So, another Christian celebrity’s egregious behavior has made the national news. He has “fallen” in sexual immorality. Sadly, there is no real news here. This will always happen in a “give us a king (celebrity)” culture that values fame and talent more than character. But it is not just an individual responsibility issue.
While individuals must bear responsibility and live out consequences in situations like this, we are all complicit. Why? Because our lust for vicarious fame enables the dynamic. When the psychic energy, money, and adulation of the Christian mob promote individuals to fame beyond what their character can sustain, the mob is complicit in the failure of the individual. We make kings and then wag the finger when they fall. We must repent, not just the individual.
I rejoice that in Christ there is always forgiveness, acceptance, hope, and restoration for any or all of us, at any time, for our egregious behavior. I rejoice that Father condemns no one. However, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” is a prayer for which we will never lack need. Many are confused on this point. Our status as sons and daughters in Christ does not negate this needful disposition of self-awareness. I am deeply troubled over a frame of mind that I hear over and over again and over again. Regarding John Crist, a USA Today columnist recently wrote this:
. . . There are still consequences for our actions (and there should be), but we’re ultimately not defined by what we’ve done but by what Jesus has done for us. John Crist, you blew it big time, but God still loves you and He always will.
Compare that statement to what JESUS SAID: By their fruit (behavior, what their life brings forth) you will know them.
That defines reality by ethics, not by beliefs about substitutionary atonement, positional righteousness, and identity theory! That is an on-planet-earth-reality statement of behavior not a metaphysical spirituality statement. Jesus seemed to think that we are ultimately known by our behavior. For gelatinous modern Western Evangelicals, Jesus’s words are unthinkable because they involve two forbidden dirty words in modern grace-based (falsely so-called) universes: judgment (evaluation) and behavior. The following is on the lips of scores of so-called Christians that I meet:
God accepts me as I am, no matter what I have done and you can’t judge (evaluate) me.
Wrong. Confused. Misleading.
This perspective is so disturbing in its individualist, subjectivist, and forensic presuppositions. Yet it is as common as sand in the Sahara in modern, popular level, Western Protestantism. When we confuse our beliefs regarding our status as accepted in the Beloved and forgiven by God in Christ with our ethics—how we live before an observant humanity—we short-circuit the disciplinary and transforming work of the Cross in our lives.
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
Faith without works is dead.
Am I pitting James versus Paul or vice versa? Absolutely not. That whole faux-conundrum is self-inflicted only when one is predisposed to certain extreme Protestant schemes of interpretation.
Show me/show you it says. It does not say: show God.
Paul and James are addressing two different audiences, so to speak. They represent both sides of the Gospel coin: God-ward, and toward humanity. It is all one, inseparable coin. We do not work for or “earn” salvation God-ward. But toward humanity, we most certainly do prove that our faith is alive, not dead. We most truly are defined by our behavior–in the eyes of other humans. And regardless of what some forms of extreme grace teaching puts forth, our responsibility toward other humans is part of the salvation package.
Even the simple English word believe or belief has drifted from its original understanding. It comes from an old Norse word: by-lief which means: by your life! Faith is not abstract mental disposition toward spiritual principles from the Bible. Faith is relational trust that is evidenced by how one lives. After all, even the touchstone passage of Lutheran Protestantism–the just shall live by faith–says just that! It doesn’t say the just shall have correct apprehension of propositional truth from scripture about their identity as sons and daughters. The just shall LIVE by faith (relational trust). Where you put the emphasis in that verse from Habakkuk will influence what you see in that verse. Living is something people around you can see.
Jesus to the point: Let your light shine before humanity that they may see your good works and glorify God which is in heaven.
Taking the Name in Vain
Often when people ask me: “Are you a Christian?” I emphatically respond, NO! (for a variety of reasons of which I cannot go into detail here). This normally stirs some good opportunity for very fruitful conversation. I sometimes answer: “I am aspiring to be one,” as in one who follows the way of Jesus of Nazareth. This also stirs good conversation.
The fact that so many who claim the Name do not resemble the Name in their behavior, is a well-known embarrassment to the Name. In fact, “taking the Lord’s name in vain” has nothing to do with “swearing” per se. It means to claim the Name and not look/act like the Name–you take it in vain. It is about fidelity in relationship to God and representation of God to the world, not cussing, though, clearly . . . let’s not cuss with His Name.
The issue of whether God still loves me as an individual, or God still accepts me as an individual when my behavior is wretched, should not even be in the discussion. That is not the point. The point is: What does my neighbor see? What does the world see? How do I carry myself toward the world when I screw up? Have I taken The Name in vain in my behavior?
Simple brokenness and repentance–the gift of God–can make any behavioral failure relationally redeemable. But if our focus is making sure an offender (myself or another) doesn’t “feel bad,” subjectively (as in the columnist’s statement above) we are not on Gospel ground. We should feel bad subjectively about what I may have done to the Lord’s Name, how unfaithful I have been, and my slander of His Name before an observing world. We show contempt toward our observing neighbors when we play the you-can’t-judge-me-because-I-am-under-grace card. Doing so, we get lost in the swamp of feel-good pop-psychology, not the Gospel. Folks do not know the difference between shame, guilt, and conviction. Shame has to do with my worth. The other two deal with my behavior. Just because God does not want us living in shame (and He doesn’t), does not mean we should never feel bad in the guilt and conviction sense.
I may be fine with God as a son or daughter (No shame). That’s not the point! How about with your neighbors? We are our brother’s keeper. Our behavior matters.
There are two things that our modern world (including church-world) will not tolerate: objective evaluation (judgment by others outside of one’s self) and anything that makes me as an individual feel uncomfortable. It might be a news flash to some, but those values are kingdom-incompatible. Kingdom repentance is not possible in a universe with those governing values.
If you or I are more committed to a certain Protestant soteriology or certain way to interpret Paul (that, by the way, is hardly a sure thing) than we are to the words of Jesus, we need to rethink some things. Or to put it another way: We must not confuse or conflate our soteriology (our redemption) with our ontology (our actual state of being). That God loves us and we are forever at home in His bosom, in Christ, is never in question, at least not in my mind. But what this columnist, and millions of Evangelicals do not understand is that we have a responsibility toward two audiences: God and humanity.
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