Monday, July 6, 2015

The Light of Christian Love in a Dark and Loveless Culture

For quite some time now, Christians have been on the receiving end of accusations by the world and by a large population of false Christians that we fail to demonstrate the kind of love Jesus and His apostles demonstrated. The examples cited by our accusers center on issues like abortion, homosexuality, and a dogmatic approach to Christianity in general. By dogmatic, I mean that Christians insist on the absolute truths of Scripture and seem unwilling to even consider alternative approaches to said Scripture, at least the kind of approaches that modern people in our modern culture consider less offensive, more open, more reasonable, intellectually respectable, and more inclusive.
It is absolutely the case that Christians are to demonstrate the love of Christ in whatever culture they find themselves. That fact is uncontroversial. But that statement is more complicated that it appears at first glance. When Christians use the term love, one has to ask if we mean the same thing the culture means when they use the same term. It depends on how one understands the meaning of the term love. You see, just as the modern expression study has a common meaning in our culture, we recognize that it had a different common meaning when the King James Bible was produced. What that culture meant when they used the term study was different from what our culture means when we use it. The content of the word “love” has to be supplied by the ancient writers of Scripture if we are to understand how Jesus and His disciples demonstrated love to others living in the dark culture of their own time.
Matthew and Mark both tell us that Jesus began his peaching ministry with a sermon on repentance. His message was simple: repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Accompanying His message of repentance, Jesus performed many signs and wonders along the way. It is the illegitimate separation of Jesus’ miracles from Jesus’ message that creates much modern confusion about the Jesus of the New Testament. Modern pictures of Jesus focus almost exclusively on Jesus’ acts of compassion toward those He healed much to the neglect of the fundamental principles of His message, which was first and foremost a message of repentance. Rather than shedding our modern philosophical and political leanings, and allowing our understanding of Jesus to be informed by 1) the ancient middle-eastern men that wrote about Him, and 2) the Holy Spirit who is essential in understanding the Jesus of the NT, modern culture imposes a modern paradigm on Christ and recasts the Jesus of the NT into a Jesus that looks remarkably similar to their personal idea of what someone of Christ’s stature must be like. In other words, the modern idea of Jesus is nothing more than the recasting of Jesus into the socio-cultural-politico idea of modern unbelievers desiring to exchange the image of the Christ of Scripture for an image they can live with.
The Christian must respond in love to this culture. For some of us that is more difficult than for others. Many of us want to take a torch to what is left of this culture and be done with it. That is a self-righteous attitude indeed. But for grace, there go I. While there is a place for righteous indignation, we must make sure we constantly examine our hearts. Paul was rightly vexed at the rampant idolatry he witnessed in Athens. Such a response is perfectly natural. But it is easy for those feelings to morph into a spiritually unhealthy and self-righteous attitude. What we have to do is acknowledge that our message is one of love, grace, and hope. It really is. And if that is true, then the antithesis of our message, which we believe the culture, is declaring, is not a message of love, grace, and hope. What I am suggesting is that we change our approach.
The culture says it is unloving, controlling, and degrading to women for us to tell a woman what she is to do with her own body. It has been messaged as a woman’s health issue. Abortion is not a woman’s health issue. It is an ethical issue. It is a sin issue. True Christian love, Christian grace, and Christian hope will speak to the truth about abortion in love, but it will do so directly. Just speak the truth! We should not feel bad about speaking what is true. And we should not worry that some people are going to hate what we say. If we love women the way Christ loves them, we will tell them the truth about abortion. Abortion is murder and those who have abortions and who perform abortions commit murder. Love urges women to avoid the sin of murder. Love, grace, and hope do not allow women to live in their own self-deception, thinking that abortion is merely a woman’s health issue. Murder is a sin that will clearly come under divine wrath. Love makes sure it communicates honestly and clearly the sobering truth about the consequences of such behavior.
The culture says it is unloving, bigoted, and hateful to discriminate against homosexuals in any way whatever. They ought to be allowed to marry, and even to be members of churches, to enter the clergy, seminary, work on faculty at religious institutions the same as anyone else. True Christian love, grace, and hope speaks the truth about the issue of homosexuality.
True love, true grace, and true hope do not leave people entangled in their sin. True love reaches out with a message of hope. What hope is there without change, without a difference, without new life? There can be no hope without change, or without new life. Moreover, only God can bring about the kind of change and life that true hope offers. We say we are loving the homosexual when we allow him or her to marry, to join the church, to have equality in all things. We say that we are loving the homosexual only when we celebrate their homosexuality with them. Christians say that we are not loving anyone when we lead that person to believe that they can continue sinning and experience the life offered by God in Christ. How could it ever be loving to allow someone to think they are not under the judgment of God when we know they are? The answer is simple: it cannot.
The Christian does not fight homosexuality and abortion or any other sin because they are pet peeves. We proclaim God’s truth about homosexuality and abortion and every other sin precisely because we do love people. Lets take a look at something John says about how we love fellow believers and see if we can glean some principles from his instructions.
John said basically that no one could love their fellow believer if they see them with a genuine need and the means to meet that need but choose not to do so. Additionally, John said that if you do not love your fellow Christians, you could not possibly love God. Essentially, John is saying that claims to love God are false under such circumstances. Now, if this is true regarding material needs, temporal needs, how much more is it true regarding spiritual needs? If you see someone caught up in sin, committing sinful acts that are destructive of their own life, how could you claim to love them if you did nothing to help them recognize their sin so that they might perhaps repent of it should God provide such intervention?

It is not unloving, ungracious, or hopeless to speak the truth in love about these cultural sins and abuses we see around us. Quite the opposite is true. It is unloving, ungracious, and pernicious not to confront a society when it is open rebellion against God. We see the sermons of Christ, Peter, Stephen, and Paul and how they each confronted their culture. We see that in some cases God poured out His grace and men were converted. But we see that in most cases, men responded with bitterness, hatred, and even violence toward those that carried the message. They crucified Christ and Peter, stoned Stephan, and beheaded Paul. If we were to speak the way some of the false Christians of our modern culture think we should, it is hard to understand how anyone would ever be slandered for a message like that. But this fact seems lost in the minds that make up most of that crowd for some strange reason.

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