1st Corinthians 8, Acts 10, Adiaphora, appearance of evil, Bible, birth defects, blemish, body defect, choice, Christ, Christ alone, Christian, Christian counselor, Christian Liberty, Christianity, clean and unclean animals, conscience, doubt, Faith alone, female, free gift, gender conflict, Gender Identity, gender incongruity, God, Grace alone, HolySpirit, innate, Kingdom of God, Lord Jesus, mental health, offense, Paul, peace, prejudice, Romans 14, salvation, Scripture alone, serving Christ, sin, the five solae, To God only be the glory, Transition, Transsexual, weak in faith
Continuing our examination of Romans 14, Paul turns his attention to his own position on Christian liberty, as well as practical application of the principles he outlines in verses 1-13.
14I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. 16Let not then your good be evil spoken of: 17For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. 19Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. 20For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. 21It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. 22Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
In verses 14-20, Paul lets reader know where he stands (and how he has been “persuaded by the Lord Jesus”) on the topic of whether or not there are unclean foods, what the kingdom of God is concerned with, and what things are acceptable to God. First of all, “there is nothing unclean of itself” (verse 14). Second, the kingdom of God is concerned with righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. It is not concerned with food and drink. (verse 17). Finally, serving Christ faithfully is what is acceptable to God (verse 18).
Yet interwoven with these verses until the end of the chapter are two themes that guide us in how we are to walk, both regarding our own conscience and in relation to other believers, especially those who are weaker in faith.
Over and over again, it is stated in various ways that we should not use our Christian liberty to cause a weaker Christian to stumble. What happens if we do something in front of another Christian that he or she considers wrong? At the very least, it will sadden that Christian. It may cause him or her to depart from the fellowship of other believers, or even from a Christian walk, if only for a season. At worst, it will cause the weaker Christian to go astray in sin. That person may feel compelled to copy our action, contrary to his or her own conscience. Or there may be a giving into temptation in some area. While it is understandable that we would want to defend our right to exercise our Christian liberty, framed in this way, we can see that God never intends for us to use it in such a way that it would hurt one of our fellow believers.
The other point that Paul makes in various ways is that if a weaker Christian believes that something is sinful, if they do it while holding that belief, it is sinful for them, even if by itself it is not sinful. Let’s take a hypothetical situation where a Christian believes it is sinful to eat pork. He goes to a church picnic, and when he finds out that the hot dogs contain pork, he states that he can’t eat that and asks for some barbecued chicken instead. Now let’s say that a Christian who knows that there is no prohibition on eating pork overhears this conversation. In response, he teases the abstaining Christian. Not wanting to appear foolish he gives in and eats a hot dog. But since he still believed in his heart that it was sinful to do so, to him it was sin. And the stronger Christian also sinned by putting the stumbling block in the way of the weaker Christian.
On the other hand, let’s say the stronger Christian takes the weaker Christian aside and shows him Acts 10 & 11, Romans 14 and 1st Corinthians 8. If the weaker Christian receives the teaching and no longer believes in his heart that it is sinful to eat pork, then he may do so freely. He does not sin if he eats pork at this point. And the stronger Christian did not sin. He taught and encouraged his fellow Christian. In this, there is no sin.
Particularly in verse 16, Paul also admonishes the stronger believers in a matter that expands upon 1st Thessalonians 5:22, which states “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” Do you use your Christian liberty appropriately? You do well. But if you lord it over your weaker brother or sister because of your Christian liberty, then you are inviting that which should have been seen as good to be spoken of as evil. Doing so, you bring judgment and condemnation upon yourself. Even worse, you might be leading others to speak badly of Christianity itself. We cannot stop malicious people from idly and falsely condemning Christianity. But giving them reason to do so is another matter entirely.
More to the central theme of my blog, noting the way the belief of many in the church is evolving on the issue of gender, I can picture Paul writing: “Some of you believe transsexuals are born that way and others of you believe that it is a choice, but whichever you believe, if your fellow Christian believes the other, continue in fellowship and don’t get into arguments over it.”
Now one might look at Romans 14 and my commentary on it and say that they are offended by me (and others like me) transitioning so that whereas I once lived as a male, now I lived as a female. And therefore, since they are offended, I ought to have restrained myself rather than transition. It is a point worth looking at.
First of all, to me who believes that I was born this way, if no one is offended, I clearly have the Christian liberty to transition. But what if someone is offended? Am I required to reverse course for the sake of that person? Let’s look at why I believe the answer to that is no.
First of all, the offense that the other Christian takes is based on my identity, not on my action. My action is living as a female consistent with normative female behavior within the culture in which I live. If that is sinful by itself, then every Christian cisgender woman is sinning just by the very act of being her female self. And of course, this is not so. Females do not sin merely by acting female.
I am merely living in accordance with my inner identity (which I have shown in other posts to be of greater importance to God than identity based on external appearance). Furthermore, I am doing that which is in my power to do to alter my outer appearance to avoid, as much as possible, offending other people, including my Christian brothers and sisters.
Now there was a time when white people in many churches would have been offended if a black person wanted to come into their church to worship. Was it right for them to be offended? Absolutely, not. It is was their own sinful prejudice that caused them to be offended, not the black person’s honest and understandable desire to worship with brothers and sisters in Christ. That black person does not sin based on the circumstances of his or her birth.
In the same way, the body of Christ no longer excludes people from participating in the congregation based on certain “blemishes” (i.e., bodily defect) whether from a birth defect or acquired later in life. So if you are blind, or lame, or flat nosed, or have extra fingers or toes, or permanently lack the use of hand or foot, or are hunch-backed, or are a dwarf, or have a blemish of the eye, or scurvy, or scabbed skin, or stones (testicles) that are broken (see Leviticus 21:17-21), you may freely come before the Lord, fellowshipping and worshiping with the rest of the body of Christ. And if you are unsaved and have any of those conditions or other serious body defects, you may freely receive the free gift of salvation as is available to any other person.
On what basis are those who were once excluded no longer separated from the rest of the body? On the same basis in Acts 10 that declares that no longer are there any unclean foods: “what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (verse 15)
Are you saved? Wonderful! I have received that same free gift of salvation. I did not choose Christ. He chose to pluck me out of the miry clay and save me while I was still unwittingly at enmity with Him. I trust in that same blood poured out for me for the propitiation of my sins. I place my trust in Christ alone, and not on any work that I have done, lest I should boast. My salvation is a gift of God for by grace am I saved through faith, a faith that God bestowed upon me.
The 66 books of the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, are my sole authority for all things spiritual or moral. I neither add nor subtract anything from that authority. And as much as lies within me, I do all for the glory of God as He is the only one worthy of our worship and to be the recipient of whatever glory we can give.
I became aware of my female gender identity when I was seven years old. It was not the result of abuse or neglect or tragedy. I just knew and I went on with my life for a few years before it became problematic as I began to enter into puberty and be in regular contact with both male and female teens when I moved from fifth grade to sixth. I was not born again until age 36. But when I became a new creature in Christ, my female identity was not taken away. In fact, eventually it became stronger, not to lead me into sin, but away from it as my pretense of trying to live as a male which was a lie, was causing me to move more and more into sexual sin. To God be the glory, when I finally began to embrace my true female identity, the sins which I struggled with for years and were getting a stronger and stronger hold on me, began to dramatically fall away in a matter of weeks.
I could have transitioned before I was saved. Even when I was first saved and a babe in Christ, it would have been relatively easy to do so without my conscience being pricked. But I did not do so. Why? There are many reasons but a significant one is that I did not know for sure where God stood on the issue. It wasn’t that I knew it was sin. I knew that many in the Church were making that claim, but for those many years, my eyes were veiled as to what Scripture said on the topic.
As long as I had doubt, though I might search and consider and explore the idea (and sometimes pray that God would take away this gender incongruence to end the conflict between my identity on the one hand, and my body and the world on the other), I did not move forward without an understanding from Scripture that it was not sinful for me to do so. God, in His perfect timing, chose when He would unveil my eyes to the Scriptures that apply to this topic, as I have shared elsewhere on my blog.
Now do you doubt my identity? On what basis? Have you seen my naked body? Have you opened me up and examined my internal organs? Have you swabbed my cheeks and tested to determine whether I am XY, XX or some Intersex variant? Have you read and interpreted my brain scan, comparing it to normative male and female patterns? Do you know my heart better than I or the Lord? Or are you basing your opinion because of one man’s judgment made when I emerged from my mother’s womb: a judgment made based quickly on only one piece of evidence and without the benefit of much that we have learned over the past sixty years. Furthermore, it is a judgment that you have no way of confirming its accuracy.
One more point: how have I offended you and in what way I am I causing you to stumble into sin by revealing myself in this way? Are you being tempted to change gender even though you deep down know that your body and gender identity match? I don’t advocate that you do so. In fact, I would counsel against it. And I would be happy to discuss it with you privately to help you turn away from such an action if you choose to avail my help.
Or are you trying to stand in the gap for some other person who you are afraid may “fall” for what I am teaching. I have no desire to persuade anyone that their gender identity is different from what they already know it to be. What I teach is that if a person already knows that their gender identity does not match their sexual organs, that they are free and can be at peace and that no one ought put a stumbling block in their way to prevent them from seeking the Lord. And if a person is not sure or conflicted as to their gender identity, then they need to resolve that with the help of unbiased counsel, both from the mental health community and from a pastor or other qualified Christian counselor. To remain in conflict is painful. To receive biased counseling that persuades a person to be something that he or she is not can lead to tragedy. And so it is my fervent prayer that my words will help those who are in a position to serve as a Christian counselor, to do so with an unbiased mind if the situation arises to counsel someone with gender conflict or clear gender incongruity; to search the Scriptures for yourself as I have to see whether these things are so.