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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.