Jack Phillips made headlines in 2012 when he refused to make a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding. The suit against him went to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor.
Now Phillips is in court again, this time for refusing to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission claims that he discriminated against Autumn Scardina, who transitioned from male to female and wanted him to make a cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate.
Phillips’s attorneys call the complaint an “obvious setup.” They say their client “believes as a matter of religious conviction that sex–the status of being male or female–is given by God, is biologically determined, is not determined by perceptions or feelings, and cannot be chosen or changed.”
So do millions of evangelical Christians, including me.
“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”
I expect to see more such lawsuits in the coming years as our post-Christian culture collides with Christian morality. When so-called civil rights compete with religious rights, civil rights usually win.
As believers navigate the legal and social implications of our faith in this challenging day, there is an imperative we need to remember: our lives must bear the scrutiny our beliefs are sure to provoke.
Two related facts follow.
One: People deserve to know what we believe and why we believe it.
Peter called his readers to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15a). God’s word speaks with powerful relevance to every issue we face today. It is vital that we speak his truth to our times.
You’ve probably heard the Francis of Assisi quotation, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” As researcher Ed Stetzer notes, there are two problems with this quote. First, Francis never said it. Second, it’s incomplete theology.
Stetzer: “Using that statement is a bit like saying, ‘Feed the hungry at all times; if necessary, use food.'” The gospel is good news, and, as Stetzer notes, “good news needs to be told.”
Two: Our lives must mirror our words.
Peter continued: “Yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (vv. 15c-16, my emphasis).
We must be prepared to defend our faith, remembering Jesus’ warning: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). But our witness loses its power and credibility unless our lives are worthy of respect.
“Cease to do evil, learn to do good”
Here’s the problem: it’s easy to equate religion with righteousness.
Early Christianity was a movement, not an institution. Congregations could not legally own buildings until Constantine legalized the church in the fourth century. Christians didn’t “go” to church–they were the church. Christianity was all about a personal, intimate relationship with God, not a religion about him.
However, the church over time became identified with its buildings, clergy, and religious activities. Spirituality was measured by time spent in the building where members engaged in various rituals and watched the clergy perform.
Even in our nondenominational era, those who participate in church activities are tempted to feel that they are more moral than those who don’t. There’s an implicit sense that we must be right with God if we are in his “house.”
But our Lord disagrees.
Speaking to his chosen people, God warned: “Your new moons and your appointed [religious] feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. . . . Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:14-17).
Charles Spurgeon: “Apart from vital godliness all religion is utterly vain; offered without a sincere heart, every form of worship is a solemn sham and an impudent mockery of the majesty of heaven.”
“He will tax the remotest star”
Here’s the irony: Our post-Christian society holds us to a higher standard than we might demand of ourselves. If we commit the same sins we find in popular culture, we are accused of hypocrisy. And rightly so–we claim to follow the sinless Son of God and to be the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).
So, here’s the bottom line: Our times require courageous Christians who will model the truth we proclaim and love those to whom we proclaim it. In a skeptical culture, personal character is both essential and compelling.
The good news is that the Spirit will empower every believer who seeks his help. If you and I want to serve and reflect Jesus, “he will tax the remotest star and the last grain of sand to assist us” (Oswald Chambers).
Our culture judges Christ by Christians. Let’s make that fact good news today.