Yesterday, I was reminded of a seeming paradox in the Christian faith.
Before our preacher Ron Babbit spoke in our worship service, one of our members addressed the congregation. "Neighbor" (as he is known) stood in front of the podium to apologize and to ask for forgiveness. "Neighbor" has been a member of the Contact Church for nearly 5 years, but he has struggled with an addiction to alcohol and drugs for most of his 50-plus years of life.
A little over a week ago, one of our other members saw "Neighbor" entering a bar. "Neighbor" does not remember the details of what happened, because he was already in an alcohol and drug induced blackout. Apparently, our concerned member contacted a few other church members to try to help "Neighbor." But he responded badly to the attempt to help him, with abusive language and belligerent behavior. They could not help him. Eventually, he woke up in the county jail that evening, charged with public intoxication, and not knowing how he had managed to get into such trouble. He did not even know how he had treated fellow Christians who had tried to help him that night.
Sunday morning, he confessed his guilt. He thanked those who had tried to help him; and he asked for their forgiveness. "Neighbor" wants to do what is right with his life.
The entire congregation came forward, put our arms around him, and prayed for our friend and brother "Neighbor." Everyone loves "Neighbor" and wants him to be successful in overcoming his addiction. We want to see him living free from his sin.
What was the paradox that I noticed? On the one hand, we speak out against sins like drunkenness, cussing, hatefulness, and irresponsible behavior. We have high moral standards...such high standards that we are sometimes accused of moralism and self-righteousness. On the other hand, we are eager to offer forgiveness...so eager that we are sometimes accused of naivete and being too soft on the guilty.
We understand that every sin is an offense against God. We know that hell is deserved. We comprehend that our sins placed Christ on the cross. He died because of our sins. We know that our sins are destroying our sense of inner peace as well as our peace with God.
We also understand that God wants to forgive us. We realize that Christ sacrificed his life to forgive us and to free us from our sins. He wants us to enjoy life in heaven with him forever. We know that we need to show mercy to each other, since Christ has been merciful to us. We have received a generous dose of forgiveness, and need to extend generous forgiveness to others who have seen their need to repent.
As the Bible teaches, "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:3-6).