Originally created 05/04/02

Only God decides if believers are true



The Apostle Paul's letter to the Corinthians in Rome begins by describing God's love for sinners and concludes by stating that we are to love fellow Christians in the same way, especially those who hold different beliefs or practice Christianity in a different way from us.

Is there such a thing as "an authentic Christian lifestyle" or "confession?" It would be much clearer to settle a lot of feuding within and between denominations if Paul or another biblical writer had stated clearly what constitutes a valid Christian lifestyle.

I have trouble with the extremists on both sides of this question. I find it hard to deal with people who firmly believe that to be a "born-again" Christian that you absolutely must practice certain rituals and in all other respects "cross your T's and dot your I's" just like they do. On the other hand, I have an equally hard problem with believers who grant so much freedom that their members are free to do and to believe whatever they want. Anything goes.

One side overemphasizes freedom to the point it can lead to libertinism - believing and doing whatever you want - and the other restricts freedom to the point it can lead to legalism, that is, spelling out what the Christian can and cannot do, and must believe or must not. Legalism leaves no room for different interpretations of Scripture and does not honor the consciences of others who are just as committed to obeying biblical teachings.

Both extremes are guilty of playing the role of deciding who are the "true" believers. In Romans 14, Paul rightly calls such judging of others "idolatry," for we place ourselves in God's place.

God wants and expects us to have convictions that have meaning to us, but we must exercise great care not to deny others the same rights. Unity in the midst of diversity has been a mark of Christ's church since the beginning. Disunity within the body of Christ is a sure sign that the devil is still alive and well.

Just as God loves all those who believe in him and strive to obey his will, we are to express our love for believers who differ from us. The Apostle Paul points the way to getting along with those with whom we differ in areas concerning the faith and the practice of Christianity.

Dr. Gene Norris is a local Presbyterian minister who now serves as a marriage and family therapist.