Dr. Tim Woodroof
He’d been a believer all his life. Married a Christian girl. Worked in the ministry. Prayed with his family. Went to church.
He was a true believer too. Not a go-through-the-motions, check-the-right-boxes sort of Christian who is content with simple answers and reflexive faith. He pursued Christ. He was serious about discipleship. He’d matured into a church leader and a genuinely good man.
And his son was homosexual. Living with his latest “life partner.” Rejecting not only the love of God but his very existence.
Estranged by Sin
Father and son had been estranged for years: son, fearful of and angry over his father’s struggle for acceptance; father, trying to find a place to stand between his love for God and his yearning for his son.
“How can I accept him without approving . . . that?” he asked me. “How can I love my son and not condone the choices he’s making?”
I stared at my coffee and felt—once again—the heartache and struggle of those called to be Christ in the world.
“I love my boy.” The tears were brimming now. “I want him home for Christmas. I want to call him and talk without . . . this . . . always hanging between us. But,” he took a sip of coffee to cover his emotion, “it does hang between us. It’s in the background of every conversation . . .
his hunger for my blessing . . . my inability to give it.”
I thought, once again, of Jesus’ amazing capacity to love tax collectors and sinners—the righteous, holy, and pure Son of God at home and at ease with the most sinful, broken, and polluted people. He ate in their homes. He was invited to their parties. He hung out with them in public places. He was their friend. And they were proud to call him friend in return.
How did he do it? How did he accept them, how did he manage to make them feel accepted, without turning a blind eye to their very real failings or pretending their choices didn’t matter? Why did they enjoy his company when everything about his holy life highlighted the shadows in their own? How, in a phrase, did he figure out a way to “love the sinner and hate the sin”?
Loved by Christ
The only sinners who left the presence of Jesus feeling judged were the stubbornly hypocritical—those who would not confess themselves sinners. Every other kind of sinner flocked to him . . . and he received them all. Didn’t matter how battered and scarred they were. Didn’t matter how much life and their own poor choices had scrubbed away the image of God within them. Jesus loved them. And they knew it.
And yet, you get no impression from the Gospel accounts that people left the presence of Jesus believing he condoned their sinful ways. Just the opposite. Sinners felt safe to examine themselves and reflect on their own failed choices when Jesus was around. They repented in the presence of his accepting friendship.
What was it about him that made such a rare thing possible? Was it that true goodness has no fear of sin? Was it an infinite confidence in the power of grace to change the human heart?
Whatever it was Jesus had, it is not a characteristic we commonly share. We have not learned—much less mastered—the art of befriending sinners. We think to do so is a brand of unfaithfulness when, in fact, it may be the truest demonstration of a Christ-like spirit.
I was reflecting on all of this when my friend’s voice broke through my fog. “Tim? Earth to Tim!”
I looked up and smiled. “Sorry. What was the question?”
“What would Jesus do if he were in my place?”
I drained my coffee and stood to leave. “I know exactly what he would do.” I smiled and shook my friend’s hand. “I just don’t have a clue how he would do it,” I said, and walked away.
Dr. Tim Woodroof is a freelance writer and speaker. He and his wife Julie make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. His Web site is www.timwoodroof.com