This weekend, in an interview with Anderson Cooper, Donald Sterling has asked for forgiveness.
Now, you won’t have to listen to the interview very long before you’ll be tempted to raise questions about the depth of his remorse and contrition. It certainly doesn’t help his cause that he’s immediately shoving blame onto his mistress. It will be easy to hurry to conclusions about his “confession,” but I want to remind believers of the weighty and joyful responsibility we have to take good news of reconciliation to sinners of every stripe — however serious and repulsive.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote to celebrate and commend the NBA’s swift judgment against Sterling. But before we try to put the matter behind us, it seems worth saying that it’s not enough for Christians to condemn sin. The work of Christ, the power of our gospel, and the scope of the Great Commission are simply greater than that.
Who Will Go After Don?
Donald Sterling needs to hear that racism is evil and his comments unacceptable. But much more than that, he — like the rest of us — needs to hear that he can experience real forgiveness and reconciliation, but only in and with Jesus. It’s not a cliché or spiritual punch line. God really has and does save sinners like Sterling.
This means we have a mission from God to race after the racists — after the murderers, rapists, and vile criminals. It’s a real mission, and it’s filled with real hope.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)
Who will take the gospel to Donald Sterling? Or — maybe more relevant for you — who will take the good news to the hardened, unrepentant, offensive, estranged sinner in your family or workplace or neighborhood?
My Donald Sterling
My grandfather was one of the worst men I have known personally. I cannot recall a single positive lesson I learned in the first twenty-five years of knowing him — not one memory, not a piece of profound advice, not a character quality I longed to emulate. I learned nothing from him of love or loyalty, of honesty or self-control, of marriage or fatherhood. Even as a small child, when most respect and adore their grandparents, I pitied Grandpa Dick.
But God. Months into a fight with cancer that would eventually take his life, the man I had known, feared, and counted hopeless had become another man — a new man. Through the faithful, persevering love of my parents, he had finally broken and surrendered himself to Christ. Through the gospel, God had produced patience where there had been a swift temper. He had produced joy — sure and strong — where there had been only bitterness and irritation. God had humbled the proudest and softened the hardest.
In short, he had saved my Donald Sterling. I loved the man I met in those last days together and am eager to be reunited with him one day.
Here’s the news that transformed my grandfather, and it’s the message I hope Donald and every other unrepentant racist will hear and receive.
Dear Mr. Sterling,
My heart breaks for you. The things you said about minorities — in whatever context and however they were recorded and disseminated — were awful and reprehensible. God created all people equally in his image, so we must treat them with the worth and dignity they deserve. We’ve learned too much and come too far in our nation not to condemn your comments, and I believe the NBA was right to do so.
I am not writing, however, to add to the stream of hostility against you, but to plead with you to experience full forgiveness, restoration, and everlasting life through Jesus Christ. We all have sinned, without exception. Some sins are publicized more broadly and cost us millions of dollars, but all of us — every single one, myself very much included — have rejected God and his desire that we live and steward our thoughts, words, resources, and behavior in obedience to him and in alignment with his character. And because we’ve all compromised God’s design and purpose for us, and therefore offended him, we’re all condemned and deserve a horrible, eternal punishment in hell.
But the God against whom we have sinned has come to rescue us from our sin and death sentence. He sent his Son, Jesus, the true Jewish Messiah, to become man, live a perfect life in our place, and then die to pay the penalty for our sin — our pride, our sexual immorality, our anger, our greed, our racism. This Jesus took on our sin, received God’s wrath for us on a cross, died, and then rose again three days later to conquer death and give us the hope of eternal life with him.
If you trust in and follow Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin, God can cancel your racism, reconcile you to himself, and satisfy you forever by his side — far more than any amount of money, success, or fame in our world can offer.
Mr. Sterling, please repent and believe. I — for one — would be thrilled to welcome you into the forever family of God with open arms as a fellow saved and forgiven brother in Christ.
The Don in Your Life
Sterling is a face and a name and a sin to remind us that no one — no racism — is beyond the reach of the gospel. It’s easy to talk in broad strokes about the overwhelming, unstoppable power of the gospel to save anyone, but are we ready to apply it when we’ve been wounded, when our own eyes are filled with disgust and pain and fear and anger?
Here’s our chance. Who’s “the racist pig” in your life? Or the antagonistic, condescending atheist? Or the insecure, violent abuser? Or the pitiful, out-of-control alcoholic? Do you believe God is able to rescue and renew even them? Is it worth going after them and sharing about the gospel with them? Again?
Our worst, most offensive efforts to reject the goodness of God have been defeated, undone, and redeemed in Christ. And beyond our wildest imaginations, God has not only saved us, but made us agents of this shocking, scandalous, beautiful salvation. He has sent saved sinners to save sinners — even those so wicked they’ve been rejected by the world.
So please don’t give up on Don.