“Jesus said…”

The Supreme Court’s decision regarding gay marriage shouldn’t have been as shocking for Christians as it seems to have been. Why should we be surprised when the world acts like the world? What has bothered me this week is not so much the gay marriage ruling but the number of various biblical interpretations thrown out there with the postmodern attitude: “All interpretations are right and justified.” It’s the mindset that interpretation is in the eye of the beholder, and that’s OK. I’m not talking about unbelievers who use Scripture against Christians. I don’t put any stock into what they say because a person cannot understand the Scriptures without the Spirit. How can I say that, you may ask? Let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 2 (NASB):

“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,

‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,

And which have not entered the heart of man,

All that God has prepared for those who love Him.’

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (Bold print added for emphasis)

An unbeliever may seem knowledgeable about spiritual matters and talk about Scripture all day long, but unless he or she has the Spirit, his or her words are meaningless.

Back to my original point, what has bothered me are various interpretations given by people who claim to be Christians. How can people who claim to have the same Spirit (which people are indeed doing if they call themselves Christians) proclaim opposing biblical interpretations and divide the church even further? Is the Spirit of God divided or confused? Of course not! So the only answer is that there’s something wrong with the church.

I read an article the other day called “I’m gay, liberal, open-minded–and a convert to Christianity.” I read the article not because I thought I’d agree with the author, but I was more curious about how he was going to justify his choices. The content made my blood boil. Here’s a few excerpts from Jonathan Elliott (author) with bold print for emphasis:

“But last October, I – a 33-year-old, progressive, openly gay man who spent much of my twenties as a crusading atheist and curious agnostic – was baptized and confirmed in the church. I’m unafraid to proclaim myself a disciple of Jesus Christ.” – He is open about his homosexuality and his proclaimed Christianity. The church has placed its stamp of approval upon him.

I’m still the person I was before I became a Christian, and a baptism isn’t a brainwashing. This change in my life didn’t turn me into a raging nutball – at least, I’m no more of one than I ever was.” – So are other Christians transformed into raging nutballs? Supposedly accepting Christ and being baptized didn’t change him. There’s apparently no need for change. How many of you Christians would say that you are the same person before coming to Christ and have had no conviction to change or repent?

He was diagnosed with diabetes in 2010: “I joined a support group for other newly diagnosed folks, and the therapy involved with this was rooted in a belief in a higher power. Initially, I resisted wholeheartedly. I’d been raised without any faith experience, and to even open up to the possibilities of God was a frightening and conflict-ridden concept. But ongoing discussions with this group made me realize that I was angry at what had happened to me – specifically, angry at God. And that meant I believed.” – It’s not until he feels angry towards God that he believes. OK, so even if this is how someone starts believing in God, you would think that there would be some sort of interest in learning more about Him, right?

“I spent the next two years bouncing back and forth between nearly 20 congregations of different denominations, serial first dates with church communities. And while I often found comfort and positivity, none felt like home. Sometimes I’d engage a pastor during the post-service coffee hour and find a bit of theology I couldn’t agree with; other times, I didn’t feel wholly welcomed.” – Searching for the right theology, which is…?

“Then, in 2013, I took a job as communications director for the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey.” [Elliott] “found that the church had the openness, diversity and the clear sense of tradition I sought. It was also strongly inclusive of the LGBTQ community, and welcomed both women and men as clergy members.” – Not sure what the “tradition” part means for him, but it seems that he found a place which supported his lifestyle. He didn’t have to change.

“Our priest preaches sermons that incorporate everything from transgender rights to the theological leanings of Dr. Who.” – What? And how is this preaching exactly?

And though the fundamentalists scream loudest, there are progressive and inclusive new forms of church springing up around the country, like Capital City Church in DC. Christian businesses like Elevation Burger use faith as part of their culture to inform great products and practices, without aspersions or judgment (take that, Hobby Lobby and Chik-Fil-A).” – Again, welcoming division within the so-called church.

“I acknowledge that Christianity is often countermanded and corrupted for heinous and spiteful things. But I refuse to accept that as the status quo. At the end of the day, I’m a Christian because faith, and our openness to God and to one another, make us stronger and more willing to engage the world as it unfolds and changes around us.”

Not once is Christ mentioned. There is no talk of salvation or Scripture. But the concepts of openness and finding the right fit rise to the surface. There’s no need to change; just be open to God and one another. How is this Scriptural? Does this not bother anyone else? Either the world hears (supposed) condemnation from the church or full acceptance of behavior, which is more politically correct. How has the church arrived to this point? I believe the issue tends to derive from biblical interpretation and the church’s unwillingness to distinguish good from bad fruit.

When discussing biblical interpretation for modern issues, a number of arguments start with “Jesus is in the New Testament, and He says…” Somehow the Old Testament gets tossed aside or is spoken of as barbaric. What most people forget or have not realized is that Jesus is still under the old covenant before His death and resurrection. Sure, someone wrote up a page that said “New Testament” and placed it before the Gospels, but it’s not until after Jesus dies and resurrects that the new covenant begins. A covenant cannot be established unless blood is spilled, and in this case, Christ’s blood (Heb. 9:13-18). So when people try to argue that Jesus is changing the Law with His teachings, they argue in ignorance. How can He uphold the Law and change it at the same time? What is more, why would He violate His own character since God does not change? There is either a lack of understanding or the unbelief that Jesus is God. John testifies to Jesus’ beginning with God (John 1). Jesus Himself testifies that He was before Abraham (John 8:58), and declares in John 17:5, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” Since Jesus is God, why would He oppose His own instructions?

As I’ve argued before, would not Christ, who has always been with and part of the Father, understand the Law perfectly? Would not, then, His teachings reflect the intended motivations behind the Law rather than change the Law itself? It is true that we (Christians) are no longer bound by the Law since Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, yet Jesus makes it clear that the Law is not abolished even now: “Do not think I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” If the Law is the tutor which leads us to Christ (Gal. 5:23); if the Law and the Prophets are witnesses to the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-22); if Jesus is One with the Lawgiver; and if He is under the Law while He teaches, how is it Christians argue that Jesus opposes the Law?

Many people want to see Jesus as a social justice campaigner, reaching out to the lowest of the low because they’re oppressed. They declare that He changed the role of women. That He simply loved people for who they were no matter what. That He condemned the rich men. Well, if that’s the case I must be reading a different gospel. Because I see Jesus as the holy Son of God who spoke to the self-righteous, rich, and lowly alike. He ate with and taught all of them. Many of the self-righteous, like the Pharisees, ridiculed Him and sought His death. They should have known the truth and taught the sheep, but instead they acted like wolves. Their own arrogance and desire for power and riches from the world drove them away from the Messiah they were supposedly waiting for. Some rich people, Jew and Gentile alike, sought Jesus for wisdom, truth, and healing, and those who had faith received what they asked for. For others, the cost of following Jesus was too high. Jesus interacted with the lowly and outcasts because they didn’t know the truth. They were sheep without a shepherd, the lost and spiritually sick. Those who were supposed to teach them had no understanding even with all of their knowledge, who burdened them with their own additions to the Law and man-made traditions. So Jesus taught them, and many came to believe in Him. And despite what many people are spouting nowadays, they changed because of the truth they came to know. Zaccheus (a rich, tax collector) no longer stole from people, but gave half of his possessions to the poor and vowed to return four-fold to those he defrauded (all of this given from his heart, not compulsion). Mary Magdalene was no longer possessed by demons but served the Lord (some scholars propose that she is also the sinful woman who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair in Luke 7:36-50; John 11:2 seems to support this). Jesus told the woman who was caught in adultery to “Go and sin no more.” He also told that to others whom He healed. The power of God was manifested so that they would believe, but they were instructed to no longer live in sin. Many of Jesus’ disciples who heard the teaching, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him (John 6:56),” decided to turn away from following Jesus. Scripture explains they left because of their unbelief (John 6:53-66). Jesus came to bring life to anyone who would heed His words of truth and follow the Father’s will. Salvation is a gift for all, poor and rich, Jew and Gentile alike. This is what Paul means when he writes, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:27-29). Anyone who claims this to be about social justice or equality is a fool. Such a person takes this teaching out of context which is talking about faith. Any of us who have made the commitment to follow Christ and carry out this commitment are one in Him. We are the body of Christ with each member serving its own God-given purpose so that the body may function properly.

Anyone who says that no change is necessary as a Christian is a liar and not a believer. This goes beyond the discussion of homosexuality. It’s about all sin. If I’m aware of sin in my life, and I do not repent and change, I remain in sin before God. If Israel received wrath from God while He continued to fulfill His promises to them (Psalm 78; 1 Cor. 10), do we think that we would not incur similar judgment if we remain in sin? Paul writes in Romans 6:1-7, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” He continues in vv. 11-18, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” If there are people who claim Christ but don’t acknowledge sin, they do not speak the truth. For what is the purpose of coming to Christ if we don’t believe we need to be saved from our sinful ways? If we believe we live rightly before God, why (as in Jonathan Elliott’s case) would we seek God since there should be no fear of eternal judgment?

Here’s another word from Paul regarding so-called believers who choose to continue in their sin: “But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves (1 Cor. 5:11-13).” Paul’s not talking about unbelievers who are coming to the church to learn about God. He’s talking about people proclaiming to be Christians but continuing in sin without repentance. It is the church’s job to rid itself of people who profane Christ’s name by choosing to live wickedly (knowingly).

Jesus says to His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the world that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well (John 15:18-24).” He continues His teaching by talking about the Spirit to come (Whom we now have as believers): “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you (John 16:7-15).”

We either follow the teaching of the world or the teaching from the Spirit. If we proclaim to be Christ followers we should no longer live according to the world’s sense of morality (if it has one). If we are one body in Christ our understanding of truth must be the same. We may disagree on music styles or small church vs. big church (the petty things we fight over; read Romans 14), but the essentials should be the same. How we understand sin should be the same. Do we want Christ to see us as a bride defiled by the world, or a pure, spotless bride?

When we encounter the lost our hope should be that they want to change to be more like Christ. How can we remain the same when we’ve been given so great a salvation? Is not His abundant mercy and grace reason enough for us to fall on our faces and repent because of our own wickedness? “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him (Romans 5:6-9).” If we know that there is wrath to come for those who do not believe (who are slaves to sin), why do we think that this wrath will not come upon us if we ignore sin, whether our own or that within the church? Is this not taking advantage of God’s grace, thereby slapping Him in the face?

The gospel of Christ will offend those who desire to be part of the world, but for those who seek new life, it is freedom from sin. It is eternal life. It is hope. We should not be ashamed of the gospel and fall in line with the world. If we follow the world then we are worse than unbelievers because we know the truth and turn away from it. Instead, may we serve God with the same Spirit, with the same understanding of truth.

Jesus said,

I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” ~ John 14:6

 

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