Reconciled, Chap. 3, Results of the Faith
What does genuine saving faith produce?
We cannot read the New Testament without being confronted with the high calling Jesus means for us to reach. And when we see so many repeated statements in practically every book therein about purity, holiness, compassion, and integrity, we can be sure that these are not options for Christian behavior, but requirements. Jesus told us to love even our enemies, to pray for our oppressors, to treat others as we want them to treat us, and to serve others instead of demanding they serve us.1 And His parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–38) showed that there are no legal loopholes for failing to live out these principles.
Jesus likened salvation to being reborn, and birth is not the end of a life but the beginning. A healthy baby grows to maturity, and we are justifiably alarmed when this doesn't happen. The baby is alive and born into the family, but there is something terribly wrong and probably fatal if the baby either never grows or seems to regress after some growth, and so it is spiritually.2
But note that we're talking about behavior here, about attitudes and actions, not about an intellectual grasp of all the nuances of theology. Both do take time, but only someone considered a teacher or leader is required to have attained both. No believer is exempt from walking a path of increasing holiness, which is developing a habit of turning away from sin and toward the will of God. Every believer is expected to keep on struggling against sin, and to define sin as what God says it is, not what society or even a "church" says it is. As the apostle Paul put it, we have died to sin and cannot live in it any longer (Rom. 6, Col. 2), so it follows that anyone who lives in sin has not died to it.
But Christians today have developed a rather twisted and backwards view of sin, one that is the opposite of the Biblical model. While scripture requires more holiness and higher standards from leaders,3 today's so-called Christian leaders invent their own definitions of sin and then exempt themselves from them, as if they are above the law of love. They want all the forgiveness and tolerance and grace to flow up and never down, and are often worse than unbelievers in their behavior, regardless of what they teach. Here are some examples (emphasis mine):
An Alabama evangelist who terrorized his family while impressing audiences at revivals was convicted Friday of murdering his wife and storing her body in a freezer for years. People who heard Anthony Hopkins' sermons in rural towns around the South sometimes called him a psychic or even a prophet. Yet a prosecutor told jurors that Anthony Hopkins terrorized his wife and young children, isolated them and used the Bible to manipulate them.
"He was the supreme commander of his own little army," said Assistant District Attorney Jill Phillips.
After deliberating for 1-1/2 hours, the jury in Mobile also found 39-year-old Anthony Hopkins guilty of rape, sodomy, incest and sexual abuse of a child between the ages of 12 and 16. Hopkins was arrested in 2008 while preaching at a revival on charges that he killed 36-year-old Arletha Hopkins. Authorities said they were led to the body of his wife by a teenage relative that Hopkins had abused and impregnated.
Investigators say Hopkins killed his wife in a violent fight in 2004 after she caught him having sex with the teenager. They said he then stuffed the wife's body into a freezer at the Mobile home he shared with her, the couple's six children and two of her children from a previous relationship.4
The crowd was starkly quiet as the 29-year-old minister confessed that he had sinned against God, his family and those who sat before him. He shoved aside a speech that had been prepared by Dr. Paige Patterson, his mentor and former teacher at Criswell College. "This book tells me what to do with my sin," Mr. Gilyard said, clutching a worn Bible.
"It has been with me everywhere. It's been in the various foster homes, it's been under the bridge with me. This is far more than a moment of tragedy and failure. It is a moment of triumph. I have walked away from yet another bridge, a bridge of triumph."
What he didn't say was that for the fourth time in four years, he had been forced to walk away from a congregation. A growing number of women in the Richardson church said their pastor had sexually abused them. One said he had had sex with her in the pastor's study. Another said she received lewd phone calls and, most recently, a woman said he raped her.
Mr. Gilyard, unavailable for comment since his resignation, left behind a Baptist model, of sorts, for integrated membership and a reputation as one of the most widely sought black evangelists by predominantly white Baptist congregations. Both his home and mobile phone numbers have been changed.
The morning after the resignation, Dr. Patterson described Mr. Gilyard as one of the "most brilliant men in the pulpit." Mr. Gilyard credited his appearances on the Old Time Gospel Hour, a weekly television program produced by evangelist Jerry Falwell. It was Mr. Falwell who promoted The Darrell Gilyard Story, a video biography of a young black orphan who rose to prominence after he had spent his teen-age years living under a bridge in Florida.
Though many of the women who say they were involved with Mr. Gilyard said they feel guilt over their participation, they are angry at church officials who, they said, did little to protect them. One woman who said she had had a long-term affair with Mr. Gilyard said her phone calls requesting a meeting with Dr. Patterson were not returned. "His secretary said unless I had proof, he wouldn't see me." Others recall meetings with church officials at both Victory Baptist and First Baptist churches who drilled them with questions about their emotional stability and their relationships with other men.
First Baptist officials said they knew of the allegations of sexual misconduct, which began as long as four years ago when Mr. Gilyard was removed as assistant pastor of Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Oak Cliff. But they said they did not believe those allegations, and continued to recommend him. "We were dealing with a man of special gifts and talents," Dr. Patterson said. "I was unwilling to call anyone guilty until I had demonstratable evidence that these allegations were true." Dr. Patterson said that according to Scriptures, action cannot be taken against a minister accused of adultery unless there are two or more witnesses. He also asked for any other proof, such as photographs, videotapes or laboratory tests.5
What about abusive wives? I married a female Pentecostal minister and the psychological abuse she heaped on me was nothing less than Satanic. The lies, the deceptions, the unfaithfulness, the plain cruel hatefulness… And yet every "minister" told me I had to remain in that abusive relationship, and if she fooled around and gave me AIDS, too bad, because God hates divorce. However, through prayer I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that it was God's Will to move on and let her go. He does hate divorce, but if you read the Bible, God is divorced— He divorced Israel (the ten northern tribes.) There are legitimate reasons for divorce!
After she left me for another man, I was immediately denounced by these same "ministers" as unfit for the ministry! Never mind she cheated on and left me, allegedly I was now tainted by the sin of divorce. I could make a comment here about how I've seen prostitutes, drug dealers and murderers get saved Tuesday night and Wednesday morning the pastor anoints them as assistant pastors in the church because of their "glorious testimony of how Christ delivered them", but a faithful person who endures a divorce is denied ministry. Never mind that Paul said a novice should never be allowed to an elder. Neither did one of those same ministers deny her singing/ministering in their churches despite her living in sin with a man whe wasn't even married to! It also came out she was bisexual and had a girlfriend— no matter! The "church" threw me out and embraced her. My argument: birds of a feather flock together. People who lie defend people who lie, people who steal defend people who steal. And as the years went on almost every one of the ministers who took her side was exposed as being unfaithful to his/her spouses. No wonder they came to her defense; they wanted to hide their own sin!6
While it is true that much of the content of the New Testament directs us to judge our own hearts,7 we are also clearly commanded to judge the behavior of all who call themselves believers.8 This is vital when it comes to leaders and teachers, who are to be models for others to follow, and who are to be publicly reprimanded in proportion to their honor.9
But notice a very important thing when it comes to all this judging, specifically as stated in 1 Cor. 5: sinners are to judge sinners! We have been force-fed the lie that since all of us sin, then none of us can ever say a word about the sins of fellow believers. Yet after all Paul had said about the people of Corinth and their immaturity, their approval of worse sins than the pagans, and their petty divisions, he told those very people to throw out of their fellowship a man living in sin. And it was the whole congregation, not a small group of elders, who were to carry this out.
We all sin on occasion, but the dividing line is when someone claiming to be a believer wallows in a sin or refuses to acknowledge what God has called sin. The important thing is the attitude; if we do not agree with God or refuse to give a sin up, we sin even if we don't act upon it.10 If we are only concerned about how much we can get away with and still get to heaven, we reveal our true attitude toward God and deny the faith.
Yet we have to guard ourselves against swinging to the other extreme of legalism and ratting on each other for violations of the lists we make. It is common for those who want to excuse sin to deflect scrutiny away from themselves by accusing others of being legalists or Pharisees, but the charge is only true if we do in fact start nitpicking about every little thing that happes to irritate us personally. But if we are using God's standards and only trying to please Him, we won't need a list or a Talumd to tell us when something is sin, and we will be able to hold each other to account as Paul instructed.
Remember that Jesus said we must love God more than people, so we cannot use love for people as an excuse to tolerate sin against God; we cannot love others at God's expense! To love the world is treason against God,11 and the world is where hierarchy, abuse, and all kinds of self-indulgence come from. The world loves sin and cannot understand anyone who does not.
We have forgotten how to hate what God hates, how to love what God loves, how to tell sheep from wolves and occasional failings from willful habits. Study the scriptures to find out what God has said, and be sure to apply it to yourself. But be sure as well to hold anyone claiming leadership or "anointing" to an even higher standard of purity. "By their fruit you will know them", and by the scriptures you will know if they "proclaim another Jesus". Don't be intimidated by those who would demand no one criticize them, because they are the lowest servants, not the bosses.12
So what does genuine faith produce? First of all, love for God and His honor, then love for people, and then standards of conduct that show no favoritism. The Christian life is a life that continues to become more like Jesus and less like the world, and discerns between the victim and the oppressor, nurturing the former while restraining the latter. It is not lazy or thin-skinned, does not love sin, hates injustice, and will not stand idly by as one alleged believer abuses another. It does not seek the place of honor or the control of others, yet is not afraid to confront the popular or credentialed concerning sin.
Imagine a Christian community filled with such people. If you do, you will know what it must have been like when the Body of Christ was new. And we can have that again, if we all return to loyalty to God above all, and turn our backs on the world. This is true repentance, true revival. The kingdom of God is not the kingdom of this world… yet.
It should go without saying that such a community, including our most intimate relationships, would be without hierarchy or division. As things are and have always been, however, Jesus' statement "not so among you" has been trampled by ambition and control. But the scriptural indictment of this is a huge study, one that I undertook before and wrote about. Please refer to the book Nicolaitan in the recommended reading list in the Appendix.
Next we'll examine the cause for our need to be reconciled to God. Just as people who have long enjoyed political freedom need to be reminded of the price paid for their freedom, so also Christians need to remember the price Jesus paid for our salvation.