[W]hen the church sets itself up as the moral police of the culture, we earn the reputation of being self-righteous judgers rather than loving, self-sacrificial servants – the one reputation we are called to have. While tax collectors and prostitutes gravitated to Jesus because of his magnetic kingdom love, these sorts of sinners steer clear of the church, just as they did the Pharisees, and for the exact same reasons: they do not experience unconditional love and acceptance in our midst - they experience judgment.
The brutal fact is that we Christians are not generally known for our love – for the simple reason that we, like the Pharisees of old, generally judge more than we love. Ask any random sampling of pagans in America what first comes to their mind when you say the words evangelical or born again Christian, and chances are close to zero that anything like "outrageous, sacrificial love" will be the first thing out of their mouths. Ask them to list the first ten things that come into their mind, and chances are still close to zero that "outrageous, sacrificial love" will be on any of their lists. Indeed, a recent survey demonstrated that, when asked to rank people groups in terms of their respectability, "evangelical Christians" were ranked one notch above the bottom, just above prostitutes. (pgs. 133-134)
Unfortunately, "tough love" is far easier to dispense than true love (just as it's far easier to destroy than it is to build), and it grates far less on our sense of justice and our desire to see those we view as sinners fall on their knees in front of us in abject repentance. It's all for their own good, after all.
Despite our widespread reputation, of course, we evangelical Christians often insist that we are loving; it’s just that the world is so sinful that they can’t see it – or so we tell ourselves. They don’t understand what "true love" is. That attitude is frankly as arrogant as it is tragic. People in the first century were not less sinful than people in the twenty-first, yet God expected to win first-century people by the sheer beauty of Christ’s love shining on Calvary and radiating through his corporate body. Why think anything has changed? If contemporary people don’t see in us what ancient people saw in Christ, it can only be because the love that was present in Christ isn’t present in us. And if they see in us what they saw in ancient Pharisees, it can only be because the self-righteousness found in the Pharisees is found in us.
Our comical insistence that we are loving, despite our reputation, is a bit like a man insisting he’s a perfectly loving husband when his wife, kids, and all who know him insist he’s an unloving, self-righteous jerk. If he persists in his self-serving opinion of himself, insisting that his wife, kids and all who know him don’t understand what "true love" is, it simply confirms the perspective these others have of him. This, I submit, is precisely the position much of the evangelical church of America is in. Until the culture at large instinctively identifies us as loving, humble servants, and until the tax collectors and prostitutes of our day are beating down our doors to hang out with us as they did with Jesus, we have every reason to accept our culture’s judgment of us as correct. We are indeed more pharisaic than we are Christlike. (pgs. 134-135)
The same Bible that we employ as a weapon against "sinners" tells us to first attend to our own sinfulness and to leave the job of convicting others of their sin to the Holy Spirit. Legalists like to point to the example of Christ telling the adulterous woman to "go and sin no more," but in doing so they overlook one very salient point: Christ could tell her that because he was, in fact, without sin. And when did he tell her that? After all of her accusers had left. The legalists who were prepared to stone her never did get to hear what he said to her; as far as they knew, he may have just let her go without another word.
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8, NIV) And if we're not without sin, what are we doing issuing ultimatums to others about their sins? Our job is to love the widow, the orphan, the traveler, the leper, the prostitute, the tax collector, the Samaritan, the Roman soldier - and everyone else - with the same self-sacrificial love that Christ showed to us. Not just the 'repentant' ones, not just the ones we think we can convert, not just the ones who agree with our interpretation of Romans 1:26-27. All of them, without exception.