Romans Under New Light
Recently (Feb. 27, 2014) on the Glenn Beck show of that date, I was delighted to see an interview between Glenn Beck and Ruth Graham, daughter of Billy Graham. They had become friends for about two years. Their friendship began when Glenn went and visited Billy Graham. Both Glenn and Ruth talked about the gentleness of Billy Graham, especially in his later years. Ruth said that each of his children knows they are unconditionally loved. Everyone who personally knows Billy Graham talks about his gentleness.
Ruth Graham was divorced three times. She was the first one to get a divorce in her family. Her first husband’s parents were a friend of the Graham family. The divorce without a doubt caused problems in this conservative Christian family. The divorce came about as a result of infidelity on his part. But Ruth had not talked about it before the divorce. Even after learning about the infidelity, the Graham family was against the divorce. Glenn assumed they would be saying, “Why didn’t you get out?” But Ruth responded, “No, they were like, why can’t you stay? Why can’t you deal with this? Why can’t you forgive him? You see, Glenn, in our church, adultery is forgivable; divorce is not. At least it was not back then.”
After the divorce, Ruth moved from the rural area to a downtown city in the south. She said she was like a fish out of water and wanted someone to take care of her. She was introduced to a widower and fell in love. They made plans to get married immediately. Her mother called from Seattle and said don’t marry this man. Her father (Billy Graham) called from Tokyo and said why don’t you wait.
She reasoned that her parents had not been single parents and didn’t know what it was like. Within 24 hours after this second marriage, she realized she had made a mistake. He was threatening violence. After five weeks she left him and started to go home. During the two-day drive home, “fears multiplied with every mile.” She worried about what her family would say this time around. When she got home, her father meet her at the car, put his arms around her, and said, “Welcome home.”
She said, “There was never any condemnation. And Glenn, that changed my life. That grace changed my life and it informs what I do today because I want other people to experience the grace of God like my father gave to me.”
My personal family can very much relate to Ruth Graham’s experience. My grandfather, like Billy Graham, was a Baptist preacher living in the mountains of North Carolina. My grandfather also lived into his nineties. But he was a bit older and has gone on to be with the Lord. Both are very conservative, even fundamentalists.
My aunt, who is my grandfather’s daughter, married a divorced man. This was just as bad as getting a divorce. It was “unforgivable.” My grandfather basically disowned his daughter. My grandmother attended the wedding, and my mother attended. I was actually a part of the wedding, and walked the aisle, as a young child. But most of the family didn’t attend. All this led to my grandfather having a major nervous breakdown.
Eventually, he reconciled with his daughter and her husband. In becoming non-judgmental, my grandfather became the peaceful and loving person that we see in Billy Graham. Could it be that both found a true peace with God by learning to unconditionally love their daughters?
Later in the interview, Glenn Beck recalled a time five years back when he met Billy Graham in his home. Glenn said, “Your father asked me some very pointed questions.” (As you would expect Billy Graham to do.)
Then, “Somebody in the room said, ‘Just as a reminder, he’s Mormon.’ And your father turned to the individual and said, ‘I know.’”
They were talking about a certain subject. Billy Graham looked back at Glenn and said, “Tell me how you know that came from Christ.” Glenn told him. Then Billy Graham looked back at the other individual and said, “He sure sounds Christian to me.”
Recalling this event, Glenn was brought very close to tears. It took him a minute to regain his composure. He asked Ruth, “How do we get people to play nice to each other?”
“Oh Glenn, I don’t know,” Ruth responded. “We have such division. We have such rancor. Not only in our political world, but in our Christian world, our religious world. And I know that it breaks Jesus’ heart.”
Ruth continues, “I think for me, to try and live as best as I can, following Jesus, and loving people. Now I’ll be honest, I have an advantage. I have the temperament that is not a warrior. I’m not a warrior. I’m much more of a lover. And I love people. I don’t want to draw lines. I want to include people. And if in that inclusion I gather in some black sheep, well and good. I would rather error on the side of grace than I would on judgment. I just am not going to stand in judgment on other people.”
Glenn responds, “I spent one afternoon with your dad. … Just like when your dad was waiting for you with open arms, there are moments in everyone’s lives that fundamentally change them. And I’ve had a couple of them. And one of them was with your dad. And it came in two pieces.”
“One was when he looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’ve been where you are now, where the Lord is telling me to do things that I don’t quite know what he means or how to do it. But I did it, and I did my best.’ And I’ll never forget the clarity in his eyes. He said, ‘and because of that, I do not fear death.’” Glenn said, “Not a lot of people, when it comes down to it, can say that.”
Glenn continued, “You say you are not a warrior. But the second thing that I got from him was… When he told that to me, we were setting closer than you and I, and he was holding my hand. And he straightened up. And I saw the warrior in him. It was a peaceful warrior. But it was a warrior that would turn over the tables. How do you turn tables over and still not be divisive? How do you speak the truth and not be divisive?”
Ruth responds, “As you ask that, it’s how we speak the truth. Do we speak it in arrogance? Do we speak it in judgment? Do we speak it in gentleness and love? How did Jesus speak the truth? Now with the Pharisees, he was ruthless. He did not like those religious fanatics that were so judgmental and so self-righteous. And we look at a lot of sins of the world and we rank them. And I don’t know which we rank worse. But I think God would rank self-righteousness and pride as worse. And we are full of it. And we condemn each other from our own arrogance.”
Ruth continues, “That’s not the way we do it. We’ve got to speak the truth, as Jesus says, in love. And Jesus could be hard. But there was something winsome about him. There was not the hard edge to him. He didn’t have… Look at his encounters. I did a book a number of years ago, ‘Fear not tomorrow, God is already there.’ I looked over Jesus’ shoulder in the gospels. How did he treat people? It really was remarkable for me to see how he treated the woman at the well. How did he treat the woman taken in adultery? How did he treat the boatload of scared disciples? Not with criticism. Not with harshness. Not with judgment. He met them where they were, and he loved them to the next step. I think we have to accept people where they are and love them to the next step.”
Romans Under New Light is very much about speaking the truth but not being divisive. Doctrine divides us, as Mormons are divided from Baptists. Catholics are divided from Protestants. Billy Graham was able to see a Christian speaking who happened to be a Mormon. But should we just eliminate doctrine so that we are not divided? Our differences with most doctrines can be ignored until Christ returns. But we all need to come together on our doctrine of salvation in order to really be considered as one, "that they may be one even as we are one" (John 17:21-23).
Over the centuries, our divisions with regard to salvation have all been, to one degree or other, about the issue of sin. Jesus said if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off (Matthew 5:30). He goes on to say we should be “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Mathew 5:48). And yet the words of Jesus are gentle and kind.
Billy Graham had a very consistent message of salvation that always included the repentance of sin. Today, most pastors won’t touch the topic of sin with a ten foot pole. If today’s pastors even mention sin, it’s to say nobody is perfect and that you can’t stop sinning.
People don't always think through what it would mean for someone to overcome sin. In contemporary English, "perfect" is almost a bad word when applied to people -- impossible by definition, and if possible, then something really awful. "Perfect" people don't have any flaws, so they put everybody else to shame. They don't have compassion, because everything comes easy to them. They're always judging other people. People who can appear perfect and who can even convince themselves they're perfect are what people think of when they think of "perfect" people.
But if you're really without sin, you won't judge, and you'll know how to not put other people to shame without compromising who you are, and you'll have compassion, and of course, you'll still make mistakes and you won't be defensive or evasive about them. You'll allow yourself to appear flawed, without being sinful.
From the Biblical perspective, a perfect person is someone who has overcome all their sinful habits. These include habits of the mind, such as lust and anger. In heaven, nothing is hidden. I believe angels can read minds. Before we can inherit the kingdom, we need to overcome all our sinful habits to the point where we would not be embarrassed if everyone could read our minds. This is what it means to be in the light. You have nothing to hide. And it’s what Jesus meant by having your cup clean on the inside. If you are clean on the inside, then you will be clean on the outside as well.
Nobody goes to hell because they don’t overcome sin in this age. But they won’t inherit the kingdom either. The doctrine of salvation presented in this book is such that continued sin really does have eternal consequences. I ask you to read this book with prayer. How does it fit Scripture? What would Jesus say?