Before resuming our study of Genesis we will look at some teachings on guilt and forgiveness found in the New Testament. Today we discuss one of our Savior’s most radical demands of us in this area.
Jesus’ command in today’s passage to love our enemies (Luke 6:27) is nearly impossible to practice. Anyone can love those who love them (v. 33), but men rarely love their foes. Such individuals must be extraordinarily patient and kind; in fact, their characters must mirror God’s nature (vv. 35–36). This is only possible for those who walk in the Spirit because our flesh seeks revenge on those who do us ill.
Christ’s call for us to love our enemies is not naïve. We are not to read one portion of Scripture in isolation from another. Consequently, what Jesus demands here does not contradict texts regarding punishment for criminals and self-defense (Ex. 22:1–4). Jesus exhorts us to be as “wise as serpents” when we deal with others (Matt. 10:16). Seeking retribution against those who oppress the weak and defenseless is not unloving. Sometimes, the only way we can love our enemies is to put them in a place (such as prison) where they will be hindered from doing more damage and incurring greater consequences for their sins.
Such situations are, of course, rare for us. More often, we face individuals who insult us with words (this is what Jesus means in Luke 6:29) or take advantage of us in relatively minor ways (v. 30). We must not seek vengeance upon such people (v. 35). Of course it is hard for us to feel love toward an enemy, but Christian love “is not something primarily that happens to us. Love, rather, is a duty, a requirement. Love has more to do with activity than it has to do with feeling” (R.C. Sproul, A Walk with God: Luke, p. 115).
This involves forgiving those who do not deserve our pardon. We imitate our Father in this, but not because He forgives those who deny Christ like He commands us to do. Our imitation lies in our willingness to forgive the undeserving, just as He also showed His willingness to do the same when He sent Jesus into the world to save His people (John 3:16; 6:40).
The old saying “love the sinner, hate the sin” is true insofar as it reflects our abilities. Our remaining sin makes it impossible for our hatred of the wicked and the violent to be pure and holy like God’s (Ps. 11:5). Thus, we are unable to execute perfect punishment on evil men. Loving the sinner does not mean we approve of wickedness. It means we pray for our enemies and long for their conversion, not their eternal condemnation.