I apologize for the long gap between posts, but this one took a lot of time, effort, help, and prayer to get right. So, hopefully the Lord has made it worth the wait.
In light of recent events, I’d like to discuss something. A concept I believe the majority of the church, myself included, doesn’t often acknowledge. Are we loving our enemies?
To love your enemies is not only a direct command from our Lord and Savior Himself, but an example set by Him. It is a way of living. It is a message repeated throughout the Bible in many different places and many different ways. But, as I look around at the church and I examine my own life, I don’t see this pattern.
Let me be clear about something before I give the wrong impression: as Christians, we cannot condone any behavior the Bible addresses as sin. This includes things such as homosexuality, covetousness, envy, deceit, etc. (see Romans chapter 1). However, in not condoning that, I need to be sure that I don’t cross a line; the line of judgment. It is not our place to judge; it is God’s.
Take homosexuality, for example. It’s a hot topic in our culture today. As Christians, we cannot condone the behavior of people involved in the LGBTQ lifestyle or act as if it’s not a big deal to God; it most certainly is. However, that is not to say I don’t love the people involved in that lifestyle. I don’t agree at all with what it involves but I love the people in that community because that’s exactly what Jesus did for me. Sometimes we Christians are judgmental, even hateful in extreme cases. I believe this is because we take the righteousness that Jesus has given us and think that we are somehow better. The absurdity of this is that it’s not our righteousness to begin with, but His gift that we accept. In us, there is nothing good. That’s it. It’s nothing we’ve done or ever could do. I don’t want to be judgmental or tear down the church at all, that would be quite hypocritical. But I do see some things that happen that must break Jesus’ heart. I see in our culture an opportunity for us, as His followers, to shine His love. I remind you (and myself) of what Paul says in Romans 3:23 (NKJV):
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
We are all sinners at the foot of the cross. Some have chosen to be amazed and awed at the display of love that the cross represents and some have decided that their righteousness is better. We who have submitted to God and chosen His ways, by His grace, should be sharing with those who haven’t reached that point yet, the freedom in Christ that God gives; the forgiveness He offers. In the following verses, Paul talks about that wonderful truth:
24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth [as] a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Rom 3:24-26 NKJV
And elsewhere in Romans:
22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin [is] death, but the gift of God [is] eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Rom 6:22-23 NKJV
Instead of displaying Christianity as being judgmental, let’s show the world God’s love! He loved all of us. Every human being that has ever lived and ever will live He loves enough to have died for us. That’s unfathomable! That’s what people should think of when they think of Christians. People, broken, just like everyone else, whose lives are radically changed by the love of God. Should the world think that we will allow unbiblical behavior in our congregations? That we will condone and reward it? Absolutely not. And that’s not because our way is better, but because God’s way is better. We should view ourselves on the same level as others; no one is better than anyone else. “Let each esteem others better than himself…” (see Philippians 2) “For such were some of you”; remember? The person who lives the best life, who does the most for others, every action they take still ends up being just a pile of filthy rags compared with God’s holiness. God is the standard, so we all fall short. Therefore, no one should be scared to come into a church because they’re afraid that they won’t be accepted because of what they’ve done in the past. We should always be waiting with open arms for any sinner who desires to know God just as God is always waiting for us.
I’d like to address the terminology in that last verse. Notice it says that we are “slaves of God.” Throughout the New Testament, Christians refer to themselves as being slaves of God, or slaves of righteousness. What I’d like to note is this: You will be a slave to something. We all are. The only thing we have to decide is to what we’re going to be a slave. Have you ever tried to change? Really tried? Of course, you found yourself a slave to your old habits. I only know because I’ve been there. Our slavery sometimes takes the form of an addiction to drugs, pornography, or alcohol, or it can take the form of our adherence to the rules, as it did for the Pharisees.
See, we can take something good, and make it bad. In fact, we do it time and again. God gives us something good, for our enjoyment, and we take that wonderful blessing and put it in the place of God, we make it our center. The Pharisees did this with the law. We do it with many things. Our sensuality, traditions, and virtually anything else you can think of, we put in the place of God. And this is where our problem comes in. We put something, anything, in the place of God. A lot of the time for Christians it’s our rules or our self-righteousness. We look in the mirror one day and see how far God has brought us, then want to take all the credit. “I was never that bad off, I suppose,” we say. “Thank you, Lord, for the nudge in the right direction. I sure took the wheel after that and made something of myself.” Then we look on others as dirty, because we’ve forgotten how dirty we were. We take God’s good way of life and make it something it was never meant to be. When we do this, and remember, I’m talking as much to myself as anyone, we misrepresent God.
Moses misrepresented God and his discipline was to be forbidden to enter into the Promised Land. He could look, but not enjoy. God is loving, and Moses misrepresented that. God’s not in heaven with a giant paddle, if you will, just waiting for us to mess up so He can spank us. The Bible says that Jesus died for the whole world. Jesus, who, according to Hebrews 1, is the very representation of who God is and what He’s like, loved the Jews and Romans, everyone in fact, to His death. Even to the point of asking God to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing. His entire life was characterized by mercy and love. When He did get angry, it was directed toward the people who should’ve known better; the people who were using God’s word and law for selfish reasons. That shifts my focus to my walk with God personally rather than to hating someone. I should want people to come to the knowledge of God and how He loves us. How He’s not a God that demands rules and regulations, but a God that wants a relationship with us and wants to show us how to live the way He made us to, the way that will bring us the most joy; that is, to bring glory to Him.
All of that being said, there does come a time when God must punish sin. Several times throughout the Old Testament, and the New, God brings judgment. I think of Sodom and Gomorrah, specifically. He had given them time to repent but they hadn’t. The people in the Promised Land before the Israelites had been given time to repent but hadn’t. At that point, once men have hardened their hearts against God, God, because He is just, passes judgment. If God never judged sin, what kind of God would He be? God warns, often multiple times, then gives time for repentance, then, when it is clear that men and women refuse to turn from their ways, God passes judgment. And even as He’s passing judgment, He often shows mercy and uses the judgment to turn the hearts of the people back to Him. And lest we think this unfair, remember that God’s ways are perfect. He created everything and everything exists within His universe and follows His laws.
Lastly (I know this is long, but please bear with me; we’re almost there!), I’d like to say this: There is much talk among Christians today, conservatives specifically, about Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and “the Left”, all of which is in an extremely negative context. I would even suggest that we view these people as our enemies. To that, I would ask this: Have we let the false god of Christianconservativism become our slave-master? Are we praying for those individuals? Are we truly grieved for their souls, as God is? God died for them, just as much as He died for you and me. He is not willing that any should perish. Are we going to keep calling them names, suggesting they’re less than human, and acting as if we have it all together and are superior to them in any way? There I would be, but for the grace of God. My Heavenly Father looked down upon my situation and had pity and desired to restore me to a right relationship with Him; to give me a chance to live the very way I was made to live. He looked past all of the sin, grime, and brokenness to what I could be when in communion with Him. Then He offered that life to me in exchange for the one I had at the time. What an unfair trade! Yet, He was willing. And I would’ve been a fool not to accept. I refuse to be the wicked servant who was forgiven a massive debt but was unwilling to forgive such a small amount he had lent his coworker. Let our actions be characterized by love. Leave the judging to God, for with what judgment we judge, God will judge us.