Jesus saves vs. Jesus affirms: which is the better answer for the moral questions of our day?
A whole lot of people are telling us Jesus Christ approves of homosexual practice and gay marriage. That’s one way of solving a moral issue: find a way to hear Jesus saying it’s okay after all.
I don’t think much of that, and the reason I’m going to give probably isn’t what you think it’s going to be. I’ve written often enough here (and in my forthcoming book) about how wrong it is. Now I’m going to talk about how unlikely it is. This isn’t as much about morality as it is about Jesus himself. As I wrote last week,
Jesus stands as a towering figure in history because all across time, he has forced history’s view of true character to bend to his own character rather than vice versa. He showed how love could be far more just, true, sacrificial, and by the way more interesting and complex than mere approval. It took a God-man to be able to do that.
There is Jesus-who-affirms-you or, Jesus-who-approves. There is also Jesus as he’s recorded in the Gospel accounts. The two versions of Jesus could hardly be more different.
Jesus-who-affirms-you is the Jesus of grace, who accepts sinners as they are, who dined in their homes, who even partied with them. This Jesus doesn’t discriminate. He tells everyone they’re going to be just fine.That’s all true of Jesus, except it’s only half-true, which makes it a false picture of him after all.
John 1:14 tells us he came in both grace and truth. The truth he came with was that God accepts us as we are but not so we can stay that way. God accepts us, but not our sin, which presents a huge barrier between us and God. God accepts us as we are, but only because Jesus paid the high price by which we could be reconciled to God.
So yes, Jesus says we can be okay in relation to God, but he never said sin could be. To the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-12) he said in all grace, “Neither do I condemn you;” and then he added to it, “Go and sin no more.”
Jesus came for you, for me, and for everyone else who’s ever lived. He came for a reason. It wasn’t to affirm us as we are, but for a much better reason: because he loved us. He loved us enough to empty himself for us (Phil 2:5-11) and to die for us, even though we weren’t all that approvable (Rom. 5:6-8).
Somehow some people have gotten love and approval all mixed up: If Jesus loves you, they say, then he would be fine with you doing what you’re doing. In my first post in this series I quoted A.J. Walton,
That’s what made my first Pride March so holy. There I stood, a young LGBT man and student of theology whose task was to convey God’s love and affirmation of same-sex love to people of faith and no faith.
Yes, Jesus loves; yes, he affirms; yes, he affirms genuine same-sex love (for he affirms all genuine love); but no, he doesn’t affirm same-sex sexual activity. He never has. All of Scripture agrees: sex is honorable and good in a committed marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Everywhere else it’s a distorter and a distortion of sound relationships. Jesus doesn’t affirm distortion.
Jesus loves. He affirms your worth. He affirms your value in God’s eyes. He loves you enough to seek to guard, protect, and dissuade you from what can hurt you–things that he could never affirm. That includes sexual relationships outside of marriage–and by the way, he did affirm marriage between man and woman.
Now in order to make my main point here there’s yet one more piece to add, and it’s an obvious one: Jesus has had an incredible influence on history. No one could deny that, even if one who doubts he was God in the flesh or that he was resurrected from death. Jesus’ influence is unparalleled in today’s world. There have been other thinkers and spiritual leaders with great influence in history—Moses, Confucius, Lao-Ze, the Buddha, Socrates, and Mohammed, to name a few—but wherever Jesus Christ has intersected their realms, they have all had to deal with him. All the major religions of the world want to claim him as one of theirs, with Judaism as the only major exception.
There is therefore something uniquely substantial about Jesus, more than any other person in history. Whether you consider him God or not, whether you even like him or not, you must acknowledge that for two thousand years he has been a supremely compelling character. He was no one- or even two-dimensional person. Flat characters do not leave lasting influence.
Jesus-who-affirms doesn’t fit the historical picture, for he is is a two-dimensional character. If all Jesus said was, “it’s okay if your intentions aren’t harmful,” he would have been all but forgotten within a few years. Socrates was far more interesting than Jesus-who-approves. So was Aristotle. They both changed the world, too, but not like Jesus—the real Jesus, that is.
It took a person of real substance to change the world the way Jesus did. It took someone with an absolutely solid grip on moral and spiritual realities–the levers that can lift and turn a world. Jesus had that kind of firm, unwavering hold on truth. It took someone with love going leagues deep to motivate people to follow him. It took total mastery of the human condition, especially the way we handle the relationship between hard reality and warm, inviting love. It took all this wrapped up in one person to be a world-changer across the millennia.
Jesus-who-affirms lacks that substance. He isn’t a world-changer, he isn’t even a world leader. He’s a world follower, a changed-by-the-changing-world person.
In the end there’s something very unrealistic about people claiming Jesus approves of the latest moral trend. If Jesus were the type of historical figure whose approval could be bent and shaped that way, he would have been forgotten by history. No one would bring him up as an authority for their own rightness if he weren’t an authority in his own right. Being such an authority means that he is able to speak for himself. He did so, and he still does.
He says he loves you and me. He affirms us as being worthy of love, and he approves of us in the same way. He loves us without ignoring, affirming, or approving the sin that separates us from God and each other.
He came as one full of both grace and truth: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Anything less than that, and no one would have ever found him interesting. Yet they did then, and billions still do today. Jesus who saves you is far more real, more substantial, more historically likely, more believable, than Jesus who merely affirms you.
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