A Reflection on Finding Indentity in Jesus Christ by Ron Belgau
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A Reflection on Finding Indentity in Jesus Christ
by Ron Belgau
What has being gay done for my faith?
I believe it has brought me closer to God, and has forced me to really understand who God is. It has forced me to be very serious about what I really believe and whether I’m willing to place my life in God’s hands. I think I’m lucky, compared with the successful middle-class straight guys who grow up in good families and go on to start good families themselves.
I do not mean that it has been easy: far from it. I have suffered a lot along the way. But I think I am lucky to have suffered. Paul wrote, "we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us" (Romans 5:3-5). My faith has been tested as in a fire. But I really can understand what the Apostle James means when he says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4). Out of my struggles, I have developed a reliance on God in the face of persecution even by those who claim to be on God’s side. I have learned that God can bring good out of bad circumstances. And I have learned not to rely on things that pass away for fulfillment.
And I hope that sometimes, the fact that I have suffered makes it easier for me to draw near to the suffering God of Calvary. And I pray that my sufferings, like the Apostle Paul’s, will "fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24).
There is a lot said about gays by Christians these days, and I fear that some of those who speak understand little of the Christ they follow. They write essays about the need to return to "objective truth" and the dangers of subjectivism. And they use the fact that they are talking about objective truth (and not merely their own opinion) to justify statements which are deeply hurtful to gays.
Sometimes, in the name of truth, they lie. In his August, 1996 letter to his followers, James Dobson condemned the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Colorado’s Amendment 2, which prohibited passing any laws to protect gays from discrimination. He wrote (quoting Paul Weyrich, a friend of Dobson’s and president of the Free Congress Foundation), "This decision paves the way for the complete acceptance and sanction by this society for a lifestyle which is openly condemned in the Bible more times than any other specific sin. ‘An abomination unto the Lord’ can now receive privileged treatment from legislative bodies." This statement is flat out false. Homosexuality is certainly not condemned in the Bible more times than any other specific sin. God condemns religious leaders who twist His word more often than homosexuals; thus, Dobson and Weyrich become twisters of the word of God as they condemn gays. It concerns me very greatly that a number of conservatives do not seem to be able to see that it is sinful to twist Scripture to condemn homosexuality.
How could those who claim to be ambassadors of truth lie? As we wrestle with that question, I think we need to seriously consider the question, "What is Truth?"
This was Pilate’s insincere question, his dodge from responsibility. Yet as our society slides deeper into relativism, I think many Christians do not look at the depths of wisdom to be found in the True answer to this question. In our haste to condemn relativism, we miss a fact as obvious as Pinocchio’s nose: Jesus did not stand condemned before Pilate by skeptical philosophers; He stood condemned by the religious leaders and self-proclaimed champions of moral absolutes. Jesus told Pilate that "the one who handed Me over to you is guilty of a greater sin" (John 19:11). The Pharisees with their certainty were worse in Jesus’ eyes (and what other judgment matters?) than Pilate with his doubts.
"What is truth?" The Pharisees could have answered that: the Law is true. And they would have been right, as far as they went. Paul wrote that "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good" (Romans 7:12). But Paul also wrote that all of his accomplishments in following the Law were "rubbish" compared to knowing Jesus Christ, and being "found in Him" (Philippians 3:7-9). The Pharisees were right, as far as they went. But they had not gone nearly far enough. They had only grasped part of the truth, and so they had missed it completely.
When His disciples asked Him the way to the Father, Jesus did not tell them to know the Law and learn the words of the prophets. The Pharisees and the Chief Priests had done that, and it was their zeal to enforce the Law that made them fulfil the prophecy and kill the Son of God. Instead, Jesus told His disciples, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). Truth is not a what, but a who.
Jesus said, "you will know the truth, and the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). To the mind raised in the Western scientific tradition, to know the truth suggests something abstract, intellectual. To the modern Western inquirer, knowledge is something you find by using a telescope or a microscope or an oscilloscope or a stethoscope. Knowledge can be looked up in tables, and comes sorted alphabetically in an encyclopedia. It can be stored in a computer database or calculated in a spreadsheet.
When we speak of "knowing the truth," we do not mean grasping an abstract concept. Jesus is the truth: He is the bridegroom of the Church, who sets us free. We will know him "face to face" (I Corinthians 13:12). We expect truth to be detached and impersonal, like geometry. When it is revealed in Christ, we find that He is intimate and personal, a spouse or a friend. We do not know God only in our mind; heart and soul and strength are essential.
Modern conservatives who say that they are preaching the truth when they condemn homosexual behavior implicitly identify truth with the law. Yet the Apostle John writes, "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). The legalist twists this to say, "the law and truth were given through Moses; grace came through Jesus Christ." In fact, Scripture would seem to suggest that truth is more associated with grace than with the law.
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." In our modern Western view, freedom of inquiry is necessary for discovering truth. But Jesus says that knowing the truth is the first step to freedom. By making a commitment in faith to Christ, we find freedom from the sins and lies which enslave us, thus setting us free. Our encounter with truth must be deeply personal. And because we are sinful, grace is essential for us to personally encounter truth in Jesus Christ.
The great advantage of impersonal interactions is that they limit our liability. It is easier for me to go to the ATM to check if my account is overdrawn than it is to ask a human teller. Likewise, it is easier to compare my life to an impersonal law than it is to come before a personal God who knows my weakness and sin. And yet with the certainty of grace, I can come before God in my weakness and still find true love.
Paul assures us that, "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). And yet he immediately continues, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10). We are saved by grace through faith; and yet the purpose of our salvation is that we might do good works. As James says, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do" (James 2:14-18).
We are saved, then, to do the works of God. But what must we do to do the works that God requires? When a crowd asked Jesus this question, His reply was very simple: "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent" (John 6:29). Why believe? When He responds to the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus tells him to obey the commandments, and then tells him to sell everything he owns and give to the poor, and come to follow Jesus (Matthew 19:17-21). Though a difficult command, it is clear enough; but the young man goes away dejected, and does not follow the command. And I think the reason is quite clear: the young ruler does not believe that Jesus is God, the same God who had lead His people into the desert, and fed them manna in a place where there was no natural food. The young man could not believe Jesus when He said, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (Matthew 6:25-26)
Jesus offers us no assurance but Himself. He is the way, the truth, and the life. We must believe that He is who He says He is, and is able to do what He says He will do. Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12). Yet if we believe, how do we find out what works He has prepared for us? What are the works that God requires? "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
The Apostle James writes, "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!" (James 2:10-13).
The word "Evangelical" is derived from the Greek Eu Angelos, or Good Message. I wonder, as I hear the condemnations of gays coming from some calling themselves "Evangelicals" if they know the "Good Message" that Christ delivered. All of us (not just gays) are terribly screwed up, more so than we can admit, even to ourselves. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). But we are all (including gays) more loved by God than we had ever dared to hope. "I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
Let those who think they are called to condemn gays take the final word from Christ on how we, who have received God’s grace, should act toward others:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"