Unconditional Love, Conditional Relationship

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Gentle Reader,

I’ve been hearing a lot about love and acceptance lately, from conversations with friends to articles in magazines to snippets on the radio.

It’s got me thinking.

Does unconditional love equal unconditional acceptance? Can relationships be healthy if they do not have boundaries?

Let us consider the parent-child relationship. Healthy parents (healthy, not perfect) love their kids because the kids are theirs. The kids don’t have to do anything; this love is based on who they are. Sonship and daughtership are unique, strong bonds. These bonds move the parents to declare, “I love you because you are mine.” And yet healthy parents don’t let their kids do whatever they want. They don’t say, “Oh, sure. Go play in the street because that will make you happy.” Parents know more than kids. They have access to greater knowledge and a better understanding of life.

So, a healthy parent makes the rules and follows the breaking of them with consequences. That’s part of the process of raising children. And let’s be honest: We’ve all been in the grocery store with kids whose parents let them run wild. It’s irritating. We wonder what the parents are thinking.

Love with no boundaries doesn’t work. When parents do that, we see them as doormats, allowing pint-size tyrants to control the situation. There are even occasions when this kind of thing crosses over into outright neglect. In adult-to-adult relationships, whether romantic, platonic or collegial, boundaries, rules and consequences function to protect the participants from abuse. If I thought that unconditional love meant that I had to accept Chris beating me (he doesn’t! don’t call the cops!), you’d be right look at me like I was nuts. Or at least massively co-dependent.

Love is based on who someone is. Acceptance is based on what someone does. Looking back at the parenting example, as kids grow into adults and their relationship with their parents changes, the parent may very well have to say, “I love you, but I can’t be around you because of your choices.” I see this all the time at the shelter. Many of the ladies and children who live there do have some familial connection; someone loves them. They bring the residents clothes, food, money, presents. But there is a line. There is a point at which the family has had to say, “I love you, but we can’t have a deeper connection until you make better choices.”

If I was a betting woman, I’d wager that all of this sounds like common sense to you.

So, tell me why we don’t apply this line of thinking to how we relate to God?

Some stamp their feet and demand to be let into Heaven whether or not they’ve ever even thought of God. It’s only “fair.” Others live as they please but try to  hide under grace. Cheap grace, it’s called, when people want God but also want to do whatever they please. Pray a prayer and go on their merry way. Because God loves me unconditionally.

Yes.

But does He accept us unconditionally?

Anyone who truly wants to know God has to start by saying that God is greatest. God is over and above. There has to be an acknowledgment that God is the Ruler, and therefore He gets to define the terms of relationship. Without that premise, we try to pursue God on our own terms, and that’s not how this works. It’s just reality. Any god that we can have a relationship with in our way, on our own terms, is no god at all.

That kind of god? It’s called an idol. A god made in man’s image, if you will. And they all suck. They disappoint every single time because man disappoints every single time. We desperately need something, Someone, better than ourselves.

Starting with God as the In Charge One, we then seek to know what His terms are. Happily, He spells them out for us:

1. God does, indeed, love us unconditionally…

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” – John 3:16a

Since God is love (1 John 4:8) and He made everyone and everything (Genesis 1-3, Colossians 1:16 – and, no, we’re not talking about the mechanisms by which He made everyone and everything, so don’t even go there), He can’t not love people. It’s Who He is. Sure, there are places in Scripture that talk about God hating (Romans 9:13), but these places, in the original, talk about God loving someone less, not loathing them, as we understand the term “hate” to mean. (Unpacking this more is beyond the scope of this post, but please do some reading, starting with the above linked article). So it is quite correct to say that God loves each person unconditionally, because it is based on Who He is – and also on who we are, His creation.

2. …but He does not accept us unconditionally.

“…that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:17b

God’s love for humanity means that He knew our pathetic condition and sent us a Savior. He offers salvation to everyone. It’s a free gift that anyone can take at any time this side of Eternity. But not everyone takes it. So, though salvation is universally offered, salvation is not universal. Everyone doesn’t go to Heaven. Everyone is not right with God.

Those are the basic terms. The passage goes on:

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” – John 3:17-21

Jesus’ job during His time on earth wasn’t to condemn. His job was to live perfectly (or “fulfill the Law”) and offer Himself as the once-and-for-all, without blemish sacrifice. Yet make no mistake. Refusing to submit to the Lordship of Christ carries with it condemnation. It means choosing your own way over God’s way, which He will allow you to do, but that choice means you reject God. You thumb your nose at Him and tell Him that you want to live separately. He will allow that. What He will not allow is any attempt to force Him to do things our way. He won’t. He doesn’t have to.

We come to God by walking the road paved with His Son’s spilled blood.

Or we don’t come at all.

3. We can’t “sprinkle a little Jesus” on our lives.

Here we move from the “before and during” stage of coming to Christ and into the “after.” Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Learning to obey God is a life-long process that we never do complete this side of Heaven, but it’s an insult to Holy God to ask Jesus to save you and then keep doing whatever you want to do. Just as God isn’t going to be acquiesce to our terms in coming to Him, neither is He going to say, “Oh, okay! You prayed and asked Me to save you, so you’re good! Do whatever you want!”

I’ve heard that called fire insurance.

Let me be blunt: If that’s what you think the Christian life amounts to, you are extremely immature. Get your sweet little behind settled on a comfy couch and read the Gospels. Take some time to actually dwell on what Jesus went through. If the intensity of His sacrifice doesn’t compel you to love Him and serve Him, then I think you have to question whether or not you truly believe.

Don’t be frightened by such considerations. Better to uncover a lie and replace it with truth than go on living with the lie.

4. God gives us a multitude of opportunities to submit to Him, but eventually those opportunities are going to stop coming.

I’m not talking about death here, though that certainly does mean the opportunities have ceased (Hebrews 9:27). What I refer to is the end of all things. Time is racing toward the Second Advent, the return of Christ. And when He does set foot on this sod once more:

“…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10

“God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,  and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11

Bow willingly now or bow unwillingly then. Either way, we’re all going to bow.

“…behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.” – Revelation 19:11-16

I realize that this is all a bit fire-and-brimstoney, but I think we need that every once in awhile. We need to be shaken out of stupor. This is God we are talking about.

The thing about these four points? Not one of them is unfair. Stamp your feet and wave your fists if you like. Doesn’t change reality. God did absolutely everything to save us. He literally wrapped it up (John 19:40) and then put a bow on it three days later (Luke 24:1-12). All we have to do is repent, believe and obey, and God even goes so far as to give us the ability to do all three.

This is the God you want. This is the God who will meet all your needs and even grant you many of your wants. He loves you unconditionally but won’t accept you unconditionally – and you don’t want Him to. Any god who isn’t truly interested in your life, who is only there to serve you, who plays into your selfishness, jealousy, greed…that’s a worthless god. That’s a stupid god. That’s a god without any power.

Ultimately, that god looks an awful lot like the person you see in the mirror.

Grace and peace along the way.

Love, not Affirmation

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Gentle Reader,

June 19, 2014 – This post did generate conversation, but most of it happened away from here. After participating in and thinking about these conversations, I am going through this and adding in a few thoughts for clarification. These edits will be in red italics. 

I’ve been reluctant to write anything about homosexuality because everyone gets fired up and the conversation usually goes nowhere fast. However, in light of the SBC’s resolution regarding transgendered people, a resolution that has kicked up no small share of Internet dust (and please know that I’m not part of the SBC):

Should LBGT people be demonized? No. Should they be kicked out of churches? No. Note that saying that LBGT people should be allowed to come to church and hear the Good News does not mean that LBGT people who are not seeking to live as Jesus commands should be in leadership roles. Should gender identity and sexual orientation play a role in whether or not someone gets a job? That depends on what the job is, but, I’d say in most cases, out in the secular world, no.

Should Christians take the stance that it’s “okay” or even “God-ordained” to engage in homosexual activity? That God “supports” gay/lesbian marriage? (I differentiate between orientation and behavior. One may be oriented in many different ways to many different things. Behavior is how one acts or does not act on the orientation).

No.

Before you stone me, note that I frankly state that Christians have done a really bad job of loving and respecting LBGT people. We’ve turned it into the worst of all sins, like there’s some list. There isn’t a list. We don’t need this much Jesus for that sin and a whole lot more Jesus for the other sin. We just need Jesus. All of us.

But whether we like it or not, and I confess that there are many days I don’t, we’re not the ones in charge. We’re not the ones making the rules. We’re not the ones who get to say what sin is and what it isn’t. God alone gets to define that. We get to respond. We all have a choice. We get to submit to or deny what God says. Christians can’t have it both ways. We’re supposed to seek out His perspective, His view, not dance around it and try to get what we want.

Does that mean Christians should protest at gay weddings? No. Should we amp up the rhetoric and blame our horrific marriage statistics on some assault by those pushing the “homosexual agenda?” Definitely not. It is true that some among LBGT people have an agenda, as most vocal minorities among all groups go, but our marriage statistics are our own fault. Should we worry about and stress over LBGT people the way we do? No.

Our stance should be one of love, but not affirmation. Each person has free will. God doesn’t force anyone to do anything. You can live your life the way you want. But just as a lesbian woman wouldn’t look at my life and think, “Yes, I agree with every decision you have ever made,” neither will I look at hers and think the same. If any of us were honest, we’d admit that. Love and respect doesn’t equal total agreement on everything.

Do I think that Christians should expect non-Christians to have the same views on this and anything else? No. So, really, Christians, let’s not seek out a gay person just to get into a debate with him, to try and force him into acquiescence. The Great Commission tells us to share Jesus “as we are going” (Matthew 28:18-20). These kinds of conversations should happen naturally, in the context of relationship. They should be organic, not forced. When disagreement comes (and it will), it’s still completely possible to continue in that relationship, to be loving and respectful. And let me make this quite clear: ANY bullying is unacceptable.

Before you go accusing me of being homophobic, I’m not. No, really. LBGT people don’t scare me. We’re all human beings. We’re all people with hopes and dreams and blood and cells. If a gay couple moved in across the street, I’d introduce myself. (If I was feeling particularly brave that day, because what I am is anxious about everything). Probably take them some (store-bought) cookies. So let’s not fling that term around. Taking a position on something doesn’t automatically mean hatred or fear.

In that same vein, while I firmly believe that Christ enables each of His people to live victorious lives, and that there are people who move away from homosexuality and go on to have happy heterosexual relationships, it is also true that He doesn’t always remove desires. Temptations come. Orientation doesn’t always change. Ask any alcoholic. What matters is what a person does with the desires and the temptations. A homosexual person who has a firm commitment to Christ may never experience a desire for the opposite sex, but Christ can (and does) enable His people to overcome any temptation.  

Sadly, we have made sex an idol in this culture. Anyone who dares to say that a gay person striving to follow Christ should be celibate is seen as being so bigoted, so hateful, so lacking in understanding. Well, folks, nobody ever died from not having sex. We were created to be in relationship, yes, but is absolutely possible to have fulfilling relationships without sex. Go out and ask the scores of people who are happily celibate, homosexual or otherwise. They do exist.

There are many articles, scholarly and otherwise, debating whether or not one can be a gay or lesbian Christian. There are many books. My answer? Of course one can, if one chooses to identify themselves as something other than simply Christian. Just like one can be an alcoholic Christian, an addicted Christian, a cowboy Christian, a feminist Christian, a coffee-loving Christian, a cat-person Christian, or any other adjective plus Christian. But I don’t to see the point in doing so. If I took that route, I’d have to say that I’m an anxious, depressed, chronically ill Christian. Such adjectives draw away from the redemptive work of Christ. They fail to point to the fact that I overcome these things because of what Jesus has done for me.

Certainly Jesus loves us in those adjectives, but He loves us too much to let them remain our descriptors. That’s the point of the Cross.

Therefore, a gay Christian is a gay man living under the shed blood of Christ, striving to obey Him in all things. He does not take the sacrifice of Jesus lightly. He understands that his sin is offensive to God and that it cost everything to make him righteous before that same God. He understands that God knows best. A lesbian Christian is the same. Or, like me, an anxious Christian. And so on and so forth. Is it not better to simply identify ourselves as Christians?

So, do I think that it’s okay to claim Christ and affirm homosexual behavior or continue in it? No. Do I think churches need to issue statements or resolutions, as the SBC has done, to publicly announce where they stand on this and other issues? Yes. That isn’t a sign of hate, but rather a sign of clarity. It’s important to know what views a congregation holds. I want to know what a church thinks and believes before I step through the doors and join in worship. There’s nothing wrong in that.

In conclusion, here is something that everyone needs to understand:

There are definitely people out there who spew a lot of vitriol about this issue. They make me angry and sad because that kind of thing drives everyone away from God. But your average, just-trying-to-follow-Jesus Christian who reads the Bible and comes to the conclusion that homosexual behavior falls outside of God’s design for life isn’t being nasty, stupid or discriminatory. It is very possible to love the sinner and hate the sin. Every one of us does that every single day.

That’s my two cents. Or twenty dollars, depending on what you think of this piece and its length.

 Grace and peace along the way.

Note: I may not publish comments on this post. If I do publish, I may not respond to them. This is not because I don’t appreciate a good conversation or debate, but rather, as I noted in the beginning, the discussions surrounding this issue often amount to nothing more than, “You’re wrong and I refuse to listen to you and you’re stupid so there.”

The Detox Diaries, Five Minute Friday Edition: Nothing

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Gentle Reader,

Linking up with Lisa-Jo to write about: nothing.

Go.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39

Nothing can separate me from the love of God. I can’t out-sin His affection. I can’t annoy Him and thereby lose His fond gaze.

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:8

Love is His definition, His essence. Love is who He is.

Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last. – Luke 23:44-46

This great love cost Him dear. He determined that nothing would come between us. He opened the way. He gave the gift. All I had to do was take it.

Nothing will make me give it back. Nothing will convince me to turn away. God is it.

He is everything.

Stop.

Grace and peace along the way.

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.