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I sometimes hear negative comments about Christians who interpret the Bible literally. My reply takes them by surprise at first until I explain. The problem is not belief that the Bible is literally true. It’s that those Christians who disparage the transgender community don’t read the Bible carefully enough and apply all of it as it is written.
Jesus never rebuked anyone for using too much scripture or taking it literally. He did accuse the Sadducees of not knowing the scriptures (or the power of God) when they asked Him about the woman who was widowed in succession by each one of seven brothers (Matthew 22:23-32). He challenged the Jewish leadership by comparing scripture verses that would point to His identity as the Son of God (e.g. that the Messiah is the Son of David, but David calls Him Lord: Matthew 22:42-45 referring to Psalm 110). He accuses the scribes and Pharisees of hypocrisy for being preoccupied with minutiae and ignoring more important matters: judgment, mercy and faith (Matthew 23, especially verses 23 and 24).
He accused them of ignoring the judgment of the prophet Hosea on their forefathers: For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. – Hosea 6:6. He accused them of not understanding the message in the story of David and his starving soldiers when the priests fed them the hallowed showbread that only the priests were permitted to eat under the Law. (1st Samuel 21:1-6; Jesus’ teaching reported in Matthew 12, Mark 2 and Luke 6).
Jesus was grieved that the religious leaders in His time did not understand that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath: that His disciples did not deserve condemnation for plucking and eating a few grains from stalks in the field on the Sabbath; nor did He deserve condemnation for doing good works on the Sabbath, such as His healing of the sick or infirmed and casting out demons (often by only speaking a word and using no physical activity at all). Most grievous of all was the fact that the ministry and messianic identity of Jesus was confirmed by far greater miracles than displayed by Elijah and Elisha. Yet the scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the Law, who venerated those prophets from centuries earlier, did not accept the message of Jesus for the sake of His good works.
What if legalism had stopped Boaz from marrying a foreign woman? Then he would have never married Ruth, the Moabitess, the great-grandmother of King David. Fortunately, the testimony about Ruth, her goodness towards her mother-in-law, her love of God and her faith and trust in the Lord, was more important to Boaz.
What if legalism had stopped the two men sent by Joshua to spy on Jericho from lodging with a prostitute. Then those men would not have received protection from Rahab, they would have been captured by the people of that land and another generation of the children of Israel probably would have been discouraged from entering the Promised Land. Fortunately for the Israelites, those two men were more concerned with their mission, and they also believed it when Rahab testified her belief that the God of Israel is the only God in heaven and earth. Both the faith (Hebrews 11:31) and works (James 2:25) of this common harlot are praised in the New Testament.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. – John 1:17. Human nature makes it difficult to have both grace and truth in our hearts. We tend to tilt towards one or the other since at first glance they seem incompatible. But what is impossible for man is made possible by God. So our Christian walk requires us to do what God enables us to do: that we so walk as to keep the two in balance at all times. For if we heavily emphasize grace, the result is silly sentimentality and an attitude that anything goes. But if we heavily emphasize truth, the result is dead orthodoxy and loveless legalism, driving away people from God by beating them over the head with scripture.
But don’t ever think that grace is weaker than truth. (Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. – 2nd Timothy 2:1.) Now that’s even stronger than Ajax!
So why do I call legalism ”lazy religion”? Because it is much easier to justify one’s position by pointing to cold, hard facts in scripture, especially the “thou shalt not(s)”. It takes more work to temper truth with grace, to practice speaking grace seasoned with salt instead of the other way around, and to understand the spirit of the law in addition to the letter of the law.
Those Christians who pursue legalism and the letter of the law need to heed these verses:
But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. – Romans 2:29 (In the same chapter, Paul warns the Church to leave condemning judgment to God because we will all be judged by Him.)
But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. – Romans 7:6
Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. – 2nd Corinthians 3:6
That sure grabs my attention. I can minister life to people by the spirit of the law, but death to people by the letter. Why would I want to minister death to people? Jesus came to save the world, not condemn it (John 3:17). He came so that we would not only have life, but abundant life. (John 10:10)
In my Christian walk, I have the same choice that God told Moses to proclaim to the children of Israel: I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: – Deuteronomy 30:19
Therefore, it is a joy when I find another scripture passage that illuminates both the letter and spirit of the word; both the grace and truth of Christ: especially as relates to God’s mercy towards those people who are transgender; those of us who were born that way.
I recently came across some passages in Acts (which I have read dozens of times) during the Women’s Bible Study that I attend at my church. The topic was the importance of evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the first Gentile converts so that they would be welcomed into the body of Christ. It starts in Acts 10 when the Lord sent visions to the centurion Cornelius and the Apostle Peter to bring them together. Peter was the one who needed convincing. Had he been stuck in legalism, he would have refused to go to the house of a Gentile (Acts 10:28). But once there, Peter preached the Gospel to Cornelius, his family and close friends who eagerly desired to hear about God. And to the surprise of the Jewish followers of Christ who accompanied Peter, they saw strong evidence of the Holy Spirit being poured out on those who had gathered to hear Peter, similar to what had happened a decade earlier at Pentecost to Christ’s disciples.
But that didn’t end the matter. Now Peter had to go back to Jerusalem and defend his actions to those who want to know why he visited these Gentiles (and even ate with them!) contrary to the Law. Fortunately, Peter was able to recount the whole story and convinced those who originally opposed what he had done that they would also be opposing God if they did not accept that the Lord had chosen Gentiles to be part of the body of believers in Christ.
Then people like Paul and Barnabas journeyed to preach the Gospel in the synagogues in more distant cities where Jews have settled and also to the Gentiles there. From both groups, some believed and some did not. And with these new Christians, both Jew and Gentile, new churches were planted.
But as reported in Acts 15, a new dispute arose. Some legalistic Jewish Christians (mostly Pharisees) came behind the evangelistic work being done and told the new Gentile believers that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised according to Mosaic Law. So now the early Church had to deal with legalism in relation to the Gentiles once again. Those who were bound in the dead letter of the law instead of the living spirit of the law refused to believe that these Gentiles were already saved.
So now a new meeting of the early Church leaders was convened. From the Bible’s “minutes” of that meeting:
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. – Acts 15:7-11
The bottom line is that because of the words of Peter, Barnabas, Paul and James, it was recognized that circumcision was not required for a Gentile to be considered saved and part of the Church. They realized that they were requiring something (circumcision as adults) that they would not have been able to handle themselves. They saw that the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person was what counted, not the particulars of their body. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. – Galatians 5:6
But if legalists had their way, Gentiles would have been barred from becoming part of the Church; at the very least, they would have been required to be circumcised and even then they still might have been made to remain separated from the Jewish Christians. This is very similar to how legalist preachers, misinterpreting scripture, tried to justify the continuance of enslaving Blacks. Fortunately, they also did not prevail; nor did those who tried to justify segregation of the races in all walks of life. And yet, many Christians today, almost all of whom would be considered Gentiles (and more than a few of whom are Black), misuse scripture and ignore mounting evidence, thereby forbidding transgender people the right to be something that they could not bear: denying their own identity.
Can someone get a nose job, or breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, or a cleft palate repaired and still be saved? Yes! Can someone take hormones to treat menopause or prostate cancer and still be saved? Yes! Can someone have gender confirming surgery or take hormones to treat transgender issues and still be saved? Yes! It’s what’s in your heart, your mind and your spirit that matters, not your flesh. And if it applies to one’s standing as a Christian, it certainly applies to one’s standing in the human race.