Tonight I met a group of Christians in Thailand. We had a small time of fellowship and prayer. Within the group I noticed there was a lady-boy. For those not familiar with the term “lady-boy” it is the preferred term adopted by men in Thailand who seek to look and act like women–otherwise known as transvestites.
I was very glad to see that the Christian group had reached out to this individual and had not dismissed him or spurned him away scornfully as so many other Christian groups would be apt to do.
That’s the good news. Now for the bad.
After the meeting I noticed some of the Christian girls–including one of the leaders–fawning all over him, asking if they could brush his long hair and braid it. They commenced to give him quite the female touch. You would honestly be hard pressed to know it was even a boy after they finished.
When the boy left I asked them some questions about the boy (who was about 18). I asked them how long he had been attending their meetings and how they deal with the increasing trend in Thailand for men to change into women. They replied that he had been fellowshipping with them for a year, and they “just show him God’s love and accept him the way he is.”
Nothing necessarily wrong there of course. But what does, “Accept him the way he is” mean?
So I asked. They replied that it means if he wants to be a women they affirm that choice, tell him God still loves him, and don’t seek to persuade him against it. In other words they feel no compulsion whatsoever in pointing out to him that actively living out a gay, transvestite lifestyle is in direct conflict with a life of holiness and truth that we are called to pursue.
So this got me to thinking.
What message are we sending when we utter the current Christian buzz phrase: “We need to just accept people the way they are.”
There is no doubt that contained within that phrase is a great and precious truth–God loves us in the state he finds us. And yet contained within that phrase is another truth–which goes to the very heart of why there needed to be a bloody cross in the first place. Namely that God is not content to leave us the way he finds us. To conflate the two truths as if nothing ever needs changing is to undermine the very essence of the Christian life.
The Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
So God does accept us the way we are–that is true. But he has very real and very motivated plans to change us! The journey of the Christian life is about partnering with God in that change.
The Bible speaks of this transformational change in numerous ways, such as: “being conformed into the image of Christ”, “putting off the old man and putting on the new man”, “being a new creation”, “being crucified with Christ”, “a good work being brought to completion”, “being born again”,”no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me”, “picking up the whole armor of God” and “putting on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” And Bonhoeffer was right. For Jesus put it this way: “Unless a man denies himself and picks up his cross, he cannot follow me”(Lk. 9:23).
So the Christian life is about–transformational change and correction. It is not about staying static and unmoved in the manner in which God found us. The scriptures themselves are admittedly “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
On either side of the path of true life there is a ditch. Overreacting to one usually results in falling headlong into the other. These ditches are what we can call “the extremes.” And all one must do is take true to an extreme for it to become error.
Unfortunately the Church today commonly falls into one of two ditches in its approach to sin. Either it will utter only condemnation and judgment upon a fallen world…or…it will seek to turn a blind eye to the destructive nature of sin in order to affirm and love the sinner.
The first is a ditch because condemnation has never saved anyone–which is why Jesus said, “I have not come to condemn the world but save the world.”
However turning a blind eye to the ruinous and harmful nature of sin in the life of another saves no one either. If my friend has skin cancer and seeks my support and consolation as we walk shirtless in the sun everyday–I’m only enabling an activity that will one day take their life. In fact my willingness to “accept them the way they are” is rather self-serving and un-loving if in the end I’m too afraid to lose their friendship in telling them “the way they are” is unsafe and deadly.
Life in Christ is about recognition of need, recognition of sin, recognition of wrong, confession, forgiveness, repentance, self-sacrifice, transformation–TRUTH and LIFE.
The blood of Christ was given to cleanse us of all sin and purify our conscience. But the cross (that we are to pick up daily) was given by God to keep the old man dead and buried.
It’s all a bit odd and counter intuitive isn’t it? We are to live, breath, rejoice and give thanks daily…yet we are called to die daily.
For this reason Paul said we are “called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). And of course a sacrifice is something you put on an alter to be killed–not continued. Yet in the context of Christ through death, new life emerges. “Unless a sin falls to the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it bears forth much fruit” (Jn. 12:24).
So in conclusion, if “accepting someone the way they are” means turning a blind eye to the ruinous and harmful nature of their sin–like adopting a transvestite self-identity based on a lie— then we must conclude that such alleged “acceptance” has no place in the Christian community. In fact such “acceptance” is un-loving because you are withholding from them truth that can potentially lead to a deeper communion with Christ (which only comes through death to self).
It doesn’t mean you have to change them. No–that is not your commission. Rather we faithfully walk with people as they journey through their sometimes messy and tearful process of discovering grace, truth and internal transformation in Christ alone.
It starts with love and leads to truth…because love loves no falsehood.