When we are appalled at a person’s behavior, we love to trot out the trusty, “How can you?”
– When one does something unbecoming the family: “How can you act like that and call yourself a Jones?
– In the aftermath of last week’s church murders: “How can you fly the Confederate flag and call yourself an American?”
– When a religious person is believed to have fallen far short of the mark: “How can you call yourself a Christian?”
I have been asked this since making known that I have gender identity disorder and, because my dysphoria got so bad that I contemplated transitioning, began transitioning and, even though I pulled back from that, still let myself think I might transition.
How can a Christian do that, especially when that Christian is as traditional and conservative as yours truly and, to throw gas on the fire and turn it into an inferno, a Lutheran minister?
We love to lay down the law when we believe someone is a law-breaker. We might cite Bible verses to indict the guilty—oh that we might know God’s Word well enough that we are able to cite it!—but, one needs to take care not to go so far in the direction of condemnation that salvation becomes impossible.
Thus, today’s question: Can a person be a transsexual and still be a Christian? We might as well ask: Can a Christian do anything but be perfect and still be a Christian?
Transgender issues are unknown to most, so I will use another situation of which we all are too familiar and many Christians believe damns person: suicide. As a pastor, I ministered to several families of suicide victims, which forced me to consider God’s Word thoroughly and write clearly. Following is how I counseled through one of those suicides, today using my name in place of the victim’s.
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We ask: how can a Christian take his own life? Fair enough. As long as we are asking, let’s also ask: how can a Christian cheat on his wife? How can a Christian, who knows that God forgives his every sin for Christ’s sake, still hold onto grudges? How can a Christian steal? How can a Christian gossip? How can a Christian sass his dad or mom? How can a Christian delight in getting drunk? How can a Christian misuse Jesus’ holy name?
The fact of our sinful nature is that we Christians commit every sin under the sun. To recognize this is not to excuse this. And, please hear this clearly: nothing I say, today, gives anyone permission to do harm to himself. Listen to Greg’s mother on this: if Greg were healthy, this never would have happened; Greg never meant to hurt anyone.
What I am working to achieve in this sermon is understanding: understanding of our frail minds and bodies; understanding of our brother, Greg; and, best of all, understanding God’s grace, Jesus Christ’s love, and the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence, especially when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Thus, we land on the question: how can a person go to heaven, who took his own life? Actually, we can shorten it, for the question is the same for all: how can a person go to heaven? For this, I need only proclaim the promises and gifts of Jesus Christ:
– 1 Timothy 1:15: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”
– John 3:17: “For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
– And, two verses later: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”
– Romans 14:7-8: “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
– Romans 8:39: “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– John 6:40: The Lord Jesus says: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
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I am not ignoring God’s Law. I am not being willfully disobedient against the commandments. I am not making the case for transitioning.
I am making the case for compassion, which is the case for Jesus Christ, who is the Victor over every weakness and illness and malady and sin and death.
As it sometimes happens for the Christian, who ends up in such a terrible corner with his weakness that he kills himself, many of us—oh, come on, all of us—do so many things in life that the Lord could rightly ask, “How can you do that and claim to be my child?”
If you are going to play the “How can you?” game, do so wisely. The Lord Jesus says, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:2).”
While we cannot use the gift of God’s grace as permission to live however we want, neither can we allow sin to damn us when we cling to Jesus Christ for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. If it is our personal perfection which saves us, we all might as well eat, drink, and make merry because tomorrow we die. If it is the Lord Jesus’ perfection which gives us life, let’s let Him be the Savior.
I often find myself reciting the following hymn stanza when my condition terribly weakens me, when my failings seek to crush me, when my sins condemn me.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.