There is currently considerable and heated discussion and controversy in the media and in the churches around issues of gender and sexuality, religious freedom, freedom of speech, how we read the more controversial verses in the bible, and how we should apply biblical teaching in our wider society.
It concerns me that many Christians are focusing on the relevant verses in the bible to the exclusion of other biblical teachings – particularly those of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether we read the bible in a fundamental evangelical way or more liberally, we must not take verses out of context of the rest of the bible.
Of course, we should have religious freedom and freedom of speech; but as Christians apply those freedoms and relate to other people, we must do so in a way that complies with and lives out all of the teachings in the bible.
It particularly grieved me recently to hear a Christian say (speaking about homosexuals), “We must condemn them!” This is not what the bible says – quite the contrary.
Firstly, the bible teaches us that we must not be self-righteous - thinking that I have salvation while others, who don’t conform to my way of thinking and being, don’t! In Galatians 6:7-18, the Judaizers were claiming that obedience to the law (particularly circumcision) was necessary for salvation. But Paul says, ‘… what counts is a new creation.’
As I understand his teaching, we become a new creation when we invite Jesus into our life and receive the Holy Spirit. And salvation is determined by whether I have accepted or rejected Jesus, i.e. having a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, recognising that I (along with all people) have sinned, putting my faith and trust in Jesus and inviting him into my life.
It would be self-righteous of me to claim that someone else has not done this, and so is condemned while I am saved.
Another issue is that Jesus has commanded us not to judge others - making judgements about who will go to heaven and who will go to hell.
One of the reasons that Jesus commands us not to judge the salvation of others is because we are all guilty of sin, and God does not differentiate between types of sin or degrees of sin. So, Jesus says, “why do you judge another’s sin when you are also a sinner?” (Matthew 7:3 and Luke 6: 41)
Another reason why we must not judge others is because, as John 12:47-50 tells us, the judgement will come at the end of time and the basis of judgement will be on whether the person has accepted or rejected Jesus. And only God can make this judgement. You and I cannot know the heart of another. And you and I are not to make a judgement that somebody’s sin is of such a nature or degree that they will not receive salvation.
Most importantly, Jesus also commands us to ‘love your neighbour’; our fellow beings - all people – no matter who or what they are. This we are told is to be an active seeking to do good to all people, which is certainly not what we are doing when we judge, exclude, and condemn some people. This is certainly not what we are doing when we speak hateful words and vilify people on social media.
As we engage in the conversations, let us do so in a way that will bring glory to God and not be self-righteous, and not judge another’s salvation. Let us remember that we are justified by the cross of Christ and God’s grace, and not apply some other criteria for salvation. And let us obey Jesus’ commandment to love all people, seeking to do good, and not be hypocritical in what we say and do.