Every once in awhile an issue comes up that captures Christian’s consciousness and drives people to get into the bible and do some personal study.
One of those current issues is homosexuality. This issue has always been around but for many reasons it is back in the forefront of collective thought. New voting measures and the upcoming election have rocketed the issue before us, pop culture is a constant contributor to keeping homosexuality ever in our focus and social media has pushed the issue before many of you in a much more personal way.
It seems now more than ever we can find information, opinions, teachings, debates and personal stories that weigh upon us to reassess what we believe about something, why we believe it and where our beliefs even comes from.
While in general I think anything that challenges us to re-look at what we believe and why is a good thing and any issue that drives us to get into scripture is even better, there are however some inherent challenges or pitfalls to issue-driven truth seeking.
One of the first problems we encounter is, put in the words of Jedi Master Yoda… “Opening a bible, a scholar does not make.”
In other words just because you open your bible to look for truth does not mean you are going to come away with a very reliable interpretation or gospel-centric viewpoint.
In fact because of our human inclination towards syncretism, something we have talked about in length lately, opening the bible to study about an issue can leave us more confused than ever. Indeed the bible itself has been used by people with gifted speech and powerful charisma to justify horrendous actions like murder, ethnic cleansing, war and slavery. I have personally met and talked with people who have so synced with culture they see no problem using the bible to support and justify moral issues that even non-Christians would view as morally evil.
So how do we proceed? How do we engage scripture for truth if we are not a scholar? How do we stand guard against the constant pressure to sync our own and culture’s values and ideas of truth with the gospel?
I’d like to throw out some food for thought for anyone who is engaging scripture looking for truth about an issue, especially a moral issue. Here are some good questions to ask before you even engage scripture or as you listen or study from someone else who has.
1. Why am I (or this person) truly studying this issue?
Two of the least developed and sorely needed human character traits are self-awareness and objectivity. Everyone claims to have it yet the proof of that is sorely missing. Here is a hard truth I have come to accept when it comes to the study of scripture, objectively studying is a goal all claim to shoot for yet none of us actually have!
The reality of the matter is that all of us come to scripture with preconceived ideas of truth, mixed motives and self-interest in our tool bag. Not the best tools for objective study J
My encouragement and strong belief for anyone doing sound and honest study is to stop pretending that we are objective. To hold to that lie is to deny reality and begin our engagement of scripture already on dishonest ground. What we need to do is admit and be aware of our subjectivity and self-interest. We need to be honest with ourselves and with God and ask for the Spirit’s help in getting His truth past and through our grids and stubborn minds.
Are we studying an issue because we are prone to sin in that issue? Are we studying a moral issue because a loved one is in pain, confusion or bondage? Are we trying to justify others or ourselves? Are we trying to condemn or judge others? Does my conclusion on this issue currently affect my life positively or negatively? These are all good things to be aware of when we begin to study scripture.
2. Am I (or this person) someone who is consistently submitting our lives to scripture and God as the ultimate truth for our lives?
Its funny and strange to me how we will get into debates and discussion about scripture and morality with people who have no interest in submitting their lives to God or His word on any level. If we or someone else shows no proof or desire to submit their whole life to Christ expressed through scripture yet they are using scripture to bolster their argument, then it is obvious the goal is winning a debate not submitting to Jesus.
Opinions are more than a dime a dozen in our world today and most people have no problem weighing in on scripture even though they have no desire to live by it day to day. Scripture is great to justify or defend my position but to submit my life to, to re-center my values, beliefs and opinions around… well that is another thing.
This may sting but if you had to wipe layers of dust off your bible or spend a half an hour looking for it before you started your study you are not interested in submitting your life to God’s word.
If the last time you really studied scripture was the last time you were looking for justification over an issue, be honest you are not engaging scripture as a way to encounter and be led by Jesus. The purpose of scripture is not to be a personal exclamation mark for our opinions, life choices and values. We are not called to sync scripture with our life rather we are called to sync our life with scripture. God is not concerned with you being right. He is concerned with you being in right standing but we will get to that in a minute.
Now here is the good news, now is as good as time as any to start. Perhaps God is using whatever issue you are worked up about to lead you back into realignment with His rule in your life. If so, put your issue to the side and look to re-center yourself to Him first. Repent for living life by your terms, your wisdom and your knowledge and submit to God running the show again in your whole life.
3. Are you engaging scripture legalistically or are you engaging scripture to encounter Jesus?
There is an inherent problem with moral issue based study… at its core it is legalist! Despite some horrible theology that says otherwise the bible is NOT God’s moral rulebook for life!
The Bible is spirit-empowered revelation of Jesus!! It’s all about Him! It all speaks of Him! And it all leads to Him! The purpose of scripture is to lead you into relationship with Jesus Christ.
When we boil scripture down to moral rules or guidelines for living life. When we make it about things acceptable and things not acceptable we strip it of its life and power. It’s about a living, moving revelation with our Savior and what He has done to secure relationship with us!
Using the bible to justify or condemn behavior will lead people right into the chains of religion. Chains like pride and elitism or the chains of despair and insecurity.
When someone is more concerned with moral issues rather than Jesus himself it shows their disconnect with the gospel. It reveals a very legalistic and works based theology of sin.
Take for instance the hot button issue of homosexuality… What is the end game of those trying to justify it as “not a sin”? What is gained? At the end of the day if homosexuality is not a sin does that make a person less of sinner? In our attempts to justify we are only setting someone on the road of works based living? Do this and you’re good, do that and you’re not is the kind of living Jesus came to do away with.
What is the end game of those fighting to keep homosexuality on the list of God’s most vile sins? What is gained? Is a homosexual really in a worse state of sin than someone who thinks his pride and anger does not assault God’s holiness? In our attempts to vilify we are only jumping back on the road of works based living. We set ourselves up as judges and personal hoop holders for the masses to jump through before they get our love and acceptance and access to God’s grace
If we understand the gospel we should be focused on and helping people see that despite our best efforts everything we do is marked with sin. Our good living and our bad living. Take one thing of the bad list or add another and you have not done anything to change your overall standing.
What we need is someone to change our standing. What we need is someone to save us. What we need is Jesus! Not a new rule or a revisement to an old one. We all stand condemned and nothing we do or don’t do will change that so we need a savior! And that is what scripture is all about… that Jesus came to secure relationship with you, that He died for all sin, ones we know of and recognize and one we are too prideful to even see!
We need to be pointing people to the same thing scripture is pointing to; we need to be about the same thing scripture is about… Jesus! Lives surrendered in trust to him and his work for us. A life where our identity comes from faith in Him not our moral effort, sexuality or political party!
Before I finish lets look at a perfect example of how Jesus handled this… We all are familiar with the story of the women caught in adultery. You can read the story in John 8:1-11
Remember, as a backdrop Jesus was constantly frustrating the religious status qua (those who were obsessed with moral purity) with his love and inclusion of the irreligious (in your face sinners). Jesus not only ministered to these “sinners” but he loved them and hung out with them and included them. These works minded people could not understand and reconcile how Jesus could be Holy and still tolerate and love these unapologetic sinners.
So when the religious elite caught a woman “in the act of adultery” they thought they could paint Jesus in a corner. He was going to have to take a position on morality here and condemn this woman and her lifestyle.
Just to be clear “caught in the act” means there was no arguing what this woman was doing. It was not a “he said, she said” situation… someone had walked in on this woman and her lover in the act. How humiliating, how embarrassing and how scary. In that culture she was guilty and deserved death… Never mind that like in all works based systems- the system of judgment was biased… The man, her lover and co-sinner were not condemned to death. He, while maybe embarrassed was free to live another day, free to find another lover, free to keep on sinning. As long as the moralist got their Judgment everything was okay.
So the religious elite throw this woman at the feet of Jesus, remind him of scriptures clear instructions for such sin and waited for Jesus’ ruling on this moral issue. Would he spare her thus throwing in his lot with those who think there are no rules, that morality does not matter and personal choice is everything? Would he redefine scripture and attempt to say her lifestyle was now okay… Or would he back up scripture, the law and tradition, condemning this woman to death and throwing in his lot with the moral and religious elite?
And just when they think they have Jesus right where they want him, just when they think they have pulled him into their world, their value system their understanding Jesus turns things upside down again.
It appears that there was much commotion going on around him, people probably making their cases for both sides of this moral issue. The religious and the irreligious arguing things out, debating the moral issue. And where was Jesus? What side of the debate was he leaning towards? Jesus was not apart of the discussion and debate at all he was playing in the sand!
There has been much hypothesized about what Jesus was doing or writing in the sand. Some say he was writing down people’s names and their sins. That would sure make for a great story but scripture does not give us any clue to what he was writing. I believe what he was writing really is not important to the story; the point is Jesus was in his own world! He was not engaged in the debate he was ignoring them as if the conversation was a complete bore to him.
I have had the opportunity to teach some baseball camps to young boys. Without a doubt during these camps and times of what I deem insightful teaching there is always a boy or two who becomes so bored and disengaged with the teaching or demonstration that they end up on their knees playing in the dirt completely tuned out to my brilliance J
I think that was what Jesus was doing! He was bored, disengaged and not interested at all in all fine points people were making on both sides of the issue.
Finally the crowd persists that Jesus take a stance and which points he stands up from his sandbox and utters one little sentence…. “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus stuns the crowd, and takes the discussion to whole different level! He does not justify and say, “You know what guys that’s not actually a sin. If you get into the Hebrew a little bit deeper that is not what Moses meant. Cut her some slack, she is just doing her best to be happy.”
He actually brings some reality back to the issue of sin. Sin is not a moral totem poll of offenses. Sin is not graded on a curve so that there are levels of sins that are bad, really bad and horrible. Sin is something that permeates who we are as humans. In light of God’s holiness all of us are the “chief of sinners”. Where I define a moral issue means squat in where I stand before God.
In light of this revelation the crowd begins to disappear in mass! In that moment everyone became aware of his or her sinfulness. Religious elite to irreligious sinner alike there was no justifying, no grading on a curve only walking away united for the first time. That must have been a sobering moment, Pharisee and tax collector walk away united for one moment all as sinners!
But the story does not end there and neither does the example. Jesus does not justify but he also does not judge or condemn! The only one who could really could judge her, the only one who rightfully could look down at her, the only one who could throw the stone and condemn her does not. He shows love and grace, understanding and acceptance and in the end he shows her a way to real life!
That’s the real issue here. Not morality 101, not personal freedom and choices but real life! Freedom that brings change to every area of life.
Maybe you missed it but Jesus, just to make sure this woman and those who were still gathered to learn from Jesus would understand what was really happening gives this woman one last clue. He says “go your way, (you’re under no condemnation from me) and from now on SIN NO MORE.”
Boom! Jesus blows this whole conversation up and then refocuses it where it should be. Jesus does not say go and stop committing adultery.” He takes the discussion of sin to a much deeper and personal level. He says, “from now on sin no more (period)” Stop being a sinner, stop living your life with you as center and lord of it, stop ignore God’s rule and place in your life! Stop thinking you know better than your creator!
It is vital to remember that any time scripture and especially Jesus admonishes us or someone to “stop sinning” the expectation is not for us to try really hard to be a good, clean, holy, sin free person. Jesus knows that is impossible for us! Yet it is the standard. It is not enough to be a good moral person; it is not enough to have one area of your life (sexuality, attitude, relational) line up with scripture. The standard is to be perfect! It’s to be totally sinless and completely holy! It’s a standard we can never meet on our own or with our own effort.
Therefore when Jesus says, “sin no more” he is saying “go and from here on out put your life in mine.” The only way we can be sinless is to remember the gospel and put our hope, trust and everything in Jesus! The true gospel is not about moral requirements or refinements its about redemption! The only hope we have is in the redemption Jesus secured for us.
We are called to focus our lives on this and this should be the only call we give to other people as well. To focus our lives on either side of a moral issue is to miss the mark and to be pulled into a paradigm that is legalistic at best. To focus our lives on Jesus and the life he has for us to live in Him is true gospel living.
So the next time you get pulled into a moral debate and certainly the next time you engage scripture make sure the point, the focus, the start and the ending is Jesus.