Have you ever run into someone in an awkward situation that was precipitated by their lifestyle choice? My family and I were recently eating in town when a man whom I had known from childhood walked in dressed in drag–complete with high heel boots, stockings, and mini skirt. This friend has made lifestyle choices that go along with his dress. We grew up in the same church, under the same preaching, and have much of the same cultural and educational background. My purpose here is not to discuss what motivates someone like this to make the choices he has made. Rather, I'd like to consider what an appropriate response for a Christian should be. How should we respond to a friend or acquaintance in a situation like this? Following are four characteristics that should characterize interactions like this.
The first thing that should characterize the believer's response to any situation is love. So, we should guard ourselves from mocking, scorning, or laughing in a way that demonstrates we have forgotten this person is made in the image of God. Demeaning behavior shouldn't characterize our interactions with any person, no matter how put-off we may feel by them. We ought to ask God to replace our proud thoughts with true love, with a heart that is concerned for the soul of this person.
It seems appropriate in a case like this to look the person in the eye, smile, and shake his hand. To demonstrate that I still value him personally and that I can relate to him as one made in the image of God. Friendliness is not the same as love. Friendliness is also not the same as wholesale acceptance. More on this in a moment.
What I'm not saying here is that believers should intentionally act awkward and reserved around those who are different. However, I believe it's also likely that there will be some sense of awkwardness in the greeting and in the relationship. A friend living any sort of inappropriate lifestyle–heterosexual, homosexual, drug-addicted, drink-addicted, etc.–should feel somewhat awkward around obedient Christians. Not because we don't demonstrate love and kindness, but precisely because we demonstrate concern for them while recognizing that their sin causes great harm to the image of God in them. Our response to their open sin should always be moderated by recognizing that we are sinful too and that only the grace of Christ can rescue us from our sin.
I don't believe that every conversation with an egregiously sinning friend should be about the person's sin–in fact, most of them probably shouldn't be, or you won't be friends very long! However, I do believe that we should take opportunity to lovingly confront sin in light of the relationships that God has given us. Friendliness is not the same as love. True love is opposed to anything that attacks a person's good. If there's never any open confrontation of sin, we are not truly loving our friend. Because sinful choices attack the true good of another human being, we should oppose sinful choices. Sometimes it will result in relational tension, but it should never be because I have rejected a person outright because I don't like what they've done. It must always be about God's holiness and their good. I can oppose sin in a winsome way, in a way that says, “I respect you because you are made in the image of God, but you are doing irreparable damage to that image, apart from the rescuing grace of Jesus Christ.”
Summary: winsome opposition
In summary, I believe we should winsomely oppose sin–in our children, in ourselves, and in those that sin blatantly and openly. I'm giving thought to this because I've encountered several situations like this, and I'm confident I'll encounter many more. I pray that God will help me equip my family and church to respond with truth and grace as we seek to winsomely oppose sin.