Thursday, February 28, 2013

Defining True Hate and Dealing With It

I promised yesterday I would address this timely subject. I have before, but it needs saying again, and perhaps with a little helpful illustration to aid in comprehension. This is a longer read from me than normal, but I humbly ask you to stay with me to the end and read every word. And make no judgments until you read every word. Even re-read it. And think about it.

What Got Me Thinking About "Hate?"

As someone who spent most of my adult life either in full time broadcasting (1978-1993) doing a weekly talk show as a sideline from my subsequent full time work (1989-2011) and still dealing with media overseeing communications for a Christian mission (1993 to the present), I became quite the geopolitical junkie. In recent years, I've gotten pretty tired of national American politics because of the way discourse has degenerated. I'm all the more bothered because because the church has gotten sucked into politics—or more accurately, issues which once were the territory of the church to address have become political issues with all that entails.

Please don't take that to mean that I think Christians should not be politically active and express their viewpoints. We should. We are citizens and we have the same rights as everyone else to speak. But when politics begins to subsume the Gospel in the work of the church and of us as individual believers, things have gone too far. The Gospel and being the ambassadors of Christ to a fallen world is our most important task, and when we jump into the political pool too deeply, politics ends up being the end all and be all, and the Gospel gets short shrift or forgotten altogether.

Having said all this as an intro, I'll come to the point about what really bugs me about political debate today. It's the way that the word "hate" gets thrown at people, especially those of conservative, traditional, orthodox, Bible-believing Christian faith. Most often, this centers around the subject of homosexuality, which according to Scripture is sin. Today, sexual behavior has taken on the entity of an ethnicity, and those who express concern or disapproval of homosexual behavior are instantly labeled as "hateful," "haters," "bigots," etc. Being called a "hater" is intended as a bludgeon word to intimidate and bully people into silence on this subject. It's a false charge  and demonstrably so. But try getting a reasonable explanation of the orthodox, biblical Christian position of this subject out on a modern talk show, and you'll find yourself shouted down and cut off in short order. The biblical Christian position on this subject has absolutely NOTHING to do with hate, and EVERYTHING to do with LOVE. Seriously. Hear me out, please, and read to the end. I have a parenthetical remark to make before I tie the package in a bow.

Pseudo-"Christian" Hate Groups Who Get Media Attention

To be sure, there ARE true haters out there who self-identify as Christians. The Fred Phelps bunch from the so-called "Westboro Baptist Church" is a great example. This "church" is largely made up of the Phelps family, some of whom are very clever attorneys and anti-gay activists. They are not under the accountability of any mainstream Baptist fellowship that I know of—and Baptists typically believe in congregational autonomy. But there are fellowships around mutually shared beliefs and values such as the Southern Baptist Convention and General Baptist Conference. In my view and in the view of many other true Christians, the Phelps bunch is a hate group masquerading as a church. They distort the biblical message and distort the Gospel beyond recognition. And what makes it doubly tragic is that the media and gay activists—never friends of biblical Christianity anyway—latch on to the Phelps bunch and try to make them representative of Christianity as a whole, especially conservative, Bible-believing Christianity. No one wants to listen beyond surface things that might sound similar, but are understood entirely differently when taken in context of the whole counsel of God. These people have managed through their true hateful behavior to turn off significant numbers of people to the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the love of Christ. They will be held accountable by the Lord for their behavior. I disavow them completely.

NOW—and again, having said all that, there are some central truths to this issue according to Scripture. Homosexual behavior IS sin according to God's Word. God Himself declares it to be an abomination. The New Testament declares that those who practice it—and a host of other sinful behaviors—will not inherit the kingdom of God. That is biblical truth. Period.

HOWEVER!!!!!

But here is what gets lost in all the foaming, frothing and mouthing. Homosexuality is just one of many sins, and sin is a condition that every single human being that is born on this planet inherits. We all have sin—it just manifests itself in different people in different ways. My sin doesn't have to be your sin, or someone else's sin. But the sins I have are enough to keep me out of God's presence for eternity, deserving of His righteous wrath and judgment. But that, folks, is where the GOOD NEWS of the Gospel comes in, and where all the glory to God goes for finding a way to redeem a people for Himself.

The Lord Himself took on the form of a man, came to earth, lived the sinless life that none of us could live, and willingly paid the price for our sins with His shed blood on the cross—our substitutionary atonement. He did it out of love for His people. And all—no matter WHAT you've done—can find full and free forgiveness of your sins through saving faith in Jesus Christ, and what He did for you on that cross. We must believe in Him, repent of our sins (change of mind and change of direction), and trust in His sacrifice on our behalf. When we do that, the Holy Spirit indwells us and enables us to live the righteous life before God that we cannot live on our own. In fact, this is really cool:

Believers who repent and trust in Christ have their sins washed away, and are then clothed in the righteousness of Christ Himself. When the Father looks at us, he sees His Son because we are clothed in his righteousness. We have no righteousness of our own, and what we do have is like "filthy rags." Jesus did it all. He paid the price. He did the heavy lifting. He bought and paid for us with a price. And through Him, we can have newness of life.

Now, what about hate? Where is it? Those who share the message I just shared above falsely get called "haters" because we dare call sin sin. But is that really hateful? No. And I'll tell you why.

According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is loving God. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus additionally said all the Law of God hangs on those two commandments. This is much, much deeper than we realize. Think with me. Romans 13:10 says "love does no wrong to a neighbor." Love does NO WRONG. If I love God, I won't want to wrong him. If I love you, I won't want to wrong you.

Go with me somewhere in imagination for a moment so you really get what I'm trying to say. Suppose you were standing on a railroad track, but for some reason, didn't hear or notice an oncoming train. Suppose I was nearby and could do something about it. What would be more loving? For me to intervene and pull you out of the way, or at least to get your attention and warn you? Or would it be more loving for me to allow the train to strike and kill you? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

The Prophet Ezekiel records a pretty sober warning from God to His people. I'll quote it:

When I say to the wicked, "You will surely die," and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked man from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man will die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand (Ezekiel 3:18).

We as Christians who have found salvation in Christ have a serious, sober, and yes, LOVING responsibility if we are going to be obedient to the two greatest commandments from God. If we love God, we will obey Him. Jesus said "If you love Me, keep my commandments." If I love others, I love them in deed, word and truth, and that goes beyond being nice, meeting physical needs, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and all other good things possible to minister to someone. I must also speak truth about the most important thing—their eternal destiny. Even if the truth is painful and hard to hear, I must still speak it, and warn the unbelieving sinner about the error of their way and its consequences. And I must speak, no matter what the cost to myself. Even if it makes me the most unpopular person in the room or in the town, I have to be faithful to God and what He requires. I am not responsible to anyone else but Him.

The hostile world wants us to shut up about homosexuality being a sin. In fact, the world wants Christians to shut up about sin in general. It really doesn't matter WHAT the sin is. If we speak out and warn, we are called "haters." But in reality, we are—IF we are motivated by the right heart and right spirit—acting and speaking in love. We don't want people to face the certain wrath of God for unrepentant sin and rejection of His only provision for sin—His Son.

Every sin can be forgiven. Every sin can be overcome with God's power. That doesn't mean it's easy. As long as we live in these fleshly bodies, we will have the struggle with the old nature. But the new nature God gives us at salvation loves Him, loves His Word, and loves other people. The new nature in us wants others to know the wonderful freedom and forgiveness of our sins that we've received. We're beggars, but we know where the bread is and we want to share it so others may feast and be set free. That's not hate in my book, folks. Not by a long shot.

Who Are the Real Haters?

So who are the real haters? We really need to know. Again, we find the answer in the pages of Scripture.

The real haters out there are what the Bible calls "false brothers" and "false teachers." The real haters are those who claim to know God and represent Him, but find every method possible to undermine His truth and cause people to disbelieve His Word. There are pastors out there and so-called Bible teachers who wear clerical collars and crosses, but they reject every core truth of the Christian faith as it's been held for 2,000 years since the days of Jesus and the Apostles. They are the haters. They hate God even though they claim to love Him. They hate His people even while they claim to lead them as shepherds. And ultimately, they hate others in action because they lull them into a false sense of security about their sin. And they will be held accountable by God Himself. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

A Final Point

Genesis 3 contains the classic pattern as it's been since the Fall of Man. Go read it and ponder it. Most of us know the story of Adam, Eve, the serpent (Satan) and the "forbidden fruit." The sin was not eating a piece of fruit. The sin was much deeper, much more serious and much more deadly. The sin was in disbelieving God, questioning His Word, calling Him a liar in essence, and disobeying His Word. The first thing that happened is that Eve encountered Satan. Satan asked her the question, "Has God said...?" There's the initial plant of doubt. Did God REALLY say this? Eve reiterated that yes, God did say it. Then Satan followed up. "You will not surely die." A direct, flat contradiction of what God had said. Satan in essence said God was lying. And then Satan went on to charge God with evil, jealous motivations. "For God knows that in the day that you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Sound familiar? "You will be like God." That was Satan's downfall—pride and wanting to usurp God's righteous place. And Eve fell for it.

She and Adam both knew God intimately. He loved them, gave them a place to live that was beyond beautiful, He met their every need and walked with them every day. They KNEW God. Yet they chose to believe the lie of a stranger with a slick tongue. And even that wasn't enough. Eve blamed Satan. Adam blamed Eve, and then ultimately, God Himself. "God, it was this woman YOU gave me." Oh. So it's God's fault now. Yeah, right.

Things have not changed in thousands of years of human history. Hate and pride started the whole Fall. Hate and pride still cause people to fall. Hate and pride feed unbelief and rebellion.

So folks, come now. Who are the real haters out there? Where is the origin of hate? And what is the real love? Who is the origin of real love? Above all, who has the absolute right to determine what hate and love is, and what evil and sin are? God Himself and God alone. He has done so. He has also given us the way to deal with our sin, hate, pride and rebellion, and to be restored into a right relationship with Himself.

And the way is open to whosoever will. That's love. Real, abiding, eternal love.

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