against the Toronto Blue Jays, I looked over the user comments and found a familiar trend: lots of people bashing Hamilton and lots of people defending him–not for his play on the field, but for his faith. While Hamilton is putting together a season for the ages (and one that will make him a boatload or two of money), he will always be associated, for good or ill, with substance abuse and evangelical Christianity. Hamilton messes up occasionally, but still wears his faith on his sleeve. Many fans, it seems, don’t like this about him. I couldn’t disagree more.
As Christians, we are taught to share our faith and take a stand for Godly living. But how do we take that stand in a way that is genuine and reflects Christ’s love and grace? The examples we see in the media, and sometimes in our churches, beg the question “What does it mean to love the sinner, while hating the sin?” Some will argue that a strong stand is necessary to draw a line in the sand and let the world know that we as Christians won’t tolerate sin. Some will argue than we all sin and, therefore, have no right to point our fingers at the sin in others. Something about not worrying over the splinter in someone else’s eye due to the plank in my own.
One thing we must understand is that the world will always see vocalization of faith as equal to judgement of sin. The fact that believers proclaim their faith implies a superiority of belief in Christ over belief in another faith or lack of belief at all (true, but not easy to accept when you are not a Christian). So, when Josh Hamilton says God told him he would hit a home run during Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the world sees that as an implication that God somehow favored Hamilton over other players on the field. It can be misinterpreted as arrogance disguised as faith. While Hamilton, like most athletes, has a healthy ego, I’m pretty sure he simply intended to give proper credit to the Lord for what was a pretty heroic sports moment. I like his approach here and in other instances, but we can’t be surprised when non-believers push back against these kinds of statements. They don’t understand the perspective Hamilton and other believers come from. It is up to us to explain it to them.
Consider what Paul did in Acts 17. He spoke the truth without variation, but did so in a way that answered questions and reached his audience. He did not judge, he did not condemn, he did not mock, he did not make a political point. He showed God’s passion for us and did so in an intelligent, simple way. He stood before the Areopagus, faced the scoffers, and explained that God established human society in order that “men would seek Him and perhaps reach for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). What Hamilton regularly does and what all believers and followers of Christ must do is remind an unbelieving world that God, our Father, is close, waiting for us to reach out for Him, to find Him, to know Him.
So what does it mean to love the sinner while hating sin? It means that no matter what our goal is–whether building a friendship, talking with the media, or making a political point–we cannot forget that we address real people with real problems in need of a real God; a God we can show them if we don’t let our pride, self-righteousness, anger, or indignation get in the way. If we want to take a Biblical stand against homosexuality, we can’t be so disgusted by homosexuals that we despise them. The same is true when making any righteous stand. We cannot hold the Bible in one hand and a flame thrower in the other. Non-believers have seen this so much they tend to view any open expression of faith with skepticism at best or hostility at worst.
What I admire about Hamilton and others like him is that they possess a genuine faith that they share as a matter of habit. It comes out naturally because it flows from the essence of their spirit. Hamilton is not perfect. His failures are well-documented. But he recognizes and repents of his sin. He doesn’t hide it nor revel in it. It reminds me that, though I remain deeply flawed, God wants to use me to share His message to the world. Every believer has the right to share that message, to take that stand. And when we do it in love, remembering the people we share it with, some will reach for God because of it.
Peace of Christ,