Is it unloving to tell people they are sinners? While thinking about this question, an analogy immediately came to mind that I think brilliantly articulates why telling people they are sinners is not only loving, but also life-giving. I hope that you find this illustration as helpful as I have.
Imagine a young man named Joe goes to the doctor to get a couple of routine tests done. A few days later, the test results come back, and each test shows that Joe has cancer. This particular cancer is completely curable if Joe gets the right treatment. However, the doctor cares too much to give Joe that bad news. He has known Joe for quite some time and considers him a good friend. He knows this news will be emotionally upsetting. Furthermore, this diagnosis is going to alter Joe’s current lifestyle. The treatment will be intense, so Joe won’t have the energy to do what he used to, he will need more bed rest, and he will even need to change his diet. Since the doctor doesn’t want to come across as unloving, he changes one of the test results to indicate that Joe doesn’t have cancer and flat out ignores the other tests. Rather than give the truth, the doctor chooses to misrepresent and even ignore the truth.
I believe this illustrates the mentality of many Christians in the church today. For example, some Christians are so worried about coming across as unloving, bigoted, intolerant, and judgmental to their homosexual friends or relatives that they would rather alter the clear teaching of Scripture or just flat out ignore it. Of course, whoever does this isn’t really doing his homosexual friend any favors. His friend needs to know his sin before he can repent of it, in the same way a man with cancer needs to know he’s sick before he will seek out the cure.
The gospel—that Christ died for our sins—is the good news for sinners. However, it only makes sense in light of the bad news—that we are sinners. One of the earliest oral creeds recorded in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 15:3–7. This Christian oral tradition dates back to within a few years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The message our brothers and sisters from the 1st century were communicating was “that Christ died for our sins.” But this doesn’t mean anything to people who are ignorant of their sins. Think about it! Healthy people don’t need a doctor; sick people do. Likewise, righteous people don’t need a Savior; sinners do.
Getting back to the illustration: The most loving thing that the doctor can do is to gently and graciously share the truth with his patient that he has a deadly disease. Only then can he offer the lifesaving cure. In exactly the same way, humbly and graciously telling people that they are sinners—like you, and I, and the rest of mankind—is the most loving thing you can do, because only then will they turn to the life-giving Savior.