As Brennan Manning points out in The Ragamuffin Gospel, grace always precedes repentance. Jesus accepts the unworthy where they presently stand, and after that gift of unconditional love God begins to change their lives.
How do we live that out in our relationships? It seems that we are constantly trying to change people. We want to straighten out gay people, sober up alcoholics, and have everyone live in harmonious peace.
Have you ever entered into a dating relationship with the goal to change something about that person? Have you ever denied someone your friendship because of his bad habits?
I'm a perfectionist, so I always notice things that need improvement. That definitely keeps me busy in my own life. Plenty of things to improve on! :) However, I realized a couple years back that I have extended this perfectionism onto others in my life: friends, wife, co-workers, students, etc. This was not good! Never should we expect perfection from anyone, even ourselves. It will often leave us frustrated and incapable.
So, learning the true meaning of God's grace and realizing the negative effects of my perfectionism brought me to an evaluation of how I relate to students in youth ministry. So often, I have tried to fix a teenager's problem, addiction, or sin by myself and even subconsciously before extending grace and acceptance. I wanted to punch myself in the face with that conclusion.
This new approach is scary because you really have to cede all control to God. Well, if we truly follow Christ, we should be ceding all control to God anyway, right? We are all a work-in-progress, and God is the master craftsman (Isaiah 64:8, Romans 9:21). Let us stop trying to mold and shape one another and let God do what only He can do!
So, the next time you feel like trying to clean up someone's act, try following this maxim:
I'm going to love and accept you just the way you are, offer you my friendship, and encourage you to pursue God.
Then you can pray for that person, continue to be example of unconditional love and grace, and witness the Holy Spirit work in his or her life!
*important note: Jesus & Paul both make it clear that we are to confront in a loving way our fellow Christians who are blatantly living in sin. We must hold each other accountable. But the only way we can truly help each other is to encourage the deepening of our relationship with God. That always comes first.
As Francis Chan says in Crazy Love, "...you have to stop loving and pursuing Christ in order to sin"