On A Journey

This is an unplanned post – skipping my next installment of the Confederate Flag/Bobby story for a moment – to take you through a quick jog to review a journey I’ve been on for a couple weeks. I hope, by doing so, it encourages you.

Without going into too many personal details, my life has gone through a dramatic change which was unplanned and somewhat from left field. It included lies or at least promises that never existed in order to “blind” me, and it included being told descriptions about myself that had not occurred, or at least did not occur in the way I was told they did. For two weeks, I have been assessing myself, my recent past, asking for honest feedback from various people, going through the last couple years with a fine tooth comb…….and during that process I began to take on the yolk of a person I didn’t know. There was the horrible person I was introduced to two weeks ago, and the person those who provided feedback and who I more recognized. As is most often the case in life, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

But here’s the thing – I just accepted the horrible definition of me that I was given two weeks ago. Even though it didn’t really resonate with me. Even if it didn’t really add up to my daily approach to life or the ethos I thought defined my existence. Like a baby elephant that is chained to a stick as it is trained to be in captivity, I was slowly accepting this definition of me. Had I stayed with that acceptance process, my theoretical trainer would have been able to remove the chain from my leg and I would not wander off.

Instead, I’ve turned to focusing on my personal strength and noting how my actions align with them. You too can do this by doing to VIA Character Survey and seeing your core strengths.

My goal is doing this was to seek alignment and my true identity and not let others define who I am. To note my behaviors that feed those characteristics, the evidence that feeds those characteristics, and also to build up aspects of my character that may need some attention. To better use my character strength to overcome challenges and to remind myself I HAVE STRENGTHS. This process has been a fruitful endeavor.

You all have strengths and I encourage you to take the quiz. I am sharing my top 5 here as part of my own exercise as well as to show you that when we focus on our STRENGTHS, great things happen!

  1. Love Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing & caring are reciprocated; being close to people. VIRTUE CATEGORY: HUMANITY
  2. Honesty Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions.VIRTUE CATEGORY: COURAGE
  3. Humor Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.VIRTUE CATEGORY: TRANSCENDENCE
  4. Social intelligence Being aware of the motives/feelings of others and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick. VIRTUE CATEGORY: HUMANITY
  5. Bravery Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what’s right even if there’s opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it.VIRTUE CATEGORY: COURAGE

And just for reference, my last place character, which I confirm should be there ha:

24, Prudence Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted. VIRTUE CATEGORY: TEMPERANCE

Do not allow others to define who you are by using your character to suggest you are horrible.

For those that personally know me, I’d love to hear if you think these make sense!

The Beginning

Bobby sure appeared to mistrust me; I didn’t exactly blame him. I mean, I was a stranger, drove onto his driveway, and started talking to him about his history. When he realized the core of my questions related to his Confederate Flag, his response was what I had pretty much expected; distrust, defense, even a little scruffy anger. I quickly tried to explain myself, admitting I had been judging him for months but that I truly and sincerely wanted to understand from his point of view why he flew that flag. That I no longer wanted to be ignorant, or rely on my own perception, to paint my world view of his yard.

He didn’t immediately put his guard down.

Our first conversation was more of a harsh dance, colored heavily by today’s rhetoric of distrust and anger. References to free speech, the right to bear arms, and even trespassing were repeated more times than I could count. At one point, I seriously thought Bobby would spray me using the water hose he held in his hand menacingly. For my part, I tried to seem safe, almost casual, but the truth is – I am my mother’s daughter. I am pretty confident my words said the right thing, but my face was clearly displaying a message that was closer to “eat sh*t and die!”

But we made it through those moments.

That day, the lesson I learned was that education can be hard work. It can be scary. It can even be difficult to ignore your own “truth” that pulls you back so hard, it is almost easier to give into it than push through to seeking clarity. I learned that we, as humans, are too often controlled by opinions and rage, which comes much more naturally than by logic and calm. But despite all of that, I learned that succeeding in pushing through brings a goldmine of opportunity.

Introduction to Robert

Note: Throughout this post I refer to the “Confederate Flag”, it is in fact the Confederate BATTLE flag. I assumed everyone would picture that one, but stating it just to be safe.

I have lived in my current house just over two year. About 4 months after moving in, the location of my work office changed, thus changing my route to work. It is common to see Confederate Flag fly in the area I live in, but one house I started to pass was different; it was a beautiful house, with a super-well kept lawn, a nice large RV parked in a sizable driveway, and curb appeal that didn’t fit the stereotypical characteristics of “southern pride”. You know what I mean, I am sure….

The tall flag pole, since the first day I drove by, has always had its Confederate flag hung up, and as I usually do, I shook my head in dismay. “Why would ANYONE display that flag?” I mean, to me it was waving a cloth of betrayal – of treason – not to mention the racial overtones that come to mind to many people in this country. Each morning and evening I’d pass the beautiful yard and grimace as I’d see that damn flag hoisted as high as it could go, and I imagined the people that lived in the house. “Racist” was often at the list, followed often by “buddy, you lost the war!”

Week after week, the process repeated, until one day I wondered about the family a bit differently; I will admit I kept going back to the pristine appearance of the house and yard, and wondered how a person could make such beauty could also be so proud of what I perceived as a racist, hateful object. That train of thought lead me to wondering if their view of the flag was something all together different than mine. Could it be?

Then, about 4 months ago, I saw Robert for the first time as I drove by. I wasn’t surprised to see a white man appear in the yard, nor did his age – which I guessed was over 60 – make me immediately think nice thoughts about him. I assumed he disliked blacks, was an avid Trump supporter, and probably had more guns in his house than I had toilet paper. But still I wondered if I was viewing him through just as narrowly as I accused him of viewing the world through the white man’s world.

About 6 weeks ago, he was outside again, and something came over me. I admitted to myself that I was being somewhat racist in my opinions of him, based solely on his Confederate Flag. And, before I could talk myself out of it, I pulled into his driveway, exited my car, and introduced myself. I complimented him on his beautiful yard, and admitted that I was “a Yankee from Southern California” and would sincerely love to find out about his history, that of his family, and how it related to his beautiful home and the flag he flew.

Yeah, that went as awkward as it read!

But, it started a conversation that I will be sharing with you in this series, about all I learned from Robert, call him Bobby. Bobby is a retired engineer, he’s in his late 60’s, has been married a long time, has always lived in this area, and has dashing blue eyes below his bright white hair. He is fit, enjoys the outdoors, is very articulate, and didn’t think I was completely crazy, just maybe a little. Over the last few weeks, we had some interesting discussions, and I can’t wait to share them with you!

What I Would Say If I Could

Today, it is calm, though rainy, where I live. I have been enjoying the day move from sunny and warm to overcast….and still warm. The rain started and somehow its building rhythm distracted me from the book I am readying to thoughts of my Mother.

Most of my life, I felt a disconnection from my mom. She defined what I didn’t want to be, while I found comfort and security in my dad. She was loud, had huge mood swings, while he was always even keeled and calm. She pushed me to want to scream, and he soothed me. I always considered myself more like my dad, and I would emphasize that in numerous ways, year after year. I wasn’t ashamed of my mom, really, but the things I recognized in her I wanted to minimize, and the things I saw in my dad I emphasized.

Having the benefit of age, of days like this that allow me to gaze back on the years that brought me here, I realize so many years were wasted with my myopic view of my parents. I don’t mean to suggest the hugely important and real impact my dad has had on my life; but like many things we humans do with people, I created a fantasy of my own truth that I suppose I needed, but nonetheless fractures upon inspection. I cannot separate from the goodness and love my dad provided for me, but my mom was not the woman I believed her to be, at least not the extent I manufactured in my mind for too many years.

My mom, born in a generation where many words used were not considered racist, was the first person I really knew who accepted all walks of life without hesitation. She raised eyebrows by having friends that were black, Chinese, Jewish…..the list goes on. I don’t recall her ever saying a certain race was bad or anything negative. She never said I couldn’t have a friend due to their race. She divorced an abusive man when the stigma for being a single mom was worse than being a prostitute. She bore on her shoulders the thought that her own mother did not love her and was often a shadow in her own family history (distant relatives I’ve come across through Ancestry knew of her brothers/my uncles or even met them, but never knew they had a sister). She always seemed to want to be loved, but somehow built scenarios in which even the strongest love didn’t work. She definitely had her demons to content with, many of which I witnessed throughout my years and often ran from in dismay, but somehow always offered unconditional love and acceptance no matter how heated the last exchange might have been.

I see now that the woman I defined mostly as negative for most of my life was not this angry, irrational being. No. Instead, she was supportive. She was fearful. She was hungry for love. She was confident. She was intelligent. She was resilient. She didn’t step on those beside her, fighting to survive as she was. Instead, she shared what meager tools she had to assist them, too. Most often, she’d make a friend while doing so. I thought hard today, trying to remember when she spoke badly about someone or uttered words of judgment; I couldn’t. Even during the prolonged years of my own parent’s tumultuous divorce, she’d focus on the issues she was fighting for and never once spoke badly about my dad. Even as our own strained relationship ebbed and flowed as I grew into adulthood, trying so desperately to be anything but like her, she never told me I was not her daughter. She never made me feel like I’d failed her. She always spread her arms wide and welcomed me. Even when I exposed how broken I was, or how hurtful I could be, she loved me and shone with pride.

So I sit here, regretting the time I lost with her. How I failed to come to this realization completely when she was alive. How I failed to ask simple questions like how it felt as a little girl during World War II, or what her favorite meal was as a child, or how she reacted to her first period, or what country she always wanted to visit. How she survived such a hard life (and it was very hard) and yet come out loud, emotional, but always loving. How, in the years when she was home bound and fighting COPD, she avoided becoming a bitter, mean old woman. How, even as I overtly fought being like her, she never once said she was disappointed in me or suggested I lacked in anything. How, in fact, she built me up even if I was too ignorant to notice.

So today, I looked up at the cloudy, rain soaked sky, and spoke to her. I apologized for not asking those questions. I apologized for sitting days after her death, listening to horrible things be said about her, and doing nothing to defend her memory. I said I was proud to look so much like her, and yes, even act a lot like her, and admit I am glad that I do. I thanked her for all the unrealized gifts she provided throughout my life, feeling their weight like a gift and not regret. I thanked her for creating a model that I am just now embracing wholly, instead of as an example of what I should avoid.

I am forever thankful that she knew my love, that she heard from my mouth that she was a great mom to me before she died. I am thankful that I could feel her love once more before she left. And I am thankful that I am so much like her, even if just realizing it.



Follower of Christ

A couple disclaimers for this post:

  1.  I refer to homosexuality in my video and in this blog as sin, not because I believe this, but because it is mirroring the context of those who believe it is a sin.  The goal of this post is not to argue this view’s merits, but to focus on how the Bible describes how we should respond to sin….specifically in reference to the noted meme.
  2. While I say in my video that I am a Christian, I actually refer to myself as being a Follower of Christ.  Unfortunately, the label “Christian” has been hijacked by a loud and hurtful segment of the American religious community that is often hard for me to recognize.  You may see it differently, but I hold more firmly to Jesus than the dogma that is portrayed often in my culture.

This is the final installment for this meme I came across that was posted by a family member.  It is my most direct response to it.  Again, this involves my interpretation of scripture that is also backed up by many studied theologians.  I will ask, if your only response to this is to insist I am not a Christian or other choice words, that is not a productive conversation and therefore I would ask that you refrain (just as I will refrain from finding reasons why YOU are not a Christian).  However, if you’d like to share your interpretations of the specific scriptures involved in this, I’m all ears.

Before I get into the theological aspects of this post, I want to emphasize that memes such as this create very dangerous scenarios for LGBTQ+ people.  In today’s aggressive and even hateful rhetoric, people are actually empowered to physically harm LGBT people because of messages like this.  Also, young people struggling with the realization of their sexuality can very easily lose all hope and go as far as take their own lives.  Words have power, which is a Biblical truth, and I encourage everyone (but especially Christians) to let their words/memes be “always full of grace”.  (Taken from Colossians)

First of all, many of my previous highlights regarding how many Christians today view things through a different filter today is related to Lordship Salvation.  This branch of religion adds our requirements to salvation, sanctification, and emphasizes works over everything.  Proponents of Lordship Salvation define it this way, “The doctrine of lordship salvation teaches that submitting to Christ as Lord goes hand-in-hand with trusting in Christ as Savior. Lordship salvation is the opposite of what is sometimes called easy-believism or the teaching that salvation comes through an acknowledgement of a certain set of facts.” Quote link.  Opponents say this, “As defined by its own advocates, Lordship Salvation could more properly be called “Commitment Salvation,” “Surrender Salvation,” or “Submission Salvation” since in actuality the debate is not over the Lordship of Christ, but the response of a person to the gospel and the conditions which must be met for salvation.” Quote link

To me, and to summarize – Lordship Salvation is the unsupportable and unbiblical belief that the PERFORMANCE of good works, the PROMISE of good works, or the EVIDENCE of good works MUST accompany faith in Christ in order to establish, or provide evidence, that such faith has resulted in eternal life.  While the Bible definitely outlines parameters to assist us in being disciples of Christ, it does not say that any of these man-made conditions are necessary for salvation. However, many Protestant Evangelical churches, ministries, and pastors (especially in America) teach that concept as foundational today.  Which is super ironic to me, because many of these same believers of these “truths” claim Catholics are not Christians because they are too focused on man-made efforts. In any case, I believe this approach and belief system was behind the creation of this meme.  Further, I’d like to acknowledge that if you Google “Lordship Salvation believer’s favorite scriptures to condemn”, 100% of the noted scriptures will be listed (and not just for gays, but for ANYONE they determine have not met the additional criteria of works to be truly saved).

So, enough of my thoughts on this (though I think it is important to understand), let’s see what the scriptures indicate.  Remember, they were referenced specifically to prove that I cannot be a Christian because I am gay.

1 Cor 6:9-11

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

First of all, I am MUCH MORE condemned for being an adulterer if I took this at face value, for Jesus Himself said, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9. I would argue that, because of these red letter words, at least 50% of the Evangelical Church would be in hell with me!  But again, the context of this meme is about BEING GAY, so I suppose they wanted me to ignore the adultery part and focus on the “who practice homosexuality” part.  I won’t get into the etymology of the word “homosexuality” in the script for today, but note this is a more recent translation and heavily disputed.

I surmise that the person who created the meme as well as the one who shared it believe that people who commit serious sins (especially those filthy homos!), or whose lives have a pattern of serious sin, won’t go to heaven. They probably also believe that “true believers” won’t commit these sins, or at least that they won’t have a pattern of any of these sins in their lives – hence the “can’t be a Christian” tag for us gays.

However, this is NOT what this scripture is saying!  This passage means that people who are not in Christ (that is, who have never trusted in Christ as Savior, aka “the unrighteous”) will not get into heaven. They are condemned because they have never believed in Jesus, not because they have committed these sins. Christ paid for all of our sins, past, present, and future, including the ones listed in this passage.  Remember when we accepted Christ He put HIS righteousness over us?  We are no longer unrighteous because of the free gift Jesus gave to us.

2 Cor 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Many Christians (but especially those who follow – even unknowingly – Lordship Salvation) believe this means that whoever has believed in Christ as Savior will have an instantaneous change, that their mind will instantly be focused only on holy topics, their will will be subdued and directly to God’s, and their affections will be completely changed from love of sin and self to that of love of holiness and God.  Because of that, sin cannot truly continue – or especially pervasive and ongoing sin – because if it does, they can’t really have accepted Christ or have been saved.

But we all just have to be honest and look in our mirrors to understand that was not the case in any of our lives or our walk with Christ.  The affections of a saved person are not automatically changed from a love of sin and self to a love of holiness and God. Changing our way of thinking to line up with God’s way of thinking takes our cooperation, as Romans 12:2 makes so clear:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

2 Corinthians 5:17 means that whoever has received eternal life through faith in Christ has been regenerated, resulting in the creation of a new human who is a sinless, incorruptible child of God.  This new human is a result of the second birth, a spiritual birth, which all who possess eternal life have undergone. The flesh nature, which is neither good, nor righteous, does not go away when we are born again. That results in a conflict between the flesh and the spirit, which will continue until we die, or are raptured.   We are instructed to walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:4), to put on the new man (Ephesians 4:24), and to walk in the spirit (Galatians 5:16 and 25) so that we can manifest the fruits of the spirit (which are good things) and not the works of the flesh (which are evil).  This scripture has nothing to do with salvation, but a promise that we will not be forsaken and we hold a new position as a child of God that was given to us despite our position in sin.

Gal 5:24

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

To really get the context of this scripture, I am expanding it to include Gal 5:19-23

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Again, this scripture was used to prove that I am not a Christian because I am gay.  Does this show that people who commit these sins will not get into heaven?

No. This passage teaches that these works of the flesh will be manifested in the lives of Christians if they choose to not walk in the Spirit.  Not walking in the spirit is one thing, but it doesn’t mean one has not accepted Christ nor does it cancel salvation, which was a gift to begin with.  The people referred to as “they” in this passage are unbelievers. They will not inherit the kingdom of God (go to heaven), because they have not believed in Jesus as Savior.  People who are not Christians cannot walk in the Spirit, because they have never received the Spirit.

Further, also in Galatians, Paul rebukes the Jewish Christians for demanding that Gentile Christian men be circumcised to truly be a follower of Christ. 

Claiming the Promise puts it this way:

Paul refuted the troublemakers by referring the gentile converts to Christianity to God’s early promise in Genesis. God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have heirs and be the ancestors of a multitude of nations (Genesis 15:4-5; 17:4, 15-16). Those descendants were Gentiles as well as Jews. Paul referred to that early promise in order to prove from scripture that it is not God’s law but God’s promise that defines God’s relationship (covenant) with humankind. The law didn’t come until long after Abraham and Sarah had received the promise and believed (Galatians 3:17-18). Though Gentiles were never under the Jewish law, they clearly were part of God’s covenant. They did not need to be circumcised or to follow other Jewish practices.

“Those of us who are lesbian and gay Christians,” some of us observe, “are the Gentiles of modern Christianity who are being asked wrongly to renounce their/our sexual identity and live under the law of heterosexuality in order to be included in God’s covenant.  That demand is a gospel that is not really a gospel at all.”  Link to Quote, Pg. 11

1 John 3:7-10

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

So again, the premise of the meme being that I can’t be a Christian because I am gay, I surmise these scriptures were used to point out that because I continue to sin (live as a lesbian each day), I am not practicing righteousness and am instead sinning.  Therefore, I am not of God.  Is that what this scripture is saying?

No. When we love God, we will love those born of God. Loving God and loving others is not automatic in the life of a believer. If it were, we would not be exhorted to love God with our whole heart and to love one another.  But more importantly, we need to take the entire context of 1 John into account.  Go backwards and look at 1 John 2:1. There John is writing that children of God can and do still sin. Paul in the book of Romans 7:14-25, tells us that indwelling sin remains within us. Our sin nature is dead, but indwelling sin is still active.  The key to it all is understanding our identity in Christ; we have been declared righteous, however we will still sin after we have been saved. As we grow in Christ, we will learn to hate sin more and more, just as God hates sin.

Many still believe that we can lose our salvation or that because we still sin, we must not be a child of God. Remember who is declaring us justified – God Himself.  And the Bible is clear that we are not justified by works.  As such, our failure at works also do not disqualify us. So, the Bible is clear we sin as children of God, and we’d be more clear ourselves if we were more honest. Jesus has covered ALL of our sins; our will and self-effort cannot save us or keep us saved. Finding my identity in Christ has provided me freedom from bondage, and it was given to me as a gift from Christ Himself.

Rom 6:1-7

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.

This is a complex area, especially since many Bible translations (including the older versions of the NIV) create the “sin nature” argument instead of sticking to “flesh”.  These verses are often used to condemn groups of people that are viewed as sinful, thus labeling them “Not Christian”.  See Andrew Farley’s article here for expanded details

Look also at Romans 7:21 that puts the above verses into full context; our flesh so wants to contribute to our holiness. That is the flesh of self-effort or trying to will ourselves into a state of righteousness. That cheapens what Christ did on the cross! Saying that only some of our sins were forgiven (the ones leading up to our asking God to forgive our sins), would mean Christ only died for some of our sins. If He died for only some of our sins, then the cross isn’t finished, and He would need to go back on it each day to die for more sins and future sins. This is not to call out those of us who sin (which, hello, is all of us Christians) to expose us as fake, or any other focus – but to remind us that we are crucified with Christ and we need to stop acting like we used to when we tried to offset this with our own actions.  Or even worse, deny we are sinning while condemning others who sin.

1 Tim 1:8-10

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine

Again, based on the meme, I am to understand that – because I am sexually immoral – I can’t be a Christian.  But what is Paul really saying to Timothy with these verses?  Paul White says this:

Now Paul wants to make sure that no one thinks that he is against the law, so he says that it is good, “if a man use it lawfully” (verse 8). Wait a minute! If there is a lawful way to use the law, then there must be an unlawful way to use the law. Paul says, “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane…” (verse 9). In light of this instruction, why is the law so frequently used against Christians? When a saint fails, we often hear the same condemnatory remarks used, citing the Law of God, as we do against the sinner. Instead, we should edify the believer, reminding them of who they are in Christ. Only the grace of God is going to teach them how to live righteous in this present world (Titus 2:11, 12).

In other words, the Apostle Paul was saying the law is for the list of sinners.  We are not under the law, we are under grace.  Paul White goes on to say, “Saint, receive no condemnation today. Let the love of God and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son silence the voice of condemnation in your spirit. God’s Law is just, holy and good and it shows people their sins. You are clean in Jesus, so see His grace and favor, and walk therein.”  Link to article.

Conclusion

The Bible does not give us a litmus test to check if someone else is or is not a Christian.  As I’ve shared in previous posts, the fruits of the spirit can and are manifested in non-Christians as well – even Satan displayed them per the Bible!  Jesus said others would know we follow Him by the love we show.  I think the Apostle Paul’s answer would be fairly straightforward: a Christian is someone who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ”, he writes in Romans 8:9. Then, two verses later: “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” So if someone has the Spirit, they will be raised, and if someone does not have the Spirit, then they don’t belong to Christ. That sounds about as close to a definition of what makes a Christian as we’re likely to find. And for what it’s worth, I think the story of Cornelius indicates that Peter and the other Jerusalem apostles would agree (Acts 10:47; 11:17-18).

The problem is, then, how can we tell who has the Holy Spirit?  Admittedly, this doesn’t give us a cut-and-dried test we can apply to others. It is, after all, not always easy to be sure who has the Spirit and who doesn’t, but that may not be such a bad thing. If God had wanted us to know for certain whether a particular church leader, or presidential candidate, or an LGBT person was a Christian, he’d have given us a secret password which only true believers could say. But he didn’t.  So maybe we’re supposed to have assurance of our own salvation, but leave the final answers about the salvation of others with God.  And, I contend, that it is MORE IMPORTANT to love……Christians, non-Christians, sinners, even our enemies.

Reverend Dr. Kari Tolppanen put it this way:

With respect to the debate about gay marriage, people in opposite camps have shown very little real love for each other.  It is sad to see how few Christians have shown any desire to see the issue from the perspective of homosexuals.  They do not want to explore the subject or to know any gay people (GMR or show love and compassion to family members they do know).  The only thing that homosexuals hear from the mouths of these people is condemnation and disapproval.  These Christians are today’s Pharisees who cling to their view of the Bible’s teaching, but forget what is most important in the law: mercy, justice and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23).  They tie up heavy loads and put them on homosexuals’ shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them (Matt. 23:4).  They believe they know what is best for homosexuals even though they may not know any homosexual people personally.  I constantly hear stories about how cruel some Christians are towards homosexuals.  Some parents abandon their gay children and many churches kick out gay people.  No wonder many homosexuals have a very hostile attitude towards Christians and regard them as the worst kind of Pharisees. Link to article.

If you believe LGBT cannot be Christians, that is your right.  Even if you’ve read this blog, seen my other blogs, and stick to that view, that is your right.  But memes such as these are not loving.  They do not share “good news” as the gospel does, but it closes the door to relationships.  Where there is judgment, there is no love.  And, I encourage you to ask yourself, is it more important to condemn others than to love them and have a relationship with them?  Is your way better than the steps Jesus took with the sinners around Him?  Do you honestly believe that, unless someone is perfect in your moral measurement, they can’t be Christian?

I contend we are called to love.  Love our neighbors, love our enemies, and love is to have a relationship with them where they are.  And I will NEVER say someone is not a Christian because I cannot tell with any surety that they have the Holy Spirit in them.

But to those who DO know me, I would hope that you see the love I share.  I cling very heavily to the Holy Spirit to assist me in this, because I am the one being told my sincere faith is not true and I am not changed.  I rest in Christ and I know without fear that I am His, no matter that others would rather spend their time insisting I am going to hell.

Peace.

The Fruits

Recently, I saw a meme on Facebook and, as part of the LGBT community, it hurt me.  I posted two installments explaining my view of the Gospel, and now I want to address another Christian concept that blurs the truth of how many of us view each other in Christ.  I feel this is another area that is important to understand before I specifically address the meme.

Many of these thoughts and explanations were derived from the book, Religion vs Jesus Do vs Done by Preston Greene, though I also recommend checking out books by Andrew Farley.

Too often, we Christians go through motions to help us decide if another person is a Christian or not.  We look for “proof” that they are saved, and if we don’t see it, we decide they really CAN’T be a Christian.  This concept gets a little murky when “life” gets in the way.  For example, one might say “no one who breaks the law can be a Christian”, but when you point out that speeding is breaking the law, the explanation is often further refined to mean “when you break IMPORTANT laws”.  We also often hear the phrase, “to be a REAL Christian, your life needs to produce fruit”, or “the fruits of your life will show if you’re a Christian.”  Today, we will talk about fruit and its place in our salvation.

The Fruit of the Spirit is detailed in Galatians 5:22-23

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Many religious people look for these as proof that a person is a Christian.  If they believe the fruit is not present, they often decide the person is not REALLY a Christian!  They might also go to Matthew 7:15-20 and John 15:6 and take it a step further – not only are you not a Christian, but YOU ARE GOING TO HELL!  (I suppose that’s one and the same, but you get my drift.)  If they aren’t producing these fruits, then they must be going to hell.   I am here today to share, I believe these views are wrong.

Preston Greene in his book asks some questions before breaking down the scripture in Matthew and John.  These views are based on the Christian belief of salvation through Jesus as being saved.

1. Can an unsaved person show love?

2. Can an unsaved person show joy?

3. Can an unsaved person show longsuffering towards humanity (through charity)?

4. Can unsaved people promote peace (Gandhi)?

If you are honest, the obvious answer is yes to all the questions. Let’s take this a step further, shall we?

1. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses show these fruits? (If you didn’t know, they don’t believe that Jesus was God in the flesh and think you have to earn salvation).

2. How about Mormons? Do they show fruits of the Spirit?

3. Do peace loving Muslims show any of these fruits?

The truth of this is ALL of the above show the fruit of the spirit as listed in Galatians.  It’s hard to deny it even if you’re trying to insist that showing fruit is the true measurement of proving salvation in Christ.  If this were not true, why would Matthew 7:15 warn against “wolves in sheep’s clothing”?  1 Cor 11:13-14 tells us that anyone can act like they’re a Christian by displaying this fruit, heck, even Satan appeared to be an angel of light!  The fact remains that these attributes can be manifested by people who are not Christians.

But what about Christians?  Is there something in the Bible that shows that Christians always show these fruits once they receive Christ?  In truth, they show the exact opposite.  Preston Greene said it this way (emphasis mine),

“The church at Corinth was carnal, but were babes in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-3). They were a saved church; sanctified (1:2). However, they were sinning all over the place. Some of their sins were envying, strife, and divisions (3:3). A believer has relations with his stepmother (1 Cor 5:5), there were lawsuits among the believers (1 Cor 6:7) there was fornication (1 Cor 7:2), there was drunkenness at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:21). How many fruits of the Spirit were they showing? Not many, but they were saved.

With reason and scripture we can conclude that fruits of the Spirit are not evidence of salvation. If the unsaved can do them without the Holy Spirit and saved people can all but ignore them, why do the religious insist it is mandatory that they should be exhibited? Because that’s what the “religious” do. Their mantra of “do” for salvation exceeds Jesus’s “done”.”

But what about Matthew 7:15-20 and John 15:6?  Let’s break it down.

Matthew 7:15-20

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Preston Greene responds with this:

From a first look at this passage, it appears that if one does not produce fruit, he or she is going to hell. First, this passage is about false prophets (verse 15), not the born-again believer. Verse 16 reads, “You will know them (false prophets) by their fruits.” Well, this is not referring to fruits of the Spirit, as Satan presents himself as an angel of light. Notice verse 18: “a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit”. Do you sin? Then guess what, you are not a good tree. The only good tree is Jesus. Jesus said, “Why callest me thou good? There is none good but God” (Luke 18:19). Then we get to verse 20, which reads, “Wherefore by their fruits you will know them.” Well, if false apostles transform themselves into apostles of Christ and Satan presents himself as an angel of light, what does “fruit” mean? The answer is in Luke, which talks about the SAME thing.

For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart HIS MOUTH SPEAKETH. (Luke 6:43-45)

This is what fruit means in this passage. It is doctrine and what that doctrine produces (fruit). There are only two ways to see false prophets. One, if they prophesy something and it does not come to pass then they are not from God (Duet 18:22). The second area is “what is coming out of their mouths”. If you study your Bible and learn, you can tell someone is false by the words they speak. Bad doctrine, or false doctrine, will not produce for the kingdom. For example, what type of fruit were the Pharisees producing? What does Scripture teach us?

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matt 23:15).

Their fruit was to proclaim salvation by the works of the law to their disciples, to root their disciples in that doctrine that they became more a child of hell then their teachers! This was the “fruit” of the Pharisees (ClearGospel.org). As a result, we need to abide in Jesus (correct doctrine) to produce fruit (converts) for the kingdom.

John 15:6

“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Preston Greene responds:

Jesus said to believe (trust) in Him for salvation. IF you have done this, you have abided in Jesus to do what was needed to have everlasting life. Remember, Jesus promised not to cast you out; He will never lose you and nothing will pluck you out of His hand (John 6:39 and John 10:28). Jesus CANNOT contradict Himself. Second, Jesus is talking to believers (disciples). Look what he says starting in verse 3.

John 15:3-5

“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

You can read Preston’s book explaining the reference to fire, but note the MEANING of the fruit as noted in his book (emphasis mine):

Jesus uses this as an “idiom” or metaphor. IF one does not abide in him, he or she is “useless”. Useless branches are tossed away. This does not mean saved people can go to hell. That would contradict so many passages of scripture. Jesus is just saying that if you don’t abide in him (to bear fruit), then you are as useless as a branch bearing no fruit and will be set aside. In other words “God won’t use you”. Can a believer produce no fruit and go to heaven? YES. The Bible is clear. Salvation is by grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus. In 1 Cor 3:11-15 we read how we, as born again believers, will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where our works will be tested for reward. Some will have all their works burnt up, but they themselves will be saved. If they had “borne fruit”, that fruit would not have been burnt up, but rewarded. We conclude with verse 8, which tells us the context of the passage. Salvation is NOT in view here. Discipleship is in view here: “so shall ye be my disciples”. Salvation and discipleship— always keep them separate.

For salvation, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). For discipleship (service) Jesus said “pick up your cross and follow me”. Discipleship is NOT easy with a light burden. They are talking about two different things. The religious confuse salvation and discipleship; please don’t make the same mistake. Salvation is FREE. Discipleship is costly, BUT will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ. If you abide in Him, you can bear much fruit! Are you in the doctrine of Jesus or the doctrine of the Pharisees (religion)?

In summary, we cannot know man’s heart and it is very dangerous to declare that someone is not a Christian based on your view of their works, or fruits. Their salvation has nothing to do with their works, as their salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Please don’t confuse salvation with discipleship.

Peace!