When you’ve been in the ministry as long as I have, you find that there are certain questions that come up over and over. This post is about one of them. I’ve heard it in all kinds of different forms.
- Can you be a Christian and commit suicide?
- Can you be a Christian and homosexual?
- Can you be a Christian and an alcoholic?
- Can you be a Christian and commit murder?
- Can you be a Christian and a witch?
- Can you be a Christian and believe ____[fill in the blank]___?
- Can you be a Christian and not believe __[some basic Christian truth]__?
Of course with any of these issues there’s a lot to talk about, and the pastoral situation in which the question comes up is often very delicate, and calls for a nuanced approach that has little to do with answering the question as asked. Very often the stupidest thing I could possibly do is just answer the question, and the best possible answer is to drop whatever I’m doing, focus my whole attention on the person who asked, and say, “What makes you ask?”
All that to say that there’s a whole pastoral angle to addressing such questions that is an entirely different discussion from where I’m going today. Today, I want to talk about what all these kinds of questions have in common.
One of the things such questions have in common is a presumption that there’s a line you can cross somewhere that makes you not-a-Christian. Let’s talk about what that might look like.
Based on the evidence in the New Testament, it’s possible to be a Christian and deny Jesus (cf. Peter). It’s possible to be a Christian and commit murder (as some of the addressees of the epistle of James had done). It’s possible to be a Christian and an adulterer (as had some of the Corinthians). It’s possible to be a Christian and so abuse the poor at the Lord’s Table that God actually kills you over it (the Corinthians). It’s possible to be a Christian and a deny the resurrection (Corinthians again — they were a mess!) And so on. In none of these cases does the writer say that they have somehow crossed over and are no longer Christians. In fact, in each of these cases, the writer rebukes them as Christians and calls them to repent and return to faithful practice.
Is it possible to be a Christian and _______? Yes. Whatever you’re filling the blank with is either sin or it’s not. If not, what’s the problem? If it’s sin, then Jesus died for it, precisely so that such things cannot define you out of the family. God is a better Father than that, and He has already prepared for every sin and mistake you could ever make.
Is it possible to be a faithful Christian and ________? That’s a different question, and a lot of the time, when we’re asking the question, we already know the answer is no.