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Justice, mercy and grace: What’s the difference?

by | 23 October 2017, 4:11 PM

“So you mean even if someone as heinous as Hitler were to believe in Jesus, he’ll get to go to Heaven?”

“And since God is all-forgiving, a murderer can continue killing people after he repents and not go to hell? Where’s the justice in that?”

Those were some questions my mother threw at my faith when I first became a Christian. I knew instinctively that those accusations had an explanation but as a baby believer, my theology was far from strong enough to defend my beliefs. I didn’t know how to answer her, and so I kept quiet in indignance.

Those questions continued to haunt me as I grew in my faith – not just because I had failed to answer my mum that very day – but also because they soon took on a very personal implication. The more I journeyed with God, the more convicted I was with my sinful nature, for there were many times I gave into temptation and did what was wrong before God.

Each time it happens I feel so undeserving of His love and grace. It seems too good to be true. How can I be forgiven knowing that I’ll sin again somehow? It just doesn’t make sense.

THE EQUILIBRIUM OF MERCY AND JUSTICE

First, we need to first understand God’s character. God is a merciful God. There are many instances throughout the Bible where God chose to forgive even though He could also have chosen not to (Genesis 18:23-33, Jeremiah 18:7-11, Exodus 32:7-14). I mean, He’s God. But being merciful is an unchanging part of His character.

But even as He is merciful, God is also – at the same time – just. Justice is important because it rights wrongs and upholds good for the sake of everyone. From Psalm 12:5 to Zechariah 7:9-10 to James 1:27, it is evident that God champions righteousness and defends the weak.

Here’s the clincher: While mercy and justice are two contrasting qualities, they aren’t conflicting. In fact, they’re complementary. I think one of the best examples how this is shown through the story of Jonah.

Jonah was a prophet commissioned by God to preach repentance to Nineveh, a diabolic nation of that time. He tried to run away from this calling, perhaps afraid of what would happen to him. I mean, would you dare march into ISIS camps and convict them of their wrongdoings? Chances are, you’ll get shot even before you finish your first sentence.

But it was soon revealed that Jonah wasn’t just afraid of risking his life. He was afraid that Nineveh would repent and be relented from their judgment. We know this because Jonah was angry to the point of death when Nineveh actually repented and God forgave them. He blamed God.

This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” (Jonah 4:1-3)

Jonah knew. He knew that God was a merciful God and couldn’t stand to think that God would pardon Nineveh.

And can anyone blame him? If God today withholds punishment from ISIS if they suddenly repent and follow Him, can we truly be happy for them? I think most of us, especially those who have been personally affected by their actions, would be balling our fists, faces red with anger.

What about the innocent lives lost? What about the families that were separated? What about the trauma that the victims are stuck with forever? Who’s gonna pay for the physical and psychological harm caused?

At the core of it, Jonah asked the question in many of our hearts: How can a holy God let go of such appalling atrocities?

Mercy.

In His reply to Jonah’s outcry for injustice, God gently rebukes, “These are my people whom I love. Should I not have compassion on them?” (Jonah 4:11)

At the same time, we must remember that God is a just God. He would have enacted punishment in pursuit of justice if Nineveh had refused to repent, as He had done before to Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19).

But God isn’t a sadistic God, waiting to mete out punishment regardless of response. His first instinct is never to punish but to allow for second chances for He is slow to anger and quick to forgive. In fact, He delights in showing mercy (Micah 7:18)!

Without justice, mercy is an overindulgence of compassion. But without mercy, justice will be reduced to sheer legalism.

You can’t fully appreciate one without the other.

THROWING GRACE INTO THE EQUATION

Beyond being merciful, God is also gracious. While mercy is not giving us what we deserve, grace is giving us what we do not deserve. Through mercy, we were delivered from judgment; through grace, we receive salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The only condition? Repentance.

If we truly repent – truly acknowledge the severity of our sins – then what results from receiving mercy and grace is nothing but a debt of gratitude. How can someone who recognises that they’ve been given much more than what they deserve not feel indebted?

Any abuser of grace has not received forgiveness, for the moment someone thinks he deserves grace, grace ceases to be grace but morphs into something else entirely – licentiousness. Grace, by its very definition, is unmerited.

That isn’t to say Christians don’t sin. We fall all the same, and in those times we will have to grapple with our sinfulness and God’s holiness. But there is a difference between struggling with sin and indulging in sin. Our struggle is not a charge against us as much as evidence that we are sons and daughters of God (Romans 7:18-25). As Charles Spurgeon aptly puts it:

“God has so changed your nature by His grace that when you sin you shall be like a fish on dry land. You shall be out of your element and long to get into a right state again. You cannot sin, for you love God! The sinner may drink sin down as the ox drinks down water, but to you, it shall be as the brine of the sea. You may become so foolish as to try the pleasures of the world, but they shall be no pleasures to you.”

Grace isn’t an airy-fairy feel-good concept and is not meant as a license for us to sin. If anything, grace has the power to convict us of our sinful nature and pushes us to change.

The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi often loses her footwear in the office. She is also known for her loud sneezes, huge appetite, and weird sound effects. Happens to be a writer too.

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Staying in your secret place with God 24/7

by Jason Chua, Burning Hearts | 17 July 2018, 6:51 PM

When people find out that I run Burning Hearts House of Prayer, they often say, “Jason, you look so young!” because we don’t normally equate young people and prayer together. We tend to think young people don’t usually like to pray.

To be honest with you, prayer was never something I enjoyed from a young age. But it was due to a season of burnout as a youth pastor that my own prayer journey was kickstarted. This was when the Lord gave me a measure of grace to learn how to enjoy prayer.

When that happened, the Lord led me to a place in Kansas City where the prayer room runs 24/7. For 6 months, I had to be there for 6 hours every day with just my Bible and my notebook. Nothing else. No iPad, no phone, just solely given to God.

And I can tell you from experience that if you have to spend 6 months having to pray for 6 hours a night and you don’t learn to enjoy it, you will be bored to death.

Even though I was a youth pastor, my capacity for God was really small – I could only give God my attention for 15-20 minutes.

I quickly realised this within the first few weeks, that even though I was a youth pastor, my capacity for God was really small. I could only give God my attention for 15-20 minutes before my mind would start drifting or I’d run out of things to pray.

I mean, I did all that I could. I prayed in tongues, I read the Bible – as many chapters as I could – I took out my prayer list and prayed for as many people as I could. I prayed for my father, my mother, my sister, my brother, my girlfriend, my dog … Everything.

And after doing all that I’d look at my watch and it would only have been 30 minutes and I’d have 5 and a half more hours to go! It was really a challenge. But through my time at International House of Prayer Kansas City, I learnt some handles and tools that I hope will help all of you cultivate a life of prayer.

PRAYER IS A GIVEN, NOT A GIFT

I cannot over-emphasise how important a life of prayer is, because that is our life in God. Some people think that prayer is a gift, that there are only a handful of people who are gifted to pray, who will be part of intercessory ministry.

I just want to debunk that to say that prayer is not part of the fivefold ministry: You don’t see the word intercessor in the fivefold.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ …” (Ephesians 4:11-12)

Not only do you see prayer as one of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8-10), in fact, God calls His house a “house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7). So if you’re a part of His family, you are actually made to pray. If you’re a Christian, you are called to pray.

In Matthew 6:5-6 it says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. Then your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

This means it doesn’t matter how you feel – when you choose to make that space to come before God and and make prayers to Him; He is actually there. Whether you feel it or not, He is there, witnessing the very act.

To know that my Father who is in secret sees me praying and hears my prayer gives me great confidence and courage to keep coming to Him.

PRAYER IS MORE THAN WORDS

People ask me, “Jason, how do you have time to pray in secret … Or have time to pray for one hour?” I tell them I don’t really do that, not because I think an environment without distractions is not important, but because when you’re living in Singapore it’s agreeably hard – with little space and time.

Prayer, I believe, transcends time, space and your words. Paul said to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and I used to wonder how we can even do that. Does it mean praying non-stop: “Father, Father, Father, bless me, bless me, bless me”? Or non-stop praying in tongues?

I don’t think that was what Paul was trying to say. Prayer is so much more than the words we say. It is a state of connecting with God in that place of communion.

Which means I can be travelling somewhere in the MRT, and if I were to close my eyes and give my attention and whole awareness to God, I can have conversations within me and have this sense of connection with Him.

I believe that to God, this is prayer, because He does not just read our words – He reads our hearts. He reads our thoughts, He communes with us in every aspect of our being: Our body, our soul, our mind and our spirit.

I will have conversations with God throughout the day, using these pockets of time to meditate on Him or even recite simple verses and truths under my breath. This constant connection with God fills my mind space with Him, His nature and His love.

If you were to do this regularly, you will see yourself expanding in your capacity for God. That’s because you’re not being distracted by what the world throws at you; your mind is being set on things above, you’re constantly engaging and being connected to Him. This is how God can be involved in our daily lives.

You see, it’s more than just a space that we carve out in the room. The secret place is actually right here in your heart. We can be in union with God anywhere, at any time, in our every innermost being.

I just want to encourage you because it requires some spiritual muscle to do this, but as long as you begin to give Him that space, believe that God is there and that He sees and hears everything in secret.


Jason Chua will be speaking at The One Thing Gathering 2018, which will see hundreds of young adults unite with the International Houses of Prayer across the world to behold the majesty and beauty of Jesus.

Happening from July 19-21, 2018, for the first time in Asia, the gathering calls for young people who have purposed in their hearts to live with abandonment and devotion to Jesus, to do His work, be His voice and see His transformation in the nations.

To register your attendance, visit their page.

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Heart of hearing

by Pastor Lim Lip Yong, Cornerstone Community Church | 13 July 2018, 4:45 PM

Over the last couple of weeks, there were several things that deeply concerned me about God’s people. These are not new problems, but somehow, I sense the Holy Spirit placing an urgent emphasis on them.

The first concern is about our ability to hear from the Lord. As a pastor, my job is not to be an intermediary between God and His people. My office as part of the five-fold ministry is to train the saints and equip them, and that includes training believers to hear from the Lord for themselves.

Unlike traditional concepts of priesthood, where the priest or spiritual leader is the channel of communication between the people and God, Christianity does not hold to such a concept. God’s will is that all His people are able to hear from Him. His desire is that all should prophesy.

Yet one of the urgent needs in the Body of Christ is for God’s people to learn to hear from Him accurately and consistently. This does not happen overnight. Instead it requires for us to pursue His voice in a disciplined manner. Let me suggest a few things that we can do.

3 HANDLES TO HEAR GOD 

1. Read the Bible regularly

I’m a strong believer of the fact that God speaks to us primarily from His Word – the Bible. In my own personal life, this holds true. By this, I don’t mean that we should randomly open the Bible and hope for a suitable Scripture for our circumstances. Instead, as we read the Bible consistently and through a systematic reading plan, we’ll find the Lord speaking to us.

It’s uncanny how your daily reading will often coincide with something you’re asking the Lord about.

… pursue His voice in a disciplined manner.

2. Make room for God to speak

All too often, we want the Lord to speak to us, but we don’t make room for it. Say for example, we’ve an important decision to make. We all want to hear from God, but all too often, we make those decisions without taking time to hear from Him.

We often place a short time limit for God to speak and if He doesn’t speak by then, we’d make our own decisions. I want to strongly encourage us not to do that.

Most important decisions in our lives are not rushed. Decisions on a home purchase, marriage, relocation to a different country – these are all decisions that will greatly impact our lives. These are decisions also that we should take time to wait on the Lord until He speaks.

It’s uncanny how your daily reading will often coincide with something you’re asking the Lord about.

3. Be still

One of the most important keys for hearing from the Lord is to quieten ourselves to hear His still, small voice. Too often, our minds and surroundings are filled with too much noise for us to hear from the Lord. Since we’re listening for a still, small voice, we need to lean in and be silent so that we can catch what’s being said.

I suggest waking up early before the needs of the day press in on us. Alternatively, do it at night when everyone else is asleep. The instructions from the Lord is to find a secret place.

The second concern I have for God’s people is the issue of offences and bitterness.

Bitterness comes as a result of offences that are not dealt with in our hearts towards people. I don’t know how I can emphasise this in the strongest manner possible except to compare it with the most aggressive type of malignant cancer.

Bitterness absolutely destroys us. It results in terrible barrenness in our lives and is highly infectious. It’s a spiritual disease that the infected person often will not realise they’ve contracted. It clouds our perspective, impairs our judgement and fills us with negativity. In our own eyes, we’re the victims.

In our own eyes, we’re the victims.

How then do we deal with bitterness? The key lies in looking at the Cross.

A deep and full appreciation of the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross makes it clear that Jesus alone is the victim. The most horrid injustice was done to Him. All the penalty of sin was placed on Him. Despite all that, Jesus forgave and gave His life willingly as a ransom for us – the ones who crucified Him by our sins.

You see, the Children of Israel came to Marah and found bitter waters. Moses was instructed to cast a tree (the symbol of the Cross) into the waters and the bitter waters became sweet. Can the most bitter experiences of our lives actually be transformed into the sweetest moments of victory? Yes, indeed.

There’s grace sufficient for us to overcome every offence and every bitter experience. I pray that we’ll take a serious examination of our own hearts on these matters.


This article was first published on Cornerstone Community Church’s blog, and is republished with permission.

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In the face of persecution

by Zeke Gao, Deacon of YCK Chapel | 13 July 2018, 4:16 PM

“If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:16)

Around the world, many Christians are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. This is especially the case for those living under severe religious restrictions experienced by nearly three-quarters of the world’s population. Just think about the May 13 suicide-bomb attacks on three churches in Surabaya which killed 15 people and wounded another 57.

Living in Singapore, it is often easy to forget what religious persecution really looks like, or take for granted the harsh realities faced by our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. However, studies by Open Doors USA revealed that the persecution of Christians is higher today than at other points in history.

Each month approximately 66 churches are attacked, 225 Christians are killed, 104 are abducted, and 160 Christians detained and imprisoned without trial. The persecution of Christians will likely remain a permanent feature of humanity until Christ comes again.

… if we truly desire to live a godly life and follow Christ, then persecution is to be expected …

Even at home, you may face persecution as a result of your declaration of faith. At school, at work, or even among your friends, your faith may be challenged. Those who like you may begin to have second thoughts about you, or see you in a negative light because you believe in Jesus.

How then should we respond to Christian persecution? Here are three ways to prepare and respond to persecution.

3 POINTS IN RESPONDING TO PERSECUTION

1. Expect it

Jesus and Paul warned that if we truly desire to live a godly life and follow Christ, then persecution is to be expected (John 15:20, 2 Timothy 3:12).

This is because we do not belong to the world but to Christ, and it is that very separation from the world that arouses its animosity. This trial of faith develops endurance, maturity and strengthens the character of believers (James 1:2-4) to make an impact for the Lord. So it is no wonder that the spread of the gospel often flourishes in the face of persecution (Acts 1:8, Acts 8:1).

Hence, when persecution comes our way, we should not be surprised. Instead ask the Lord for the courage to face it, and seek His purposes and wisdom for your specific circumstances. This way, acting on what the Lord impresses upon you will enable His truth and love to be communicated to others even in the most dire of situations.

… we do not belong to the world but to Christ, and it is that very separation from the world that arouses its animosity.

2. Lend support

Persecution also provides a direct opportunity for us to show appreciation, support and brotherly love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ both at home and abroad, in ways which we may not have otherwise known.

Amidst the hardship that our brothers and sisters face, we should resolve to comfort them and lift them before His throne in prayer. We can also take the initiative to partner with various missions organisations to take action where it matters most, or lend other means of support like financial or material resources.

3. Pray and press on

Finally, we can thank the Lord for those we love, and stand with them in their times of distress. Thank Him for His grace and patience with each of us, and ask for the courage to press on even in the face of persecution. We can also pray for those who would accuse or abuse us (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27).

As you read this, would you take a moment to pray for our brothers and sisters in Surabaya? Let us never grow cold or indifferent towards the persecution of Christians that is intensifying around the world.


This article was first published on YCK Chapel’s website, and is republished with permission.

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Lessons on discipleship from a little dog

by | 12 July 2018, 11:47 AM

Over a recent public holiday, I hung out with a few good friends at one of our homes. There, I met my friend’s new dog, Taurus, an adorable mongrel who’s painfully shy.

As we spent some time trying to connect to him — which was proving rather difficult — my friend said something in particular that really made me think: Raising a dog is really like discipleship.

MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE

I’m a tall man, so for one reason or another, Taurus was afraid of me. He would skitter past me whenever I walked near, and when I stood up in the living room he would not want to come out of his little indoor kennel.

My friend speculated that maybe while Taurus was a stray, a tall man once kicked him. She also mentioned that he’s a year old – so in dog years, he’s pretty much an angsty teenager.

After I made a few jokes about Taurus being cooped up in his room writing poems, I knelt down to Taurus’ level. And he immediately came out of his hole to eat out of my hand. I had brought myself down to his level, and engaged him with something he was interested in — kibble!

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” (1 Corinthians 9:20)

It’s not that far a stretch to say that the real-life equivalent would be to initially engage a disciple on their terms, based on what they’re interested in. Baby steps before bigger ones. Just as my friend knew Taurus’ condition well, we also should know our flocks’ condition in caring for them (Proverbs 27:23).

MANAGE THE ATMOSPHERE

“Sometimes when I come back from work, I’ll run around the house and let him chase me, repeatedly yelling his name to get him excited.

“He’s only as excited as you are.”

That was what my friend told us about training and spending time with Taurus. Well, I tried that for a little bit before Taurus began growling at me — so maybe a bit more of Step One first!

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

If you lead a cell group, or mentor someone, you’ll know that the temptation is to fall into a routine. Eventually you’re just performing a role, and that’s really dangerous. Leaders are responsible for the holistic atmosphere of the group, similar to how mentors are in charge of shaping how interactions play out each time they meet a mentee.

So will it be an “Oh, hi” kind of thing, or will we actually show up excited to teach our kids new tricks? And even as I was thinking about this, my girlfriend, who was playing with Taurus, said to me: “It’s caught, not taught.”

LOVE IS TENDER AND TOUGH

My girlfriend was having a lot of success with Taurus getting him to go through some of the tricks he’d already been taught. Armed with a handful of kibble, she would speak him to sternly, but reward him at the end of it.

I, on the other hand, was really only good at the rewarding part. I couldn’t bear to be firm with the little guy and I would just reward him regardless. So it came as little surprise when he didn’t really listen to me.

One truth that was reaffirmed for me was this: Discipleship that is “soft” love and sayang all the way will get you nowhere fast. There is definitely a time and space for soft love, but if you spend all your time listening — never speaking life into the person’s life — the person will stagnate. And that failure would be on us as leaders (James 3:1).

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” (1 Thess 2:7b-8)

As we left my friend’s place, we said goodbye to her and Taurus from behind the windows of the bus. When I saw how patient, kind and affectionate she was with Taurus, it really drove one simple truth home.

It starts with love.

Without love, all these things we know about discipleship are just processes or tips. Without love, there’s no point. In the first week that my friend got Taurus, one of the sweet (or morbid) thoughts that she had was of how Taurus would die in about 15 years. I think that the brevity of life has a way of making our love swell for our neighbour when we contemplate it in a healthy way.

Think of the faces in your cell group or those of your mentees. Start with the end in mind: What if you only had a year with them? Let this urgent kind of love be the fuel for shepherding them towards God.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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The mask he wore to church

by Oliver Kuek | 11 July 2018, 5:47 PM

You know what it’s like being attracted to the same sex as a Christian?

I certainly don’t. And for a long time I lived without knowing what that tension was like – that double-life of fear and shame our brothers and sisters go through. I remained blissfully unaware until a few years ago, when one of my mentees from cell group texted me saying that he needed someone to talk to.

That was nothing unusual. Jonathan* and I had been having regular meet-ups so I figured he just had something a bit more pressing to share that night. We agreed to meet at a park after cell.

Jon was unusually quiet during cell. Not like he was one of the louder ones, but that night he was observably unresponsive – withdrawn almost. And even more so when we sat down to talk after that. By then, his face had taken on the pale and anxious look of a person about to throw up.

So I said, “Hey man, it looks like this is something that you’re finding pretty difficult for you to say. So, take your time alright? Don’t worry about the time, you can share whenever you’re ready and when you want to.”

Even with that word of assurance, we continued to sit by the river in silence. Jon’s eyes were fixed downwards to his shoes the whole time. Some minutes later, he began tearing.

I can only imagine the pain you’ve been experiencing this whole time, not having anyone to share this with.

“Hey. What’s wrong, Jon? You can tell me,” I said. Nervous words started to stumble out as he began sobbing: “I don’t even know how to say this.”

“I’m … Attracted to the same gender.”

Bombshell. For some stupid reason I had never thought about how to respond meaningfully in such a situation. My eyebrows might have raised for a split second before I caught myself and prayed as fast and as hard as I could. God, what do I say?

Seconds later, the words came. “Jon. Thank you … Thank you for telling me.”

I remember saying something along these lines: “That was incredibly brave of you to do, and thank you for trusting me. I can only imagine the pain you’ve been experiencing this whole time, not having anyone to share this with … Your secret is safe with me.”

Jon didn’t have any more words after I spoke. He looked so alone in the dim light which seemed almost to shroud him. I hugged him as he cried hard into my shoulder.

After Jon’s “confession”, we became closer as brothers in the faith. I know he knows I don’t judge him, but I bet he knows I’m just as clueless about this whole thing as he is. I’ve never really had to think about the perpetual tension he lives in: How the heart wants a person, and yet that same heart knows deep down it isn’t the right way forward.

And how do you live as a Christian with same-sex attraction? Unless you’re out of the closet, you basically have to put on a front and lie your way through questions about your relationship status, or just be single and celibate and hope no one asks too many questions.

How tiring it must be to live with these masks. And I believe there are ways we can do better in caring for brothers and sisters like Jon.

Why have I written this? I guess I want to say to the Christian who’s struggling with same-sex attraction, that I probably understand only a fraction of what you live through on a daily basis. From the strained hope of long having asked for this cup to be taken from you, to not knowing why I was born with such attractions – I can only imagine what it’s like being in your shoes.

To see how you have not been faithless in striving towards the godliness and self-restraint God has called all of us to compels me in my own journey. And if I’ve acted out of ignorance or entitlement, forgive me. I am not better than you. We all come from the same fallenness. As such we are all offered the same grace.

How then can we offer each other this same grace as Jesus Christ offers us, whether the struggle be same-sex attraction, anger management, addiction, pride, body image, illness, grief or loving others not like ourselves?

In my view, we can always do better as a Church, one body of Jesus Christ. We are one family, and if we love the family as much as we say we do we have to stand together, with each other; nobody gets left behind.

There is a Jon in every Church – possibly even in every cell-group. I think it’s not so much about how we can change him, but how we can bring each other closer to Christ.


Names have been changed for confidentiality.

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Article list

Justice, mercy and grace: What’s the difference?

Staying in your secret place with God 24/7

Heart of hearing

In the face of persecution

Lessons on discipleship from a little dog

The mask he wore to church