We have come to know and to believe
the love that God has for us.
1 John 4:16

Discerning how to Respond

I define “Christians” as those who listen to the Word of God and trust what He says there. What is that Word? We could refer to Hebrews 1:1:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 1:1–2.

The Son of God is Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah or Christ of the Jews. He is the Divine Word of God, as His disciple John also wrote in John 1:1-14.

Jesus sent His primary disciples on a mission as His representatives, so we also call them apostles. Their authority as apostles is really the authority of Jesus. By this authority, the books and letters of the New Testament were written, which in turn bear witness that the books of the Old Testament are also from God. This means that the people I would call “Christians” treat the Bible as God’s Word, with authority over them on every subject that the Bible affects. In addition, these Christians allow the Word of God to direct the way they live in every part of their lives.

This does not mean Christians are faultless. Far from it, because the Word of God also teaches that our very best deeds are not good enough to satisfy the perfection of God. Our worst deeds are detestable. But those who listen to the Word of God also know that Jesus is God’s solution to our guilt. As true man, He became the substitute for all mankind under God’s law. But Jesus is not only true man. As a person (but without His human nature), He existed before Creation, the only-begotten Son of God the Father, of the same essence as the Father himself. Because of this, His suffering and death for the sins of others has cancelled the guilt of all humanity. And His righteous life obtains the favor of God for all humanity. Christians are not faultless. We are forgiven.

But many people do not accept what God has done for them. This is why only some people may be called “Christians,” and it’s not always the ones who want to be known that way. Christians listen to the Word of God and trust what He says there.

Christians find ourselves living in a world that is generally opposed to God. Sometimes the opposition is subtle, sometimes militant, sometimes both. I will describe an example, but in general rather than specific terms. Someone near you in your life comes to you and insists that if you truly love him (or her, but I will continue using masculine pronouns in the accepted gender-neutral way), then you will affirm him in some aspect of his identity. There are many possibilities, but let’s say that this aspect of his identity is a direct contradiction of reality as clearly understood from God’s Word. So it could be an identity from a life of violent or secret crime, a pagan religion, a view that assumes radical materialism, that assumes that we are made and authenticated by our innermost feelings even in conflict with our bodies, or something else.

Depending on the nature of your relationship, there may be a school district, a court, or other authorities who tell you that you must affirm him in this aspect of his identity. In some jurisdictions, the authorities will slander you as an evildoer (insofar as they believe anything can be evil) if you do not comply. They may penalize you. They may infringe on your civil rights. They may threaten or do even more if you refuse to affirm this person in his identity.

What’s a Christian to do? Some will say that you have a duty to show “unconditional love” toward this person, and that if you refuse to affirm this identity aspect, you are showing something else. Hatred, perhaps. Or at least, “conditional love,” which may be interpreted as a kind of prejudice or discrimination. This is a difficult thing for a Christian to go through. Why would God allow it?

  1. It should lead us to pray. For ourselves, certainly – that we may have God’s gift of wisdom and courage so that we may do what is right even when it’s hard. For others, too – that they may be led to see God’s love in our words and actions even when they are being told to see something else.
  2. It should lead us to repent. We are not faultless. But in repentance before God, we find our forgiveness and a divine model of God’s self-sacrificial love.
  3. It should lead us to clarify our understanding through God’s Word and affirm (or confess) the truth. This process happens together with other Christians who share the same respect for God and His Word.
  4. It should lead us to suffer patiently, following the example of Jesus. And to rejoice with thanksgiving, knowing that God has counted us worthy of this distinction. It is a blessing to suffer for what is true and good.

What can we say? First, realize that those who are opposed to God will not necessarily accept anything you say, no matter how well you say it. Sometimes the Holy Spirit may create faith and repentance against great resistance, but opposition to Jesus has proven very firm. Jesus Himself was finally crucified by those who were opposed to Him. All of the apostles suffered grievously, and most were put to death. So don’t invest hope in your words that by them you might escape the crucible in which God purifies your faith. Rather, the purpose of a Christian in responding to such a difficult situation is twofold:

  1. To glorify God.
  2. To bless our neighbors by reflecting God’s love for them in Christ.

As you give an answer, praying for God’s blessing, entrust yourself to your Savior, who told His apostles that the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say. If you say too much or too little, or speak rashly, remember that your Savior forgives those who repent. Let yourself be corrected by the Word of God, or by clear reason that aligns perfectly with the Word of God. But not by anything else.

If the pressure on you is based on showing love for others, remember that affirming a falsehood never shows genuine love. Love delights and lives from what is true. A false kind of love agrees with half-truths and lies, maybe to keep the approval of those who work against the authority of God. This applies equally when the lie concerns Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Father. It applies equally when the lie concerns your justification, your sanctification, or God’s Creation.

If you are pressured by someone who claims that the truth shows disrespect, remember that there are two kinds of offense. You are responsible for speaking respectfully based on what you know about communication, and based on the customs you can reasonably expect to be understood by your conversation partner. If you intentionally violate the normal customs of communication, you might be offensive in your speech. But conversation has two sides. Your conversation partner has a responsibility to take what you say in the kindest possible way. (See the 8th Commandment.) That means: if you meant it respectfully, it should be taken that way. If instead your conversation partner chooses to act offended, insisting that you change your respectful habits of communication, then your partner is not being respectful or even honest toward you. This is manipulation.

There are some today who insist on changing the language everyone uses, or insist on using names and ideas that imply a contradiction to what is true. This is a language game meant to exert influence or power over our minds. They use a backdoor: our good desire to accommodate other people and show them respect in the way we talk. But as we show respect, we must also expect it from others. We can’t control the language they choose to use among themselves, but if they want to communicate with Christians, we must not be the only ones making an effort to communicate, and we must not compromise the truth. The recent difficulties in communication may arise precisely because of this. The opponents to the Christian faith want to contradict what we consider to be true, and in their insistence, they are willing to dishonestly smear Christians who refuse to go along with it. We need to point out that by choosing to act this way, they are choosing to end the conversation. If they wish to communicate with Christians, we can reasonably expect our conversation partners to refrain from insistence that we violate our consciences with the use of false language or names that imply wickedness or lies.

The Christian faith is not limited to saying “no” to lies and evil things. In fact, this is the minority of what we have to say. The “no” is almost an afterthought to the “yes” in our teaching, only necessary because of those spirits that contradict the truth. So as Christians encounter the difficult conversations in our time, we should remember to affirm those things that are truly worth affirming. You can start with the Small Catechism, especially the Creed. The first article says that God made us, and He still knows what He’s doing. Yes, there’s suffering in the world, and God permits it to exist to lead us to repent, find Him in His Word, and exercise our faith in the expectation of the life He has prepared for us in eternity. But meanwhile, our experiences in this world find their true meaning in the relationship that our Creator has established between himself and us. This relationship revolves around the cross of Jesus Christ, where God demonstrated and defined true love. Jesus did not accommodate us in our experiences or allow us to define ourselves. Instead, He reconciled us to the one, true God in objective righteousness. He paid the price for our sins. The Holy Spirit awakens faith in us so that we may live through Christ, in daily humble repentance with the empowerment of God’s forgiveness. He delivers this to us continuously through faith by means of the preaching of the gospel, holy baptism, the declaration of forgiveness, and the sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood. God has established a relationship with each of us through the cross, so that we may delight to serve Him now with confidence in His lovingkindness and mercy, and the expectation of eternal life. This hope is founded upon the historical event of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Christians celebrate the death of their risen Lord week after week in the Divine Service. And we invite others who seek the truth and peace with God to join us.