Daily Readings: Numbers 29-30, Psalm 43, 1 Corinthians 5
In full transparency, I really didn’t want to write this blog. I delayed posting it because I am fearful that people will skim it, read only parts of it, read it through their own personal lens instead of with an open mind, and then jump to conclusions. This is a post where I would like to ask that you read start to finish if you read it at all and attempt to see the full message instead of focusing on any individual sentence.
Here we go…
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
This post is about folks outside of the church, but I feel compelled to write a quick reminder that we will all fall short of the glory of God and we will all sin. When Paul is referring to not even associating with people inside of the church living a lifestyle of sin he is talking about people that are unapologetically living a lifestyle of sin, have no interest in changing, justify what they are doing, preach a false doctrine, and are attempting to lead others astray as well. He is not talking about throwing people out of the church that are struggling with sin issues in their lives. If that was the case, we would all be thrown out! For more context on this, you can check out this post from a few weeks back: Tacking on verse 25
Let’s move on to today’s post.
One of the things that begins to happen when you are intentionally open about your faith in your normal day to day life and not merely when you are in a church context or purely when you are with other believers, is people start asking you about major cultural topics to get your take on them. For a combination of reasons (politicians on both sides stirring the pot, the media enjoying division, and some major religious leaders that find it an easy target) an “us vs them” debate that happens more frequently than others is about homosexuality.
As a marketplace missionary, people occasionally come to you ready to attack. There will always be some people waiting to pounce and put you on the defensive and make you come off as a bigot. This can be an incredibly challenging topic, and I would encourage all Christians to heed Paul’s advice that we see in 1 Corinthians today. When it comes to sin issues of any type, we are not called to judge those outside the church. If someone is not a believer in Christ yet, that is simply not what we are called to do. Jesus modeled this same behavior over and over again in the gospel when he would tell his followers, “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.” or “First remove the plank from your eye before trying to help a brother remove the speck from his.”
The Bible is not ambiguous about our role as Christ followers when it comes to sin in the lives of unbelievers.
But people are going to ask, so how do we answer?
I will tell you exactly what I say. You can feel free to critique it, pick it apart, and give me feedback. I am open-minded to articulating an answer better than I currently am! I think responding well to questions like this starts with remembering the message of the gospel and constantly keeping in mind how much we have all fallen short and the sin issues that we all still struggle with on a daily basis.
Again, if you are going to continue reading from here, I would ask that you read to the end and not simply skim.
My conversations typically go something like this:
“Aaron, you are Christian, what are your thoughts on gay marriage?”
“Quite frankly, I don’t understand why it is an issue the church feels the need to get involved in at the political level. I don’t think individual churches should be forced to have a marriage ceremony in a religious context that they don’t believe in, but I don’t understand why we are up in arms about the government giving out certificates of marriage.
The United States was specifically set up with a separation of church and state. If we pick this one issue to legislate, why not every other one? The Bible talks far more about greed and how we handle our money than homosexuality and yet we don’t put a cap on wealth a family can hoard. The Bible speaks out against drunkenness and I don’t hear Christians clamoring for a law putting a three-drink limit at all bars and restaurants. There are tons of other examples. I just think there are more important things Christians could put their energy towards and am not sure why we focus on this issue so much.”
“But what do YOU think? Aren’t people born that way? Why would a loving God create someone to be gay if that is a sin?”
“Listen, Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality a single time while on earth. It is mentioned other times throughout the Bible, but not anywhere close to as many times as greed, jealousy, lust in general, and other sins. So regardless of whether or not homosexuality is right or wrong, if Jesus was a politician, it certainly wasn’t the central issue he was here on earth campaigning against. One thing I know for sure, though, is that I have fallen woefully short in all of those other areas time and time again throughout my life. I sin constantly even though I don’t want to. There is a sinful nature in all of us. Jesus was extremely clear when he told us to worry about the sin in our own lives instead of condemning others.”
“But what would you tell someone who is gay and wants to know what you think and whether or not they are living against God’s will in their life?”
“Well, I would first ask them if they are Christian. If they are Christian, I would ask them more about their story, how they came to Christ, what their walk has been like, and if they have taken that issue to Jesus in prayer and dove into God’s word with an open mind and open heart. I would ask them if they are willing to follow whatever God says on the matter.
If they are not Christian, I would tell them that it is not my place to judge them and that my opinion on their lifestyle doesn’t matter and that I am sorry if other Christians have ever made them feel like they are inhuman in someway for the choices they make and life they live.
I would then ask them if anyone has ever shared with them who Jesus actually was and what his message actually was. If they were open to listening I would then tell them about Jesus and how he has worked in my life. I would start with the many areas in my life where I know I have not been in line with what God has for me. I would share that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God and that he loves us like crazy anyway. I would tell them about our perfect, loving father in Heaven that wants what is best for us even when we don’t see it ourselves and that I am constantly learning that lesson over and over again in my own life. I would share how Jesus came down from heaven and gave his life for us so that he could have a relationship with us.
I would tell them that, ultimately, it is not my job to tell them how to live, nor is it any other Christian’s job, but that there is a God in Heaven that is very real and loves them more than they can ever imagine. I would ask if they would be willing to get to know that God better. If they are, I would grab coffee with them another time, explain the gospel in even more detail and eventually invite them to church, help them get plugged in to a starting point type of class that helps them really explore what it is all about in even more depth, and ultimately I would and walk alongside them as they are making a decision whether or not to give their life over to Christ.
If they eventually did, I would encourage them to take the question of their lifestyle to God.
If they are not open to having that conversation about the gospel in the first place, I would simply tell that God still loves them and if they are ever willing to learn more, I would love to sit down with them, but in terms of their lifestyle, I don’t think it is my place to judge.”
Ultimately our job as Christians is to bring people to saving faith in Jesus. If people genuinely come to know Christ and give their life over to him, God is capable of transforming hearts and I believe that God’s will and ability to transform is better than mine!
As a church we do not do ourselves any favors by attempting to legislate individual choices unless they directly hurt or infringe on the rights of others. Drunk driving kills a huge number of people every single year. Drunk driving is already illegal, but if we really wanted to hone in on one sin that had the potential to harm others, it seems like drunkenness would be a good start since you can’t drive drunk if you can’t get drunk. Not only can drunkenness result in drunk driving, but it can also cause domestic abuse, ruin families, and have all sorts of other negative consequences. Last I checked Christians weren’t lining up at the ballot box to bring back prohibition.
Jesus spent a large chunk of his time talking about helping the poor and marginalized. If the Christian church was going to throw their collective political weight behind an issue, that one was talked about quite a bit more. How are we doing at that currently?
When we talk about these issues, a large percentage of the church all of a sudden become champions of individual freedom. A vast majority says that it is the role of the church to provide help to those that need it and not the role of the government.
To be clear, I am not arguing for or against either of these positions. I am merely stating that we have an interesting way, as a church, of being incredibly selective of which issues we decide truly outrage us and what issues we will throw our collective political weight behind. I would challenge anyone to go back and read the entire book of Matthew, every single word Jesus spoke while on earth, and see if you come to the conclusion that we are fighting the right cultural fights at this moment in time. Are our collective actions bringing others to Christ or pushing them away?
This all stems from fear of “others”. If you are not gay, there is not a lot of risk of you accidentally being gay on a given night. However, you might have one too many beers. You might slip back into your porn addiction. You might be consumed with jealousy for a week, month or year. You might covet your neighbor’s things. You might grow incredibly angry and overreact. You might not honor your mother or father. You might lie. You might steal. You will definitely have idols.
“But Aaron, those are individual sins! Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice!”
How are you at guarding the Sabbath as a lifestyle choice? That one was actually on God’s Top Ten list. Homosexuality didn’t even appear on there.
We meet all of these issues with grace because we can relate. We could see ourselves struggling in these areas next time and wanting others to meet us with grace, forgiveness, and love.
Jesus calls us to spread a message of love and grace.
Jesus and Paul are the two main teachers throughout the New Testament and both of them were crystal clear on our role when it comes to judging people outside of the church and how we should approach them.
I vote we listen.
Thought to ponder
What media have I been consuming, speakers have I been listening to, or authors have I been reading that have potentially been pushing me away from the message Jesus gave of love, grace, and forgiveness?
Daily Readings: Numbers 25-26, 1 Corinthians 3
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
This is such a perfect analogy for our spiritual journey as Christians. There are times in our journey when we need nothing more than milk in terms of our spiritual development. Until we have come to fully internalize the truth that Jesus chose to come to earth in fully human form, paid a price for us that we were unable to ever pay on our own by giving up his life willingly, and that we have the ability to welcome Christ into our lives to dwell within us and guide us through our time here on earth; spending time reading about his will for our life carries so much less weight.
If you give an infant solid food, it will wreak havoc on the poor baby’s digestive system. If you attempt to help a non-believer see how they might potentially be out of step with the life God had planned for them before they have even come to know and accept Jesus, it wreaks havoc as well.
This is the fundamental problem with street corner evangelism where you simply shout that people are going to hell and holding up signs about certain sin issues, declaring why people are not living the way God intended.
On a more normal level, it is also the problem with the judgmental brand of Christianity that exists in the marketplace today amongst some believers who really do want to be marketplace missionaries, but have a tendency to turn people away more than draw them in. If you lead with telling people why they are not living in accordance with God’s design, you are shoving meat down the throat of an infant.
Paul encourages us to first come with milk.
For folks who have no relationship with Christ, we must first introduce them to amazing, unearned, unconditional grace. We must share with them the incredible truth of a God who loves us in all of our messiness. We need to share the gospel message.
There are times where God certainly uses us to confront people in our lives who have professed faith in Christ, but may not be living it out. I am thankful he has used others in my life in this way from time to time when needed!
However, before they believe, we are called to lead with love, patience, and the same grace that God showed us.
During his time on earth Jesus was extremely tough in his language when it came to people who already believed in God and said they wanted to serve him faithfully. He was not shy in calling out hypocrites!
However, he came with nothing but grace, forgiveness, and acceptance for those who did not yet know him. He came with patience and love.
He came with milk.
Thought to ponder
Who are individuals or groups of people in my life where I tend to lead with meat instead of milk? Do I need additional milk myself in my walk with Christ and have I sought that out recently?
Daily Readings: Exodus 33-34, Psalm 28, Romans 2
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
If you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Romans 2:1, 17-24
All throughout his ministry here on Earth, Jesus preached this message. After his death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven; Paul picked up the torch and carried it on behalf of Jesus. When we spend all of our time judging others, driving wedges, and condemning; we give non-believers all of the ammo they need to blaspheme God’s name to other non-believers.
When we pick out our favorite sin to isolate and speak out against it as Christians, we only alienate. We give others, that do not yet know Jesus, the chance to take a magnifying glass to our lives and say, “Really? You have it all together? You are perfect and without sin?”
How often have you heard a non-believer say something along the lines of, “If that is what being Christian looks like, I am not interested!”
Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
I think that is the prevailing thought amongst many agnostics today. There are so many people that are not sure exactly what they believe, feel something missing in their lives, are not sure what it is, but when they see the Christian Church doing mostly condemning and dividing; they decide quickly that, whatever they are missing, Christianity isn’t it! God’s name is blasphemed amongst the Gentiles.
Jesus spent his time preaching a gospel of love. He wanted his followers to heal the sick, care for the poor, and spread the message that the God of the Universe loved each and every one of us so much that he chose to come in human form and give up his own life so that we may be saved.
None of us are capable of perfection. That is why God sent his only son on our behalf in the first place. When we preach a gospel of “condemnation of sin” instead of a gospel of “radical, beautiful, undeserved grace” we give folks who do not yet know Jesus all the ammo they need to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” You are just another hypocritical Christian.
However, contrast that with the gospel that Jesus and Paul preached. Compare that with the gospel of love.
Jesus wants an army of followers willing to reach out to others in all of our brokenness, not trying to put on a mask of perfection, but vulnerably saying, “Yeah, I am messed too. I continually fall short. I am trying to be more like Christ every day, but every single day fall short in some way or another. I am so thankful that God loves me exactly where I am and was willing to come along side of me with all of my faults, baggage, and hang-ups. I am so thankful that Jesus willingly paid the price for me, knowing that I would trip and fall over and over again, despite my best efforts. I just want you to know that he loves you too. A lot. Exactly where you are and where you have been. He wants a relationship with you, today. He isn’t waiting for you to get yourself “cleaned up and polished” before wanting to come into your life. He wants to join in the fight now. He wants to do the heavy lifting with you. We have all fallen short and will continue to fall short. Jesus loves you like crazy anyway. And that is a pretty exciting thing! I just want you to know that I love you too and would love to walk along side you as you get to know this Jesus guy a little better. I don’t have any interest in judging you. I have enough issues in my own life I am still working through! However, if you ever wanted a sounding board to talk through issues, I will be here.”
This is a gospel that is impossible to “blaspheme amongst the Gentiles”. That is a gospel with the power to change hearts. That is a gospel of transforming love.
Thought to ponder
What has caused me in the past to fall back on a gospel of condemnation of others as well as condemnation of myself, instead of a gospel of radical, beautiful, undeserved grace?