My toddler’s behaviour has epitomized the ‘terrible two’s lately. He (D) is climbing too high; ignoring instructions; disobeying rules; and just generally pushing the boundaries with everything. At the same time, he is SO affectionate and so funny and so totally loveable (speaking with absolute bias, of course) that we think him adorable even while he’s challenging our patience.
Because D is a sly button-presser, I have to keep an eagle eye out when he’s in the kitchen to avoid an unwanted extra dishwasher cycle. And because he’s fascinated with dipping his hands into cups, I have to keep hot drinks well out of reach.
One of my sisters-in-law visited for tea the other day, and D hovered next to her teacup. It was no longer hot enough to burn, but I did want to avoid any mess and embarrassment. I warned him, “No touching! Keep your hands out!”
And he obeyed.
He didn’t touch.
Instead, he leaned forward and, with expert aim, he spat an entire mouthful of milk right into her teacup.
My sister-in-law was the mirror of me as we simultaneously clapped our hands over our mouths, eyes wide in disbelief. But as the shock wore off, our shoulders started to shake. What could we do but laugh?
The thing is, D wasn’t spitting because he didn’t want his milk. He was spitting to see what would happen (and I made sure to explain later that we can spit in the sink when we brush our teeth, but it’s NOT OKAY to spit in people’s tea!).
Recently I read an article that reminded me of a verse in the Bible that talks about not being spat out. The spitting in this case is a sign of God’s disgust with wishy-washy faith:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
In his commentary, Matthew Henry expounds on these verses thus:
Lukewarmness or indifference in religion is the worst temper in the world. If religion is a real thing, it is the most excellent thing, and therefore we should be in good earnest in it; if it is not a real thing, it is the vilest imposture, and we should be earnest against it. If religion is worth anything, it is worth everything; an indifference here is inexcusable: Why halt you between two opinions? If God be God, follow him; if Baal (be God), follow him. Here is no room for neutrality.
In short, we are to take a stand for what we believe in. (And this is what the article I read was talking about.) But how do we take a stand in a way that is honouring to all aspects of God – how do we respect his law and demonstrate his love?
It’s easy to see what not to do.
Westboro Baptist Church and its followers stand for the law and ignore the love. They’ve obviously got it wrong. On the other end of the spectrum you have the churches who preach that love is all that matters, and they ignore the law. This is wrong, too.
Both are unbalanced views, and both are unbiblical.
What does being a Christian require of us? We have to look to Jesus for the answer.
Jesus didn’t ostracize those living outside the bounds set by God’s commands – he didn’t get up on a pedestal and just denounce, denounce, denounce. He didn’t try to motivate people to change by warning them that they were going to go to hell if they didn’t. Jesus didn’t spew hate and he didn’t withhold his love from those deemed unworthy under the law.
He also didn’t endorse the views of the lost – he didn’t discount the error of their ways; he didn’t go up to the woman at the well and say, “Well, your husband was probably a lout and impossible to live with! He practically drove you into the arms of that other man!” He didn’t say, “Zacchaeus, you probably had very good reasons for collecting extra taxes to fill your personal coffers, and I’m not going to judge you for that.”
Instead, Jesus walked alongside sinners. He loved them. He spoke Truth to them. He didn’t wait for them to change their ways or behave perfectly or even to confess God as Lord of their own lives before he gave them his attention and offered them his grace. He healed and he restored. And he told those newly-minted whole people – those sinners he had healed from their brokenness – “Follow me;” “Go and sin no more;”; “”Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.“. He didn’t say, “Don’t go changing, now!”
The Truth is that God’s love changes us.
There once lived a man called Saul. Or perhaps that should more correctly read, there twice lived a man called Saul – because once Saul had encountered Christ he was a different man. Saul was a Jew, and a conscientious one at that. His job, in fact, was in rooting out blasphemers and heretics; and his focus was on a new sect that had recently cropped up: followers of Jesus, also known as ‘Christ’. As far as Saul could see, this was a dangerous new philosophy that needed to be stamped out through swift and severe action – and he was doing his level best to ensure that these followers of Christ were stopped before they could spread their messianic views any further. He was dogged, determined – and devout.
The Saul (henceforth known as Paul) who emerged from that encounter was just as dogged, determined, and devout. But his focus had shifted 180 degrees. Now, instead of working to cease the spread of Christianity, he aimed to increase it. He moved from persecuting Christians to proclaiming Christ as Lord. Why? Because God’s love – in the form of Jesus Christ – had changed him.
He was transformed.
Almost every time Jesus exhorts his believers to ‘come, follow me’, he precedes that invitation with an instruction about what they need to release in order to do so.
In Saul/Paul’s case, he had to let go of all of his preconceived ideas about Jesus and followers of Christ. He had turn his back on convictions he had carried through to death (not his, but those of so many believers), and turn towards a new conviction of the truth of Jesus’s resurrection (which he also carried through to death – this time, to his own eventual martyrdom).
- The ‘rich young man’ who questioned Jesus about the route to attaining eternal life received an answer that shocked him: not only was he to keep the law as he had been doing, but he was to release his hold on worldly things and follow Jesus wholeheartedly. “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Jesus knew that the young man was willing to abide by the law but not by the love – the young man’s heart wasn’t in it because he was unwilling to give up his home comforts for the promise of God’s reward.
- Jesus called Peter to step out in faith – literally – and join him in stormy seas.
Peter had to leave the boat. He had to trust in Jesus’s ability to literally support him – and, when he believed, his faith provided a firm foundation for his feet.
- Jesus bids all of us come, and follow him: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Take my yoke upon you. Faith can be a burden; but in Christ’s strength we are more than fit to carry that burden. We are called to release our need to be in control over our lives and give up this freedom to accept the Freedom that is in Christ Jesus.
We are changed by faith.
The world at large doesn’t know this truth. In an age where everything is relative, personal choice is king. Further, there is an expectation that whatever those personal choices are, they are right. And good. And uncontestable. There is a pervasive sense of this supremacy of personal choice and of the idea that if anyone doesn’t agree with someone else’s personal choice he is being hateful. According to this new line of thinking, if I don’t support a woman’s ‘right to choose’ or hang a rainbow flag out my window then I must be passing judgement on everyone else, no matter how vehemently I deny it – and no matter how much I love the woman who has to make an impossible choice and the ones who endure hate because of their sexual orientation. The world tells us that we have to agree with everyone in order to love them, but that is a fallacy.
I parent differently from how some of my friends parent – don’t we all, by necessity, make choices based on our own situations, our own research, and our own instincts?? If I choose not to let my kids ‘cry it out’ does that necessarily mean that I stand in judgement of my exhausted friend who chooses to try that approach in order to save her sanity? If I believe that a meatless diet is healthiest for my family, does that mean that I hate those families who aren’t vegetarian or vegan??
No. Not at all; disagreeing does not equal disliking. Lack of assent does not equal lack of love or respect. Believing that faith necessitates change doesn’t equal hypocrisy, even when it’s a belief held by a still-imperfect person.
Jesus loves sinners in spite of their sin (in spite of our sin). We love others because Christ first loved us – not because they are married or single; gay or straight; religious or secular; or carnivorous or vegan, but in spite of those designations. I love my friends in spite of their agreement or disagreement with my beliefs, and regardless of my agreement or disagreement with theirs.
But because of these differences, I have – at times – muzzled myself. I have erred on the side of caution in sharing my views for fear of appearing unloving; because in this world, disagreement is taken for hatred.
I wonder, though, how much this is deference on my part – and how much it is cowardice.
A short while after I read Matt Walsh’s rousing exhortation to Christians to stand up and be counted, I read an article that cut me to the core. This article, written by Ann Voskamp after a trip to Iraq to meet displaced women and children, is a raw and powerful portrait of the destruction wrought by Isis (and perpetuated, I fear, by the indifference of so many in the rest of the world).
Persecution is happening now. Discrimination is happening today. Prejudice is happening always. Mothers are having to choose which children to bring and which to leave behind. Can you imagine??
The world tells me that I am unloving if I disagree with someone. But how loving is it that we ignore the slaughter of Christians in other parts of the world and the displacement of so many? How loving is it to ignore the enslavement of their children? There is a modern-day holocaust going on in the Middle East, and we are tip-toeing around for fear of offending*.
We are (correctly) outraged at the description of events in WW II – the idea that so many people sat idly by while Hitler moved brutally forward with his plan to exterminate Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone else who didn’t fit into his ideal. And yet we ourselves sit timidly by as a slaughter takes place a continent removed from us.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
And so I am not going to ‘do nothing’. I am not going to be lukewarm.
Law and love are both central to living as Christ lived, and I cannot apologize for that. Jesus honoured the Sabbath, but he also healed on the Sabbath. Jesus embraced sinners, but he also expected sinners to release their sin in order to follow him.
It is not loving to pretend that we sinners are just okey-dokey if we keep sinning wilfully. “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Finding faith has to be the catalyst to change.
“Jesus Christ did not say ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right’.”
– C.S. Lewis
If I water down my beliefs to make someone else feel better, how is that loving? I don’t tell my kids, It’s OK if you don’t want to wear your seatbelt, ‘cause I know it’s restrictive and uncomfortable… – I tell them, I want you to be safe, and this is how you keep safe.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” – Proverbs 14:12
So this is what I believe:
I believe that God is sufficient for all of us, to fill every one of our needs. Therefore I don’t need to apologize about my beliefs to the unmarried friend living with her boyfriend so that she’ll feel OK about her decision, because ‘after all, doesn’t God just want us all to be happy?” No – because the truth is, God wants us to be fulfilled – and He is the one who can accomplish that.
I am not writing this to stand up and denounce, denounce, denounce. I am not trying to point out the splinter in someone else’s eye whilst ignoring the log in my own. I don’t believe that there are shades of sin – there’s sin on one side (the result of which is separation from God), and there’s forgiveness on the other (in which we are reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice) – and I also don’t believe that watering down the Truth to make it more palatable is a kindness. The truth is that we have all sinned, and we all fall short of the glory of God – and that’s where his grace steps in. His sacrifice – like his love – is complete, and it demands action on our part.
What do we do, then? Keep the law, and share the love.
I will not stand up and shout out against people I love, no matter whether or not I agree with them. But I will stand up and be counted. I will risk discomfort and even (‘though I cringe at the idea), being ‘unfriended’. I will do my best to speak Truth into the lie of an untransformational salvation. I will not accuse, but I also will not apologize.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
– Romans 6:1-4
Here I am, Lord. Count me in. I will honour your sacrifice, Jesus, and the sacrifice made by countless Christians around the world to this day who have been willing to die for these beliefs we share; I will honour you by speaking Truth, upholding your law, and sharing your love.
My little D wasn’t spitting because he didn’t like what he tasted – he was just testing the boundaries of propriety. But I’m not going to allow the boundaries of propriety to dictate to me so much that *I* am in danger of being spat out.
*For the record, Isis is radical and not representative of Islam in general, and I know this. I have beloved friends who are Muslim; by no means am I condoning hatred towards followers of that religion. I do understand that there is a point at which our faiths divide, and that is OK. I don’t have to agree with them to love them.