When Mercy Hurts

In our world today it’s not uncommon to see individual believers or entire church bodies abandon their positions on hot-button issues in order to be liked and accepted by the world. Too often church leaders twist the Scriptures in the name of “love” so that sinful acts are not only accepted but are viewed as good, right, and pure. In her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Rosaria Butterfield compares the approval of sin with tying a millstone around the sinner’s neck:

Christians know the difference between giving grace and putting a millstone around someone’s neck. What is the difference? Grace is bloody. Grace is purchased by the blood of Christ. Grace brings you to your knees. Grace gives you safety to repent. A millstone encourages you to sin against God and others all in the name of being kind to the weakness of the flesh.[1]

To put it plainly: We excuse sin as if we know better than God, granting mercy when mercy hinders rather than helps. We “think the Bible is too severe, asks too much of people,”[2] so rather than holding fast to God’s standards and graciously sharing truth with others, we flush our convictions down the toilet, claiming that there is no way to speak both truth and love simultaneously.

While professing believers excuse various sins for a myriad of reasons, it seems that all of those reasons fit into one of these three categories:

1. We excuse sin to draw people in. 

Attempting to stand out as a welcoming congregation or a come-as-you-are kind of church, pastors and congregations bend and even break when it comes to holding a biblical view of sin, or they simply claim that they’ve been wrong all along and that God’s Word doesn’t actually say what believers throughout history thought it said, an explanation most commonly presented today in reference to homosexuality and transgenderism. Why do Christians have such a hard time separating love and approval? We can do one without doing the other. It truly is possible to show Christ’s love to all of His image-bearers, even to those who are deeply entangled in sin, while at the same time showing those around us that living a life for Christ requires daily putting off the old self. We should never veer from biblical standards in order to attract lost souls. Do you believe that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”?[3] Do you believe that the Word of God pierces “to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and [discerns] the thoughts and intentions of the heart”?[4] If so, then why do you live as if it doesn’t? Christ, in His power and grace, will draw sinners to Himself—He doesn’t need you to distort the Scriptures in order to do so.

2. We excuse sin to make people stay. 

Let’s face it: ignoring the sins of other professing believers is way easier than confronting them. Confronting someone else’s sin means you must go to that person and risk being seen as nosy, uncaring, or unloving (when, in fact, you’re being just the opposite; see James 5:19-20). So, afraid of hurting the feelings of fellow church members, we ignore the Scriptural commands to confront a believer who is caught in sin, attempting to be more merciful than God by allowing unrepentant sin to run rampant in the lives of professing Christians around us. And I’m not just talking about the so-called despicable sins of our day (such as homosexuality, abortion, or child pornography), I’m also referring to those “respectable sins,” like gossip, envy, discontentment, and self-righteousness. Knowing that a brother or sister is acting openly in unrepentant sin yet standing by and watching as if nothing is wrong, is not only sinful in itself—it’s dangerous.

3. We excuse our own sin to ignore our unrighteousness.

Out of the three reasons professing believers excuse sin, for me, this one is the most cringe-worthy. For if we conquer the first two points on this list, standing by our convictions regarding the world and the church, yet we fail to hold ourselves to these same biblical standards, we are in serious trouble and should question our standing before Almighty God. Nearly my entire life I’ve heard Christians quote the popular adage, “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” but I think it’s much more accurate to say, “Hate the sin, love the sinner—as long as you hate your own sin the most.” Excusing your sin won’t change your hopeless state before the Sovereign God. Despise your sin, trust in Christ’s righteousness, and invite others to hold you accountable and to call you out when necessary. More than anyone else, Christians should know our proneness to wander, and we should be the most humble people of all as we consider the great lengths to which Christ went in order to place upon us His robe of perfect righteousness.

Not surprisingly, twisting Scripture to make ourselves or others feel better about sin is nothing new. Way back in the Garden of Eden, the first words out of the serpent’s mouth were, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”[5] Satan himself was twisting God’s words to not only lead Eve into sin, but to make her feel good about it. Likewise, distorting or ignoring Scripture in the name of making others feel loved is to falsify God’s mercy and neglect His truth. Oh, Great God, have mercy on us all.


“Neutrality is a forlorn position. He that enters but half-way into the prevailing tendency of the present day, finishes his course before he is aware that he is in the snare of the devil.” ~ F.W. Krummacher

[1]Butterfield, Rosaria. The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World (Crossway: Wheaton, 2018), 100.
[2]Ibid., 140.
[3]Romans 1:16, ESV.
[4]Hebrews 4:12, ESV.
[5]Genesis 3:1, ESV, emphasis added.

One thought on “When Mercy Hurts

  1. June Dahn

    Thank you for speaking truth in a world that so often forgets what truth really is. Let’s love people right where they are, and keep on loving with the Gospel of Jesus. It is our love for Christ and His love for us that enables us to do so.


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