“In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity” ~ Erik Erickson, Psychologist
“[Socialization] is an interactive process through which we make decisions about our relationships, our interpretation of information that comes to us through interaction, and what we will say and do. It is through these decisions that we influence our own lives and the social worlds in which we participate.” ~ Jay Coakley, Professor
“Spiritual identity means we are not what we do or what people say about us. And we are not what we have. We are the beloved daughters and sons of God.” ~ Henri Nouwen, Clergyman
As a Christian, I find myself frustrated with the world at times—the frequency of which seems to increase as I get older. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’d like to believe that the increasing frequency of my frustration is a sign of a growing spiritual maturity—questionable, I know. Often, that frustration revolves around hypocritical action, though it’s not isolated to secular society. Regularly, my observation of such behavior also includes those professing religious affiliations; including Christians. Sometimes, however, I find myself to be one of those hypocritical Christians who frustrate me…
It seems that while there is an outcry for equality and inclusiveness throughout society, there is more at play in how various groups try to accomplish such objectives. To me, our tendencies for how we attempt to establish equality is more about power grabs than true diplomacy—dominance rather than creating equal footing.
A topic that’s been on my mind lately—one that I see strongly related to this particular form of hypocrisy—is identification. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how we choose to identify ourselves, and how that pertains to how we identify and behave towards others.
There are sociologists that research intergroup behavior, and a number of theories currently exist on the subject. The following section of this post discusses Social Identity Theory (SIT), which is one of these. As with many social science theories, there are areas where some researchers disagree with others on how findings from past studies should be interpreted, and in what contexts they apply. My personal interpretation of the theory and its application takes into consideration relative contexts that are historical and/or biblical, as well as my own social interaction experiences throughout the years.
Social Identity Theory and Intergroup Conflict
SIT provides theoretical explanations for intergroup behavior as related to perceived group status differences. It posits that social behavior fluctuates along a continuum of interpersonal behavior and intergroup behavior. It suggests that individuals seek to maintain a positive self-concept—also referred to as positive distinctiveness—and subsequently strive to establish it through the groups they use to identify themselves. This leads to individuals psychologically creating perceived in-groups and out-groups.
In-groups and out-groups. In-groups are groups in which individuals self-identify themselves being a member. Social identity theory suggests that, relative to individuals’ psychological needs for maintaining positive distinctiveness, they will demonstrate favoritism towards others whom they perceive to be within their in-group(s). The status of an in-group—as determined by individuals through their perceptions of its legitimacy, stability, and permeability—influences the degree of in-group favoritism exhibited.
Where there is in-group favoritism—or what some researchers refer to as in-group bias—exists the likelihood for out-group discrimination. This is a controversial aspect of the theory, because some sociologists reference SIT when suggesting that human beings are inherently wired to practice discriminatory behavior. Such behavior can be exhibited through racism, sexism, ageism, etc. Other sociologists refer to this interpretation of SIT as SIT-lite, claiming that the theory only supports prejudice behaviors under certain conditions.
Comparison, discrimination, and prejudice. This belief that prejudice is not always present in SIT scenarios of comparison, however, perplexes me. I find it difficult to explain how prejudice doesn’t exist—whether or not it is overt—in situations where individuals are comparing social groups in a contrasting nature. If two groups are being compared (i.e. an in-group and an out-group), and differences between groups are considered positive for one group (i.e. the in-group) and negative for the other (i.e. the out-group), what else can it be called? I guess one could argue that one group could be “right,” while another group is “wrong.” Though, to make that argument when having subjectivities towards certain groups—and all individuals possess personal subjectivities—poses the following questions: Wouldn’t those determinations be biased? And if individuals can easily identify differences between groups and its members from others, wouldn’t it be easier to create and exhibit biases?
Distinguishing differences among groups becomes much easier when they are non-arbitrarily defined. A non-arbitrary group is one in which the group defining characteristic is immutable—or unable for its members to change. Groups of race, gender, and age are examples of non-arbitrary groups. The perceived ease of identifying such groups and its membership may be why societies seem to struggle to maintain non-discriminatory cultures towards these physical and biological characteristics.
Discrimination can and does occur with arbitrary groups as well; however, defining these groups and those in them are typically more difficult. For instance, an arbitrary group could be “athletes.” Is someone an athlete if they are physically fit, or must they be engaged in sport? Further, would their participation need to be through organized sport, or could they engage in sport recreationally? Does the sport itself matter? And what if someone is a high-performance athlete, but decides to discontinue playing? These questions, however, are moving more into the process of how people choose to categorize others into groups than this post’s primary subject of self-identification and intergroup behavior. Thus, this next section will examine how identification with a non-arbitrary group has different implications than identification with an arbitrary one.
Concerns with Emphasizing Non-Arbitrary Group Identification
Identification through sport is only one of many arbitrary groups of which one can identify. Examples of some other arbitrary groups that individuals can choose to find self-identity could be focused on location, occupation, religion, or education. According to SIT, the more a group enhances one’s positive self-concept, the more likely that it will serve as a greater source of identification. Conversely, if an arbitrary group loses status—such as if the Atlanta Falcons’ pattern of finishing their seasons with winning records changes to one of compiling losing records—individuals will likely disassociate from the team.
Ultimately, the more someone’s identity is predicated on a particular in-group, the more likely one is expected to adhere to the group’s perceived social norms (e.g. dress, speech, accepted community, etc), and defend that group at individual sacrifice. And I would argue that such situations more regularly involve non-arbitrary groups, because individuals who possess identifiers that place them within such groups cannot change those characteristics. By the group’s definition, they are members regardless of personal preference.
As an example, let’s say that I am a male of Indian and Caucasian ancestry living in the United States. My physical appearance strongly aligns with my Indian ancestry. Yet, I identify as an American. Based on how I look, I can expect to receive discriminatory behavior from those who hold a prejudice towards people of Indian ancestry. Though, some may be more hostile to Indian culture (arbitrary) than Indian appearance (non-arbitrary), so I may see some change in their behavior towards me if they notice that my behavior does not adhere to Indian culture. As they see similarities between them and me, they are more likely to perceive me as being a member of one of their in-groups.
This understanding of arbitrary and non-arbitrary groups leads into my concerns regarding how individuals choose to identify themselves and others, and the implications on achieving societal peace and harmony. Further, I see an insinuated and sometimes explicated position in academia that seems to unwittingly encourage non-arbitrary groups as sources of primary identification. Yet, I see these group types being inherently more conducive in encouraging negative out-group biases. Subsequently, I do not believe that academic literature for social justice—though well-intentioned—functions as the crusader that its producers likely hope and/or believe. Rather, it may function more as a force to swing the pendulum the other way, but pendulums never stop in the middle—you know, that whole “an object in motion stays in motion thing?” Thus, I believe it is necessary to first address the academic perspective for creating fairness and equality in society before continuing into historical and biblical reasons for why I question the wisdom of advocating primary identification through non-arbitrary group types.
Concerns with academic positioning. Academic literature generally defines racism as being when a minority group is oppressed by a majority group. This definition portends that individuals in a minority cannot be racist; subsequently, reverse racism isn’t possible. How this definition is logical defies my understanding. My personal view is if someone exhibits prejudice towards a particular race, then that constitutes racism. However, rather than intentionally antagonize those who consider anything within academic literature to be gospel, I shall continue to refer to my definition of racism as racial prejudice.
Additionally, the literature tends to focus on the inability of non-arbitrary groups to understand other non-arbitrary groups; emphasizing that individuals from different non-arbitrary groups will have differing intergroup interaction experiences. Yet, it continually advocates these groups accepting one another based on difference. This rationale confuses me; leading to the following questions:
- If seeking peace and harmony, why should we emphasize types of identification that others are perceived to be incapable of understanding?
- How can we be accepting of a group that we consider to be oppressive?
- When we emphasize non-arbitrary group identification, and categorize others in that manner, wouldn’t this suggest we will struggle to find common ground with individuals we psychologically place within our out-groups? Further, won’t we struggle to find a way to psychologically move such individuals into one of our in-groups?
- If minorities accept this rationale, wouldn’t they be condoning the same behavior they condemn, so long as it is only enacted on those whom they classify as being within a non-arbitrary, oppressive (i.e. majority) group?
Personally, I struggle to see how this mindset encourages peace and harmony—instead encouraging a less overtly hostile repayment of evil for evil. And I say this with remorse, not vindictiveness. I desire to live in a world of social justice, peace, and harmony. As a Christian, I do believe such a day will arrive.
However, what I mostly see is a repeat of the past that is now brazenly hidden under the auspices of political correctness. As I get older, I become more aware that the prevalent society of the time falls victim to what C.S. Lewis refers to as “chronological snobbery.” It is a hidden arrogance that we (contemporary society/culture) are getting it right where past societies and cultures have failed. I make no assertions as to which cultures or times are better or worse, but rather focus on the undertones of arrogance that seem to be similar among all societies and cultures. For, if a society or culture didn’t believe its practices were better than those from the past, why would its practices be what they are? (Yes, I’m dabbling on the fringes of postmodern thought for a moment—forgive me).
That being said, I want to share what I believe that both the secular, historical past and biblical teaching shares with us in the present. I think there are lessons from the past that are being ignored by researchers entrapped by their own subjectivities. I believe I have basis to reasonably argue that people may be seeing what they want to see, rather than acknowledging what seems to always happen when following the way of the world: oppression.
What do I see historically? I see that there are always oppressed groups throughout history when groups view themselves as different from one another. Furthermore, there appears to be no evidence that it matters which group is in power. And yes, oppression occurs within both an arbitrary and non-arbitrary group context. Though, I would reinforce my position regarding non-arbitrary group identification by arguing that the worst historical contexts of more recent times involve race. I will only highlight a few (of many) examples that history provides to support my position.
- The Nazis, believing in the genetic superiority of what Hitler calls the “Aryan race (which is an improper race identification for Germans—again, I digress),” justifies the mass genocide of the Jews (i.e. the Holocaust) as a form of worldly cleansing. While the Jews are the first out-group in which Hitler focuses, his strategy of “cleansing” would have likely continued onto other groups as he “purified” humanity. His heinous strategy for world domination reinforces the in-group that he envisions as humanity’s best. His strategy functions by creating unity through exclusion and fear
- South Africa adopts the practice of Apartheid from 1948 to 1994 (literally meaning “apart-hood”), which systematically discriminates against blacks. Blacks were relocated to designated locations within the country. All services were segregated, with white communities enjoying a significantly better quality of life. Those who challenged apartheid were imprisoned. While apartheid is no more, it would be difficult to believe that its scars do not remain
- The United States adopts a separate but equal practice, which it strongly enforces in the Deep South. Cultural learnings and infrastructures from the days of legal slavery persist. Blacks in the United States endure much of the same discriminatory practices as Blacks in South Africa. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 begins a legal means to increase social justices for minority groups. Yet, like South Africa, it is easy to argue that the remnants of discrimination are still present throughout American society
- The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq leads to the destruction of approximately 4,000 villages and 300,000 people over a period of nearly thirty-years (1963-1991). Chemical and biological weapons are used to eradicate the Kurds. The Kurds are a target of the Iraqi government for seeking autonomy
The examples above from South Africa and the United States are the most salient for me because I question whether the future will be a repeat scenario; possibly with another group serving as the oppressor. The United States’ “separate but equal” policy was a complete failure, and yet I have regularly heard various minorities take offense to the notion of a “color-blind” or a “post racial” society. If identification by color is truly that important, and all people from various races are as different from one another as some individuals suggest; then, are we not threatening to eventually succumb to the same “separate and unequal” reality that existed previously? If people don’t want to be treated with the same societal guidelines (fairly), then how are we to treat one another?
While I acknowledge that all of us as individuals are different, I do not see history ever succeeding in establishing a “different but equal” society and culture. We need to collectively see ourselves as members of the same humanity—one unified group. When we emphasize something lesser as our primary source of identity, we encourage division and discrimination. And this doesn’t pertain to just race, but to all non-arbitrary identifiers. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter whether that non-arbitrary group is the majority—I believe that individuals should not identify themselves on such aspects of being.
But there is another problem: people seeking power. It’s what turns socialism into communism, and leads to a greater chasm between the “haves” and the “have nots” with capitalism. Again, this is the way of the world. People seek power, and are willing to oppress others to secure it.
The bible provides examples of such oppression, while also alluding to a permanent solution.
What do I see biblically? I see the bible condemning the pursuit of complete sovereignty (e.g. power) time and again. Instead, it emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of authority; being that all authority comes from God (2 Chronicles 20:6). Subsequently, all misuse of authority is an affront to the Lord, who serves as our judge—the ultimate authority (John 5:27). And if the bible is the inherent word of God (which I believe it is), then all are accountable regardless of their personal beliefs. For, who are we to challenge the authority of our Creator?
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ (Daniel 4:35, NASB)
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Romans 9:19-21, NASB)
This message of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence is reiterated throughout scripture:
- King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon finds out that claiming to possess sovereignty that is solely God’s is unwise. He is humbled by God, living as an animal in the wild for a time. Following this prophesied experience, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that it is God who reigns sovereign: “Now I Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Daniel 4:37, NASB)
- Daniel, a loyal and obedient follower of God is placed in the service of King Darius as one of his three commissioners. Daniel is filled with the Holy Spirit and distinguishes himself most wise among all the commissioners and satraps, pleasing the king. His fellow commissioners and satraps, jealous of the authority the king bestows upon Daniel, set him up by convincing the king to establish a statute that conflicts with the law of God. Once Daniel breaks the statute (due to his obedience to the law of God), the king is forced to punish him; throwing him to lions. God, however, protects Daniel. Following the miracle, King Darius praises God and sends a decree throughout his kingdom to extol the sovereignty of Daniel’s God. Oh, and he orders his wicked commissioners, malicious satraps, and their families to death by having them thrown to those same lions (Daniel 6)
- God makes Saul king over Israel, and commands him to destroy all remnants of the Amalekites who did great evil to His people. Yet, Saul disobeys God, and spares the Amalekite king. He also takes spoils, though everything is to be destroyed. Thus, God takes Saul’s authority away (1 Samuel 15)
- The Jewish Sanhedrin pressures the Roman authority (Pontius Pilate) to crucify Jesus because He speaks with an authority (i.e. the authority of God) that undermines their own. Yet, the Sanhedrin’s evil act is used by God to enact an ultimate sacrifice; conquering sin and leading to eternal salvation for any who place their faith in Christ
- Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians argue over requirements to be Christ’s followers. Paul emphasizes that non-arbitrary identifiers such as circumcision are not necessary. Instead, he warns that placing importance in such things will not make them right with Christ (Galatians 5:2)
And yet, our society often acts as though it possesses more wisdom than our Creator. Furthermore, society encourages expression and individuality…as long as it conforms to pluralistic relativism. We are encouraged not to worship a false idol, but many false idols.
Truth has turned into a word that holds no foundation. Truth has become individual perception. As I have said in previous posts, if God is who He says He is, then whose perceptions matter? Does it matter how we perceive reality, or does it matter how He makes it?
And instead of real purpose, many of us are in a hurry to get nowhere. Too many of us speak of purpose using nebulous words—void of actual convictions. Moreover, those of us who claim to hold convictions too often fail to adhere to them. Such circumstances, unfortunately, suggest that those convictions, in actuality, aren’t.
Given the prevailing wisdom of the world, I must be narrow-minded to actually hold convictions based on my Christian faith. So, where do my convictions lead me? Where can there be a society where individuals need not fret about discrimination of any sort? A society where peace and harmony is possible?
Expressing My Position through a Christian Lens
Peace and harmony can only come when individuals identify with an arbitrary group—one not based on factors such as race, gender, age, etc.—whose characteristics allow for loving inclusiveness. In other words, the social norms of this group must encourage and welcome membership to everyone, and treat all with love and respect even if the offer of membership is rejected. As a Christian, I believe that this will happen when everyone finds their identities solely in Christ, bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. And the future we seek will come sooner if we live as though it is here today; trusting in God and having faith in Christ:
25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34, NASB)
But to follow Christ—to be a member of the actual (and not a self-perceived) in-group—means denying ourselves, and with complete faith surrendering our perceived sense of personal control in our lives to Him. Such faith will also promulgate a willingness to make any sacrifice necessary to achieve His will (Luke 9:23); glorifying the name of God in word and deed. And in doing so, we are positioning ourselves as servants, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NASB). We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), appealing to non-followers (i.e. the “out-group”) to come into relationship with God through Christ as one of His followers:
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB)
Moreover, rather than be a leader who stands on the top of a mountainside as His soldiers fight down in the valley, Christ models what it is to be His follower through His own actions. While living as a man, He serves others; healing those who were sick, but He emphasizes that our sickness involves our pride and righteousness:
17 And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17, NASB)
His point is that we are all sinners, and that we all need to depend on Him to reach the kingdom of heaven (John 1:12).
Let us now revisit SIT, and understand how following the Wisdom of God—the teachings of scripture—leads us on a path to the kingdom of heaven—an existence of peace and harmony.
A major issue with any worldly approach to creating a peaceful and harmonious society is that such an approach reinforces pridefulness, and engenders to establish positive distinctiveness by comparing one’s self and through their in-groups in a better light than their out-groups. Eventually, as history has demonstrated repeatedly, there will be a power grab, and some group will become oppressed at the benefit of another. Christian scriptural teaching, however, refutes that approach:
3 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NASB)
Moreover, Christ commands His followers to “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31, NASB), asserting that this statement summarizes the Law of God and the words of the prophets (Matthew 7:12). And how should we want to be treated if truly living as a follower of Christ? Consider what Paul claims living out our lives with a Christ-like character, as part of society, should look:
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
I highlight the statement “so far as it depends on you,” because it emphasizes an important requirement of following Christ. We cannot control the behavior of others, but we are responsible for what we say and what we do; serving as an ambassador of Christ. We are to do what is right (e.g. loving and respectful—obedient to God’s Word), and endure evil done unto us with perseverance. Christ will one day judge us all. That is not our role. Instead, we are to love God and love one another (Matthew 22:34-40). For, when we do so completely, we are following the Law of God—the Law of Love. And “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).
Furthermore, outward appearance (i.e. non-arbitrary identifiers) is not to be used by Christians to determine one’s worth or social status, for all should be equal through the eyes of a follower. Treating others differently based on appearance creates divisions within the body of believers. God does not show partiality based on non-arbitrary identifiers (Jew, Gentile, Black, White, Hispanic, Male, Female, etc.), but on word and deed:
7 “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV)
34 “Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35, NASB)
If we are to model ourselves and become more like Christ, then we to must look to their hearts rather than their outward appearances (i.e. non-arbitrary identifiers). And we must model ourselves after our Lord, Jesus Christ; He becoming more and us less (John 3:30). Then, we will be able to ultimately enjoy the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Striving for the Actual Kingdom of Heaven
In summation, Christian community follows the teachings of Jesus, adheres to His Word (i.e. the Holy Bible), and focuses on exhibiting humility and service while loving God and others. Though, there are a number of points about following Christ that I believe need further clarification, given my claim that if everyone did so we would enjoy the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Christianity, in various forms, has held a preeminent presence in societies past (e.g. Rome) and (arguably) present. Yet, we are still waiting for the kingdom of heaven. If critical of Christianity, this would be the starting point for establishing an argument against Christianity’s capability to lead humanity into a society of peace and harmony. I can hear the rebuttals now:
- Religions cause divisions and lead to war!
- Did you forget the crusades? (my response: I didn’t forget them because I wasn’t alive…but I digress)
- There are many examples of churches and its leaders being corrupt. Christianity is no different than any other organization or movement
- The church is exclusionary (e.g. gays and lesbians)
First, in response to how religions cause divisions and lead to war. Yes, many religions have been at the middle of conflict, including Christianity. I am now, however, speaking about Christianity, not as a religion, but as The Way—a lifestyle based on a faith in Christ, devoted to following Him. Did Christ go to war during His time on earth? Yes, He did. The war, however, was not against humanity. Though, humanity was (and is) at war with God. Rather, He came to restore humanity’s relationship with God. Christ came to conquer sin.
What about the Crusades? Christianity has repeatedly been used as a figure head—as well as a call to arms—for one group of people to conquer another. Such practices, however, are not in line with what Christ calls His disciples to do. I find it difficult to believe that Christ condones actions throughout history done is His name that persecutes (e.g. the Spanish inquisition). Consider that conversion occurs through faith in Christ, developing a relationship with Him; getting to know Him; and experiencing His love. How does persecuting a person or a group of people because they refuse conversion represent love and compassion? Instead, He commands His disciples to spread the Gospel—the GOOD NEWS—and be loving towards others (in-group and out-group) while living obediently to scripture (God’s Word/Truth).
As for those examples of corrupt leadership? Yes, it happens. But given that only Jesus is without sin, why is this surprising? No leader other than Christ Himself is incorruptible. Again, this is why I believe that only a society that solely follows can establish the kingdom of heaven here on Earth (that, and the bible says as much).
Now, for the last rebuttal point I highlight above. Isn’t Christianity exclusionary? Some would say yes, but I think perspective matters. Responding to this rebuttal directly speaks to the biggest challenge that our current society must face: pluralistic relativism. To help clarify my position, the following questions need to be asked of anyone reading my post:
- “Do you believe in God?”
- “Do you know who God is? His Character?”
- “Do you believe God is good?
- “What do you perceive as right and wrong?”
- “What is Truth?”
Knowing the answers to these questions is essential for understanding how to live in a way that promotes peace and harmony. Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But to truly be a follower of Christ…we must know Christ:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’“ (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)
Further, to know Christ means that we know what Christ means when He calls us to love; because we have experienced His love for us:
34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, NASB)
But such love is not love as the world defines it. We must not love the ways of the world if we are to love Christ. To live out a Christ-like love, we must separate ourselves from a love of the world:
15 “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 15-16, NASB)
Notice how the above scripture specifically emphasizes that we not love (as the world defines it) based outward appearance (non-arbitrary identifiers) or personal pride. Our loves are not to be lusts. Nor can we always trust how we feel about situations if they are not in accordance with the Word of God; for “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB)?
This being said, let me use the following paragraph [in bold] to answer the questions that I pose above on God, Truth, and defining right and wrong:
I believe that there is a God. I believe that I can know God and His character through the life of Christ; believing the bible to be the Word of God—the source for Truth. Christ is the Word made Flesh, the Living Truth. And I believe that God is good—that He is the source of all good. I believe that my perceptions of what are right and wrong can only be as accurate as they reflect what God deems to be right and wrong. Resultantly, I realize that I must solely depend on God, having faith in Christ, and following what He has revealed to be Truth.
God the Father sacrifices Christ (His Son) as atonement for our sins so that we may enter into a renewed relationship with Him (Romans 5:8)—consider such love! For that relationship, however, we must move towards Christ and away from sin (the process of which is called “sanctification”). Those who refuse Christ because they are unwilling to relinquish a sinful lifestyle may feel as though they are excluded. This, however, is not the case. Rather, in choosing sin over Christ, these individuals exclude themselves. We are all invited:
20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20, NASB)
Though, it all starts with receiving Christ into our lives:
12 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB)
Without Christ, there is no salvation or relationship with God, for we have “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). His sacrifice pays the penalty that we deserve as a consequence of our sinful actions:
18 “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, NASB)
Again, consider the kind of love where someone—completely innocent—takes on the sins of the world for others who deserve the punishment they were to receive. In turn, He asks that we follow Him and obey His commandments:
21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21, NASB)
And His commandments are not oppressive, but guiding us on a path absent sin. A path where peace and harmony exist. A place where love abounds, and all are treated as equals: brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, in pride, some of us come to believe in the lie that what we claim to be right and wrong is true; regardless of whether it aligns with His Word. Thus, those individuals choose to exclude themselves, refusing Christ and living in sin unrepentantly—unwilling to follow Him. But any Christian who understands the grace they receive through Christ, desires for all to be likewise blessed. None of us earn heaven through our own actions:
8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB)
This may be why the saying “hate the sin, not the sinner” seems so popular in Christian circles. Maybe another popular saying should be “love the sinner, not the sin,” with the hope that they will see the love of Christ through His followers; repenting and becoming a fellow brother or sister in Christ.
Lastly, I want to caution against one last self-deception when striving to follow Christ. While I discourage the idea of emphasizing our race, gender, age, etc. as non-arbitrary groups of identification, there are roles (some arbitrary and others non-arbitrary) that we are to willingly and actively embrace in our lives. While serving as sub-identities, they should never serve as our primary identity, nor should they ever be performed in a manner that is contradictory to our faith as Christians.
Some of us are fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, etc. We may also possess occupations that require us to work with numerous individuals and organizations—maybe we manage a large group of subordinates. These roles are not where we are to find our identity. We are not supposed to find our worth in these roles/sub-identities. While these roles are to be embraced and valued—performing these roles in our lives to the best of our abilities—our worth solely comes from being a follower of Christ.
If any of these roles supersede our identity in Christ, we are treating something good as something great. In doing so, it becomes an idol in our life. These types of deceptions are the most difficult to acknowledge in our lives, yet we must.
In describing our identity as Christians, our declaration should always start in a manner similar to the following:
“I am a follower of Christ who serves Him and others as a _____, ____, _____, _____…”
With our identity on Christ, we become solely dependent on Him. And in loving others, we all become interdependent with one another, so that we all may better serve as His ambassadors:
19 “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest [Jesus] over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrew 10:19-25, NASB)
May we all with wise discernment from the Holy Spirit, come to know Jesus and follow Him. May we come to experience the kingdom of heaven.