How Can I Love People Even When They’re Wrong?

The “Problem” of Conviction

Paul told us in Romans 12:9 to “abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” But what happens when we disagree on what’s “evil” and what’s “good”? It’s one thing for a church to disagree on the color of carpeting. It’s quite another to disagree over whether a Christian can cast a vote for a political candidate who downplays the ongoing consequences of racism. Or whether Christians may assent to an adoption agency’s prohibition against physical discipline. Or whether a Christian can attend the celebration of a Hindu festival. What makes these disagreements so difficult is that for many, they are matters of right and wrong, not merely of preference. We can stop judging and despising people. But how can we positively love them? J. C. Ryle wrote that “every man has a conscience within him, which must be satisfied before he can be truly happy.”1 That’s true of my conscience, but it’s also true of yours. If you’re my friend and you’re doing something against my conscience, your actions challenge my happiness and, as a result, they challenge our friendship.

Love the Ones Who Drive You Crazy

Jamie Dunlop

This practical guide shares 8 truths to show readers how they can cultivate God-exalting unity by loving those in the church who, if they’re honest, sometimes drive them crazy. 

Theoretically, we could just have different churches for different convictions. A church over here that’s about the gospel and that speaks strongly about illegal immigration. A church over there that’s about the gospel and that advocates for the payment of reparations to the descendants of slaves. Many years ago, while I was on a trip to Afghanistan, an article was published about the Kabul synagogue. Who knew there was still a synagogue in Kabul! But there was, though its membership was reduced to two men. And they made the news because, due to incessant quarrelling, they were considering splitting into two synagogues, each with a membership of one. Is this not where the “different churches for different convictions” takes us? Surely, we can do better.

And yet . . . can you really go to church with other Christians who are wrong on important matters? Can your attitude toward them really be the “genuine love” that Paul commands? That’s what we’ll address in this chapter. But first, we must understand exactly what type of disagreements we’re talking about.

Different Speeds of Disagreement

Paul begins Romans 14 by warning us not “to quarrel over opinions.” The word the ESV translates as “opinions” literally means “reasonings”—consistent with its use here as reason-based implications of Scripture. Thus, the NIV uses the phrase “disputable matters.” These disagreements are not about truths “either expressly set down in Scripture, or [that] by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture,” to use the helpful language of the Westminster Confession.2 Instead, they’re based on reasoning from those truths. About such matters we should not quarrel.

Where does this fit into the broader hierarchy of disagreements we might have with fellow Christians? In their book Conscience, Andy Naselli and J. D. Crowley identify three different levels of disagreements.

  • First-level disagreements are those one cannot deny “and still be a Christian in any meaningful sense.”3 These truths emerge as inescapable conclusions when the Scriptures are faithfully read, either because they are explicit in the text or rise unavoidably from the text.4
  • Second-level disagreements “create reasonable boundaries between Christians.”5 These are issues faithful Christians may disagree on, and where disagreement means they should gather into different churches. Historically, disagreements over baptism and church government fall into this category.6
  • Third-level disagreements need not separate Christians into different churches. When I have referred to “nonessential” matters in this book, it is this category I have had in mind. That is, matters that are not essential to agree on to be together in a church.7

It’s these third-level issues that Paul writes about in Romans 14. Specifically, he addresses three different disagreements, though he clearly intends the principles he lays out to apply more broadly. First is the question of whether a Christian can eat meat (Rom. 14:2).8 Next is a debate about celebrating special days (Rom. 14:5).9 And third was disagreement over Christians drinking wine (Rom. 14:21).

Of course, your church has its own set of disagreements. You may not want to be in church with people who disagree with you in these ways, but neither can you honestly say that these issues should split you into different churches.

Consider the Judge

In Romans 14:10, Paul asks the provocative question, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” This perspective of God’s judgment is one we don’t often consider, but we should. As we progress through the final chapters in Romans, and threats to unity become more morally fraught, Paul increasingly points us to God’s final judgment. In fact, in this short chapter on convictional disagreement, Paul mentions our final accounting before God six different times (Rom. 14:4, 10, 12, 18, 22, 23). These references fall into two categories. First, we should be conscious of God’s imminent judgment of others because he’s the judge and we’re not (Rom. 14:4). And second, we should be conscious of God’s imminent judgment of our own lives (Rom. 14:12). Both categories are crucial if judging and despising are to give way to genuine love.

Not only must you consider their accounting before God, but you must consider your own. While we will not be condemned for our sin if we are in Christ (Praise God, Jesus paid its penalty [Rom. 8:1]!), a final evaluation of our lives still awaits: “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).

The reality of God’s future judgment forces a brilliant reprioritization of what is “wrong” in your church. As Paul says in Romans 14:20, “Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.” In this debate about food, Paul tells those with freer consciences that they’re right, and those who can’t eat meat are wrong. And yet . . . what’s really wrong is an insistence on Christian freedom to eat meat in front of them. (Contemporary debates over alcohol come to mind.) Or consider verse 15: “By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15). What strong language! Yes, these people will find out on judgment day that their consciences were too narrow. But you will face a much stricter accounting for your failure to bear with them in love. This brings to mind some of Martin Luther’s opening lines in his treatise on Christian freedom: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”10 Freedom in Christ, yes—and with it, the delightful bondage of love.

Confess your sin, exult in your forgiveness, and delight as forgiveness turns your heart toward love.

Consider four ways in which your final accounting before God can change the posture of your heart toward those with whom you disagree, to whom you are bound in love.

  1. Prioritization. Passages like Romans 14 push the priority of various disagreements a few steps into the background and the unity of the church into the foreground. As Paul says in Romans 14:22, “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” When your heart is in the thick of judging and despising, look to your Judge. Remember that you will likely face a stricter judgment for failing to disagree in love than you would if you’d simply argued the wrong side of the disagreement.

  2. Freedom. For some, it feels disingenuous to pursue a friendship at church while ignoring a festering disagreement. But Paul’s prioritization of such disagreements relative to unity and love gives us freedom to do just that. It probably isn’t wise to never discuss your disagreement. But with God’s final judgment in view, you can pursue such friendships without resolving your disagreements.

  3. Peace. By which I mean peace in your heart that expels anger. Very often it’s God’s judgment that we must remember when we’re angry with others at church. Just as smoke indicates fire, anger indicates injustice. The question is how you’ll respond to that injustice. Will you spin your heart into a whirlwind of selfrighteous contempt by endlessly rehearsing to yourself arguments against those you disagree with? Or will you quench your anger in God’s soothing promise to one day settle all wrongs?

  4. Love. Remember the generative power of forgiven sin. When judging and despising emerges in your heart, don’t just try to push it back down or ignore it. Confess it, using the strong language that Paul uses here. “Lord, I confess to you that in my attitude toward Omar, I’m seeking to destroy one for whom you died.” “Lord, I confess that in my judging of Sherri, I’m creating stumbling blocks to her affection for you.” Confess your sin, exult in your forgiveness, and delight as forgiveness turns your heart toward love. “Be wretched and mourn and weep. . . . Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:9–10).

​​Escape from Judging and Despising into Love

Our hearts are a mess, aren’t they? They are full of judging and despising. That’s why we so desperately need to consider what Paul gives us in Romans 14. We must consider faith, especially the faith of those we disagree with. And we must consider God’s judgment, both the final accounting of those we disagree with and our own. This is not a paint-by-number plan to guarantee immediate love. But as you immerse yourself in these truths, God’s word will be at work to humble, reshape, and reform you.

It’s fitting, then, that this section ends with a poignant reminder of God’s love for us: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). With this, Paul finishes this section where he began it in Romans 14:1, telling us to welcome those who are weak in faith. But now we see its result: “the glory of God.” Is this not what we want in our churches? As we welcome those who disagree with us because Christ has welcomed them, God’s glory shines more brightly than if we never disagreed in the first place.


  1. J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 364
  2. Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.6.
  3. Andrew Naselli and J. D. Crowley, Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 86.
  4. See Jonty Rhodes, “By Good and Necessary Consequence,” Tabletalk, January 7, 2021,
  5. Naselli and Crowley, Conscience, 86.
  6. One might ask, “Why would disagreements about baptism constitute ‘reasonable boundaries between Christians’ but not disagreements over issues like politics?” It should be observed that some Christians don’t believe that churches should divide over baptism (e.g., the church I grew up in) and sometimes Christians do need to divide over politics (e.g., the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany). In general, however, we must note that disagreements over baptism are disagreements over what Jesus commands (Does the command to baptize mean we baptize infants or not?) whereas disagreements over politics are normally disagreements over how to obey agreed-upon commands (Does the command to love your neighbor imply a balanced budget amendment or not?). For more nuance and detail on this question, see Jonathan Leeman, How the Nations Rage (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2020).
  7. It must be noted that “nonessential” does not mean “unimportant.” One mistake modern Christians often make is to believe that whatever is nonessential for salvation is necessarily unimportant. The mirror-image pitfall of this tendency can lead Christians to unnecessarily divide churches because they assume that anything that is important is also essential.
  8. It’s not clear whether the debate over eating meat in Romans 14 is the “meat sacrificed to idols” debate of 1 Corinthians 8, a debate over whether the Mosaic dietary laws should still be followed (with meat avoidance being an easy way to do that), or some other controversy. Paul’s use of the word “unclean” in 14:14 suggests that it had something to do with ceremonial law, which leads to the second of these options.
  9. The “days” in question may have been Sabbath days, Jewish holidays prescribed in the Mosaic law, or special days in pagan calendars such as feast days. If the meat controversy was about following Mosaic dietary laws, it would seem most likely that the “days” in question were Sabbath days.
  10. Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 2.

This article is adapted from Love the Ones Who Drive You Crazy: Eight Truths for Pursuing Unity in Your Church by Jamie Dunlop.

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