…we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves,
and blown here and there by every wind of teaching
and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect
the mature body of Him who is the Head,
that is, Christ.
Ephesians 4:14-15 ESV
This quote struck me head-on at full speed a couple weeks ago: Political correctness is a religion disguised as Christianity.
Okay, okay: I get it. Precious few people want to go where this week’s post is headed. I’m not even completely certain that Iwant to go there. It’s a daunting, demanding path to explore, after all; but in a forest of confusion that’s causing way too much heartache and insecurity, it’s a path built on the foundation of Scripture that calls for genuine, risk-taking, life-affirming actions.
The kind of actions that echo – to the best of human ability – the character and gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s also a path that I’ve been reluctant to start despite that divine nudge that just refuses to leave me alone. Human nature pulls me toward well-hewn walkways that have been traveled by so many others; roads that are easily followed and don’t require a person to actively seek out the direction he or she is headed. You know: the ones easily recognized by GPS devices, or at least the ones with clear markers that guide a person right or left or straight ahead.
But since reading the 30 reasons listed by John Piper in Why I Love the Apostle Paul,the nudge to explore this challenging path has become an outright shove. In last week’s post, I sort of stepped back and left Piper to introduce the premise of his new Crossway release; this week, I’d like to share the major takeaway that left me stepping tenuously into the weedy, rocky, too-often untended path of this week’s question
Is there room for bluntness or raw honesty within the realm of Christ’s command to love neighbor as selfwhere un-repented sin is involved (Matthew 22:39)?
Piper explains in his 30 Reasons that the Apostle Paul modeled an affirmative answer. Which in a way is good because it begins to bring organization to some of the chaos that committed Christ-followers face in a Western culture where anything goes and we’re expected to smile and nod and support in the name of a sad misinterpretation of the command listed in the previous paragraph. On the other hand, Paul’s affirmation seems not to be so good for us because, frankly, we don’t know quite how to go about living out said affirmation.
That said and as lovingly as I know how to do so, I need to ask you to grab the toughest hiking boots you can find and trek along beside me for the duration of this post. Please know as we move along that there is no – and I mean not an ounce of – condemnation or haughtiness intended in the words you’re reading here. At the same time, however, please also know that His Own Heart Ministries is committed to sound interpretation of each verse of the Bible as that verse fits into the context of the whole of Scripture. It’s not always an easy or pleasant method to follow, but it’s always the reliable method for truth (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
So…ready, set, here we go.
Piper’s Reasonsactually gave me a new respect for the subject of his book; I realized afresh that amid phony accusations, beatings, shipwreck-causing weather and imprisonment as described in Acts 9-28, Paul was also figuring out what it meant to love his fellow man and maintain his convictions and commitment to Christ.
That refreshment, in turn, led me to explore biblical definitions of love in their original Greek and Hebrew renderings. At the proverbial end of the day, what I learned was a truth best stated by pastoral theologians Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert in their 2016 Zondervan release, Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls. The overarching adjective that emerged from my own research – rugged– turns out to be the same adjective that Harvey and Gilbert used to craft their concise definition of Christ-like love.
Love is rugged when it’s:
strong enough to face evil;
tenacious enough to do good;
courageous enough to enforce consequences;
sturdy enough to be patient and forgiving;
and trusting enough to pray boldly.
Consider with me the chaos and conflict a committed Christ-follower faces when a friend or loved one chooses to renounce his or her faith and live according that decision. Many times, the Christ-follower ascertains that he or she has been thrown into the lose-lose situation of choosing between loyalty to the person and loyalty to Christ.
Want to know something? Scriptural love doesn’t have to be that way; it’s not even supposedto be that way. If it is that way, in fact, it’s actually not scriptural.
The roots of the conflict described above stem solely from Western culture’s skewed misconception of what it means to love biblically. Our own misunderstandings of what love should look like and how to love others affect our well-intentioned responses to sinful behavior. Wayward people, concede Harvey and Gilbert, tend to pile up collateral damage like a tornado sweeping through a traffic jam. And that carnage of hurt feelings, broken trust, and fractured relationships can be so overwhelming that well-intentioned Christ-followers just want to close their eyes and wish it away. They tell themselves that time heals all wounds. Ignore the issue and put it out of mind and this too will pass.
But the crushing truth is that this lie and the plethora of lies to which it leads all masquerade as hope, albeit a naive hope born not in reality but in denial. And one of the things Piper and I love about Paul is his gumption in pointing out – in so many words – that the unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of sinful behavior only further encourages sinful behavior.
In calling us to biblical love, for example, Paul instructs that we [l]et love be genuine [and] [a]bhor what is evil(Romans 12:9). Did you catch that? True and genuine love abhors evil because evil activity never serves the best interest of anyone. This means the Christ-follower loathes and stands in opposition to it. Abhorrence leaves no room for denial; abhorrence dictates that we have eyes to see evil and courage to respond to it. Sin and folly are inhabiting souls of the wayward like unwelcome squatters. If the pair is ever to be expelled, they must be honestly named and exposed, not ignored or hidden.
The gospel doesn’t deny evil. The gospel shows us God’s response to evil—Paul minces no words when he says that God abhors it (e.g. Romans 1:18). Make no mistake: God’s wrath is His settled, determined and unchanging response to injustice, sin, rebellion, and evil. He can’t tolerate it, and He’ll not accommodate it.
Anyone who thinks Christ came to earth to paper over our offenses against God should seriously think again. Harvey and Gilbert point out that Jesus was never sent to earth to spring God free from having to deal with the wickedness of the wayward. The gospel clearly reveals the sinfulness of sin and showcases God’s hatred of evil.
Consider, for example, events as they unfold in Genesis 2-3. God openly displayed His love toward Adam. God had great plans for His first human son. He talked to Adam about everything, showed him repeatedly how much He loved him, placed in his care the Garden of Eden and all the animals. Together with Eve, Adam had much freedom and great joy in the garden and enjoyed a wonderful relationship with God their Father.
And yet like any loving parent, God made rules for Adam and Eve. They had access to every trees in the garden except one. When Eve disobeyed by eating the forbidden fruit – and Adam followed suit – God might have said, hands on his hips in exasperation, Why have you done this? Didn’t I already tell you not to do it? Let’s have a time out—go, just don’t let it happen again.But God’s Word by definition can’t and won’t change. He means what He says, so the first man and woman faced consequences for their choice to sin as surely as we face consequences for our own. They faced theirs as we face ours – not because He doesn’t love His children – rather because He does. Without further ado, Adam and Eve were escorted out of their beautiful home to make their way in the world. They were introduced to a rough existence, which required labor for survival.
A few chapters later when God saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, He decided to destroy human creation in its entirety (Genesis 6:5-7). Then the judgment was made against Sodom and Gomorrah. But the common denominator in every case of God’s punishment over the course of Scripture is this: in every case and without exception people were given an opportunity to change; the punishment was meted out only after their refusal to repent. In contrast, this almost happened in Nineveh, but Nineveh repented and God reversed the decision (Jonah 3:6-10).
A growing number of new theologians argue that God’s wrath reversed itself with the dawn of the New Testament as Jesus Christ taught only a gospel of love, mercy and forgiveness. With all due respect, this is far from the truth presented by Scripture.
For starters, God can not, does and will not change (Malachi 3:6). It’s impossible for this change to take place in the New Testament since Jesus Christ is also the God of the Old Testament (John 1:1-2). Just as God loves His children so much He was willing to die for them, He is also willing to use rugged love to correct them.
The entire New Testament gospel, then, reveals a rugged love. When we look at it, we see our sin and are confronted by the truth that Christ suffered what we absolutely and justly deserve. The nails were meant for us; the hopeless abandonment and spiritual separation from the love of God that Christ experienced was deservedly ours. God’s love, displayed for all to see on the cross, was strong enough not only to face evil, but also to act against it. The cross reveals God’s abhorrence in action.
God’s response to evil is good news because it has a redemptive purpose, but the path to redemption requires definitively that we come face-to-face with our sin as well as Christ’s grace. God’s law, given to us in the Old Testament, reveals our accountability before God. Naming our sin and evil is always the first step to experiencing grace and forgiveness. This step cannot be bypassed or skipped; likewise, no one can complete the step for us. Conviction should lead to repentance, which leads to forgiveness in Christ (1 John 1:9).
If someone you love has strayed from the Truth, this gospel is good news for both of you through the following process. As we know, repentance is the key that unlocks the power of grace and separates true grace from cheap grace. True repentance doesn’t come through denial or accommodation in the name of peace or love or political correctness. The delusion that one can indulge evil behavior with no costs must be exposed. Biblical grace isn’t a license to sin. Paul points out in Romans 6:1–2 a truth that defines the way that the perpetrator and the follower of Christ are to respond to waywardness: Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? he asks.By no means!
If you are sincerely committed to following Christ as He desires you follow Him, I say to you with all the love you can imagine that from His perspective it is never loving or gracious to forgive someone, condone or support their actions simply to move ahead and accommodate further sin. No matter what. Or why. Or whom.
Being Christ-like means we can say noto situations and circumstances in unselfish, helpful ways that puts a person’s best spiritual interest ahead of our own comfort or convenience. Sometimes, love requires us to say no to those we love who place themselves or others in spiritual, emotional or physical danger. The follower of Christ sets proper boundaries in doing so. If the response of the other person is to get angry, leave, and (in a worst-case scenario) never return, then that person simply was not able to respect the boundary.
Still, in many cases, setting boundaries in a faith environment is far more easily said than done. Boundaries can be difficult to establish because saying the Christ-followers act of saying nomay be mistakenly perceived as being ungodly at worst, hypocritical at best. God says to tell the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). God tells us to humbly control ourselves, lovingly confront sin in a way that does not infringe on the terribly misinterpreted “j” word. Learn more about the issue of judging here.
Loving like this isn’t simple or easy. To get here, you need to experience this love yourself, a love so sturdy that it enables you to face your biggest fears—your dread of a loved one leaving you, your anxiety over the unknown, or your unspoken suspicion that this situation indicates you’re one massive failure. Showing rugged love begins by receiving the rugged love of God and holding fast to the promises of the gospel, knowing that our Lord and Savior will never leave us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5) and that He is truly with us until the end (Matthew 28:19-20).
– Copyright 2019 Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.