Saturday, April 25, 2015

What does the Bible say about diversity?

The Bible is absolutely clear on the subject of diversity, if by diversity we are meaning racial or cultural background. The gospel is to be made available to all, regardless of their background. But it is also absolutely clear that every lifestyle is a sinful one, utterly rejected by God. There is no one, not one anywhere in the world who will be able to clothe himself in acts to please God and gain salvation. So if you will allow me the somewhat painful quip, the meaning of diversity begins to sharply diversify from the meaning given to us in this world.

We are taught in our culture today to accept every lifestyle and culture. Indeed the national mantra seems to have a blind eye in differentiating between lifestyles, and national morality seems to be unable to call any lifestyle good or bad in comparison to others. Not so with the Bible. When we are talking about any lifestyle at all they are all condemned by the righteous God as being utterly worthless to save us. When we dress in our best clothes of righteousness, they are as filthy rags in the sight of God, and we could never hope on that basis to have standing with God.

Indeed then, diversity becomes very different. The African, the American, or the European are at the same disadvantage—all are lost no matter how noble or perverse their lifestyle. It is never a question of bringing ourselves to God in hopes of acceptance, for such hope is always doomed. We stand, as Jonathan Edwards long ago said, as sinners in the hands of an angry God.

But having said that, does God judge us differently? Yes, of course he does. God recognizes that there is a great deal of difference in the way we sin—you might say that some of us are better than others at it—and thus will be subject to a stricter judgment. Actually this judgment is different in two ways. First, Jesus tells us a story where the sheep and the goats are separated, one on the right hand and the other on the left. This judgment might be looked at as the big judgment. Those with faith in Christ are on the one side; those without faith are on the other side. There is no redemption for those without faith, for the provision for sin has been once for all made when God gave his Son on the cross, that whosoever believes might be saved. The “whosoever” includes all sorts of people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds—but they all must have faith in the work of God for salvation.

Those who are sorted into the faith side are still subject to judgment, but their judgment is at the bema seat of Christ. The New Testament refers to this judgment often, but perhaps the one most often recalled is found in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” The peril of one’s salvation is not the question of this judgment; rather the judgment is given to the faithful sons of God, as well as those sons who have not proved faithful, yet still have faith. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that fire will test the quality of each man’s work (1 Cor. 3:14, 15), and that his works might well be burned up, and the man will suffer loss, yet will still remain saved. No matter what our background before Christ might be, we are called to leave that diversity and join the unity of the body, living daily to show the fruits of the Spirit himself, such as love, joy, peace, and patience. In conclusion then, we see clearly that there is a judgment for the saved, and that God will weigh that which we have done.

But there is also another judgment, and this is for those who are goats, separated initially by Christ. They are to appear in what the Bible calls the Great White Throne judgment. Here, John tells us in Revelation 20:13 that God will judge each person “according to what he has done”. Again the Bible teaches us, if you will allow my punning again, that God is going to judge “diversely”, first for those who found Christ, and also for those who are lost. They will be very different judgments, and yet God will reward and punish according to what people have done.

James, the brother of Jesus, tells us in what may be the first epistle of the New Testament, that we are not to judge by appearances, and we are not to make evil decisions based on judgments. When we have the poor enter our church, and tell them to sit down there, while we say to the rich, take this seat of honor, we do evil. We, as a church, are to treat one another with the respect that is due brothers and sisters in the Lord, no matter how diverse the background is. When we so act we are demeaning not just our brothers, but also ourselves, for God has called us to a station that should eagerly show love to those who are in the family of God.

And that thought brings us precisely to the key difference in the way we define diversity. The country insists that all lifestyles are worthy of respect, and that is altogether untrue. The Bible teaches us the exact opposite—all our righteousness is as filthy rags, and there is none righteous, no not one. We are not to accept benignly every lifestyle we see, but rather we are to make judgments about the lifestyles we see, even while loving all of those who are so woefully lost. Paul tells us that we are given a ministry of reconciliation, and that we are to lovingly share the gospel with those who still have the veil over their hearts, if by any means, that veil might be lifted. We are, as Paul says (2 Corinthians 5:15, to present Christ who “died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him.” We are called away from those horrible lifestyles unto the living and true God, whom we behold for the first time.

Jude, another brother of Jesus, says that we “are to snatch others from the fire and save them . . . hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh”. The gospel has been wisely defined as one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread. The challenge for older Christians is to remember that they are but beggars, but beggars with one mission, and that to reconcile other beggars that they might come to see the Bread of Life. We who have been rescued ourselves from our dark way of life, ought to seek, if by any means, that others themselves are rescued from their darkness.

We should not ever forget what God has so plainly told us. Paul reminds us of the words of Moses in Romans 10:19, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” Jesus tells us the same thing when the Jews refused his message, (Luke 14:21) “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” We are chosen, in the profound mysteries and unknowable wisdom of God, but let us never forget that part of the reason for which we were chosen is that we might arouse Israel to jealousy. We have been given that which they have spurned, and we ought always remember that we were chosen, in part, because of their stubborn refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.

So coming around in a full circle, I might suggest that we were chosen for the very reason that God planned, that is, to diversify and enlarge his plan of salvation to extend to all people, and not just Israel. When we get to heaven, we will stand proudly next to all sorts, the proud and the humble, the drunkard and the fool, the wise man and the prudent, the lustful and the gluttons, the martyr and the denier, the Black, the Asian, and the white—and we shall all be in full accord and loving each other, as different as we could possibly be. With one caveat, all of us shall be one in he who called us, saved and rescued from our waywardness by a God who did not want to judge us, but rather sought to bring us pardon and relief in Christ. Diversity? I do not think we will ever see so great a diversity, but at the same time we will see that we were all sinners, rescued and called out from the old unto the new. Bless the Lord, oh my soul!

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