“Beyond that, we absolutely, definitely, completely have no place to demand someone else (our gay son) be crucified!”
We continue with a dad’s letter about balancing unconditional love with expectations for behavior.
Here is the Dad’s letter, Part 3…
“The immediate gift of salvation is free to all regardless of condition, but the sustained life of salvation and the subsequent gift of eternal life with our Lord and Savior constitutes entirely from a complete change of behavior/condition; a changing of the mind. This is the literal definition of repentence (Greek word ‘metanoia’) as cited in scripture. It is not good enough to just ‘be’ saved as defined by the act of confession of one’s sins and that Christ is the Lord and Messiah, died and rose again, but one must also ‘stay’ saved as they turn from all sin that would keep us from God and His eternal life. Yes, it is also true, that it is impossible for a human being to go through life without making mistakes and ‘slipping’ up from time to time. But our mind must be IN Christ, OLD thing must PASS AWAY. We must crucify our ‘old man’.”
[FYI, I personally don’t see homosexuality as something to fix or as part of the “old man.” However, I understand that this Dad and many others do, so I address this from that perspective today.]
Here is my answer to him – and to those struggling with the same issue…
How would you crucify that “old man”? Are you going to beat him into submission? Because that’s what we try to do, overpowering the flesh, but you can see that we’re not very successful at it. Self-help systems based on controlling ourselves only work for a time, then the spring pops out of your hand and across the room. You eat perfectly for a month, then you devour the entire chocolate cake in a sitting. Flaying that inner man will not make him sit down and shut up. You are right that in our walk as Christians, we do have a change of mind, repentance. But it happens in a different way than the sin-management model we’ve been taught.
We’re going to turn this thing completely on its head. You ready? Here we go…
Think of salvation as being born – the picture Jesus used, when he said we must be born again. When you are born, you are never again going to be unborn. Even if you balled up in a corner and sucked your thumb, you might look something like you did in the womb, but too late! You’re born. Done. The same is true with spiritual rebirth. You became a new creation! That pesky “old man” may wreak some havoc, but he is not you! You are now a new creation. The old has past! We don’t have to make the old past — it’s already past! But we have been taught that we aren’t working hard enough, that we must work harder! A baby never worries about “slipping up” and being back in Mother’s womb. That’s just not a possibility. Neither is it possible that by slipping up, you will no longer be a new creation. Instead you move forward, knowing the process will carry you.
What happens once new babies are born? They grow. They learn to walk and talk and all the rest that occurs with maturity. It wells up from within. A child may walk at nine months or at 18 months, but it doesn’t matter, because it will happen. It’s not even “work” for the baby. Yes, she tries, falls, bumps her head and cries, then gets up and tries again. But she never feels like a failure because she didn’t make it! She never says, “I can’t believe I fell again. I’m never going to get this. Maybe I’m not really born. I don’t deserve to be. Mom and Dad are so disappointed that I keep falling.” All of those kinds of statements are shame-based and they are LEARNED. When we learn to walk and talk, it’s just part of an unfolding process; we don’t naturally shame ourselves for working through the process until we learn to shame ourselves. Mom and Dad say, “Oh look at her! She took two steps – did you see that?” Because that baby is right on track. The baby is happy to keep trying and trying until she gets it!
That is exactly how our Christian life was designed to be — we’re meant to live in safe community with people who love us, dependent on the Holy Spirit who leads us in all truth. We grow from within, as we look to the Spirit guiding from within. It’s not a big effort. I mean, it can be hard, but it’s not the torment we put ourselves through trying to be “good Christians” (whatever that means). Just as a baby learns to walk, compelled from within, the Spirit guides us in all truth from within – what more could we want?
Much of our Christian church teaching says we shouldn’t be where we are, that we need to work harder. It’s like parents standing over their baby saying, “You need to try harder! Can’t you walk yet? Don’t take such clumsy steps. If you just get up earlier, maybe spend some quiet time contemplating walking, you would be farther along by now.” Yet we have internalized the common teaching in our spiritual lives that we should be farther along by now, and that wherever we are is not enough.
That is contrary to the teaching of Christ! Just look at who he embraced! The woman who scandalously rubbed his feet, crying enough tears she needed to dry them with her hair! It’s scandalous even that she was in the room with the men, but to have her hair down, and then to rub Jesus’ feet? No wonder Simon the religious leader raised an eyebrow watching all this! But what does Jesus say? This woman will be forever remembered for the good she’s done! Not only does he not correct her (as Simon wants), he extols her act of love. Over and above all common understanding, Jesus extols her because of her heart. We focus on actions, but God focuses on the heart. Simon thought her actions scandalous, but Jesus commended her heart.
Everyone in that room of men would have told you that woman was in sin, but Jesus never does. I don’t care how many people say that homosexuality is wrong, evidence shows us how we have misinterpreted those (very few) verses. We like to say where people need to change, including the gay issue, but it’s completely not our job. If someone needs to change, let God guide, and let us seek God to guide us for where we need to change.
What is repentance? Dad, you answered that: it’s a change in your thinking. (Not change in behavior — behavior follows thinking.) To repent is to stop focusing on behavior, or circumstance, and to refocus on Christ.
Jesus answers our need by telling us focus on him, to accept life in him, to trust in him. Not to get our act together. When he does say something that sounds like getting our act together, it’s because he’s revealing our hearts. If behavior were the end goal, wouldn’t he have been so happy with the religious leaders? They truly did keep the law. To the letter. But they missed the whole spirit! And he confronted them on it at every turn.
That old man we “must crucify”? He’s already dead! In following Christ, sometimes we must deny something we want. We must surrender our own desires to his desire for us. That can be excruciating (as in being crucified), but I cannot crucify myself; I can only submit to being crucified. It is a surrender to Jesus, not our struggle to fix ourselves.
Beyond that, we absolutely, definitely, completely have no place to demand someone else (our gay son) be crucified!
I strongly believe we have missed it in this area. We have required change God does not require. God has not changed countless LGBTQ people who have poured out their hearts pleading for change.
When will we say, “Hm, maybe that’s not what God has in mind”?
Our job is to be a body, a safe community, where people can live and grow. That is what the body of Christ is meant to be.
That’s why Jesus said love others and leave the rest to him.
[More from this letter tomorrow.]