Go and sin no more.

Sometime ago  a long established college friend of mine sat down across the table from me and looked up with the biggest smile on his face. “We finally had sex,” he  said. “And it has changed everything. We are so much closer now. It’s like all of our problems just disappeared!”

Now, our culture would insist that I be happy for my friend and his girl friend. After all, he was happy with his actions, and that’s all that matters, right? That’s what I believed at the time, so I took the easy way out and put on a smile for my friend, fake though it was.

At the time I couldn’t help thinking of the woman taken in adultery, but I didn’t say anything. In other words I betrayed our Lord. It’s so easy as a pastor to confuse truth with acceptance. We fear unpopularity and accusations of sitting in judgement. Its a broad path and can lead to the loss of one’s integrity, possibly of one’s soul.

We are becoming more and more interested in the idea of acceptance. For the most part, this is a great thing. The old, ugly theology of using love as a way to disguise judgement and hatred has given way to a warmer, healthier Christian community, or has it?

But, as with many cultural shifts, there is a balance to keep in mind. In our efforts to “love the sinner, hate the sin,” we often find it easier to ignore the sin altogether, and confuse blind acceptance with genuine love.

And in a lot of ways that’s a good thing—we should humble ourselves to listen to, love and accept others. But in a culture where “Only God can judge me” is a common phrase heard among believers and non-believers alike, it’s easy to wonder: Are we getting love and acceptance all wrong?

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” has meant different things to different generations. Sometimes, it’s been used as an excuse to essentially ostracize people we view as “sinners” from the Church. But I often see our generation leaning too far the other direction: most of us take the phrase to mean, “Accept the sinner and their sinful behaviours, and just secretly hate the sin.”

The truth is, love and acceptance are not the same thing. The even bigger truth is that love is messy and hard, while acceptance is clean and easy. Love says, “Your actions are hurting you. And because I love you, I am going to hold you accountable.”

Love sometimes means telling your friends they’re wrong. It sometimes means calling them out on their behaviour. Love sometimes means disagreements and arguments, but those ultimately lead to personal and spiritual growth.