A sincere person sent me a question after my post on singer Whitney Houston: "I wonder how you accept her as a believer, seeing her life appeared to not align with the Lord?"
I responded to my friend's question with an answer I believe to be biblically spot on. I am providing it here because most readers of this blog will have faced similar questions from well-meaning Christians. My answer is probably opposite of what you have been taught most your Christian life, so lay aside your bias and presuppositions--and read slow. You are called to be a Berean and "search the Scriptures for yourself" (Acts 17:11) to see whether or not what I say is of the Lord.
The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Spirit, asks this questioon, “Why do you judge your brother? (Romans 14:10). It is a worthy question. Why do we make a decision about sinners who profess faith in Jesus Christ that they are, in reality, sinners lost and without hope, without God's grace, and not 'true' believers in the first place? Great question. Now, ask yourself why Paul was asking such a question. What was his purpose?
It seems to me that in Romans 14, the chapter from which this question arises, Paul is driving home the point that the only thing that makes people righteous and able to stand before Christ on judgment day is CHRIST'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. Those sinners without His righteousness FALL before Christ. What makes a sinner righteous before God and separates him or her from others sinners is "faith in the person and work of Christ." It is this faith that brings Christ's righteousness to a sinner, called by theologians imputed righteousness. The difference between sinners being accepted by God and sinners being rejected by God is not personal righteousness but Christ's righteousness. Some sinners (believers) have it, other sinners (unbelievers) do not. That's it. That's the difference. To whatever extent you and I discount the faith in Christ of a sinner struggling with addiction (like Whitney Houston), or a sinner caught up in immorality (like some televangelists), or any other 'brother' whose behavior is less honorable than ours, then we are making the mistake of judging a person's right standing before God based on his or her personal obedience and not Christ's obedience. Listen to Paul's argument against making a judgment against a sinner who personally professes faith in Jesus Christ:
(1). Realize that God has accepted your brother in Christ. Paul says “For God hath received him” (14:3). and that “God is able to make him stand” (14:4). This is what we call the doctrine of “justification by faith.” A sinner is made right with God by the righteousness of Christ “reckoned,” “accounted,” or “credited” to him by faith. It is vital to remember that the righteousness of Christ is freely and fully credited to sinners and not personally infused in sinners. In other words, I will always be a sinner (till heaven), but I am deemed a righteous person ('saint') by God now, because of Christ's righteouesness credited to me. God measures me by the righteousness of Christ and what ties me to that perfect measurement is my faith in Christ. For anyone to measure another person's righteousness before God based upon personal character and/or moral success on earth, and not personal faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, is directly counter to the teaching of the New Testament. Whitney Houston unashamedly professed her faith in "my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." I deem her a sister in Christ.
(2). Realize that we (believers in Christ) will all stand before the throne of Christ. “For we will all stand before the (judgment) seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). This verse is one of the most twisted, misinterpreted verses in all of Scripture. Pastors use this verse to hammer Christians with a future "judgment" for their not performing as they ought to have performed during their Christian lives on earth. Preachers raise the specter of a divine film of your life being projected and reviewed by God so that every action you have ever taken can be 'judged' by God. THIS IS NOT WHAT ROMANS 14:10 IS TEACHING. In fact, this verse teaches just the opposite.
The word “bema” in Greek is wrongly translated with the two English words "judgment seat" in most English translations of the Bible. This is a very unfortunate translation. Bema simply means podium or throne. Nowhere is the idea of judgment even associated with the word bema. In Nehemiah 8:4 the Bible says that Nehemiah “stood on a pulpit of wood (bema)” to read the Word of God to the people of Israel. Bema is an elevated position of authority, or a seat of honor. Believers will all one day stand before the throne of Christ. The Bible reminds us continually that "The unrighteous shall fall" (i.e. shall not stand) (Psalm 1:5). Standing before the throne of Christ on judgment day is comforting promise of the power of HIS righteousness, not a fearful threat to compel you to change in your personal righteousness. Believers are righteous because we have received Christ's righteousness. That is why we stand before the throne of Christ and that is why the unrighteous fall before the throne of Christ.
The very next verse in Romans 14 proves that the standing before Christ's throne on the Day of Wrath is a comforting promise and not a controlling threat. “For it is written: As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; and every tongue will confess to God” (v.11). Paul is quoting from the prophet Isaiah. Notice that God is swearing on Himself ("as I live"), the greatest of all oaths! He swears there is coming a day when every person will give an account (confess). What is it that they confess? If you go back and read Isaiah 45, the portion of the Scripture Paul is quoting from, there is a particular thing that will be confessed: “I have sworn by myself that every tongue shall swear (confess) that in the Lord alone there is righteousness and strength' (Isaiah 45: 24). This is the confession of those WHO STAND.
Those of us who STAND before Christ will, according to Romans 14:12, give an account as to WHY we stand. "Every one of us shall give account” (v.12). The word 'account' is the Greek word “logos." Logos is used ELEVEN times in its verb form in Romans 4 to describe the action of God reckoning or crediting righteousness to the believing sinner. The LOGOS or ‘account’ we believers give as each one of us stands before the THRONE of God is simply this: In the Lord alone there is righteousness and strength.
However, sinners who fall before Christ, those who do NOT STAND, give a different account to God. The unbeliever will swear on his own righteousness. He will point to himself and request that God to be merciful based upon his works. He will plead his personal righteousness, and according to the same prophecy in Isaiah 45, he who gives an account before God in this manner and has "raged against Him (Christ) will be ashamed" (Isaiah 45:24) The sinner without faith in Christ will be judged by God according to his deeds done in the earth (Romans 2:6). It is a dreadful and terrifying thing for this sinner to fall into the hands of the Living God. Every sinner depending on himself will fall. God's judgment of him is just. God's retribution is holy. God's judgment is always right. God's wrath is meted out in proportion to the nature and quality of the actions of the sinner in this life. And as we all know, there are some very, very ugly things being done. Sinners who reject Christ do NOT escape God's wrath. Sinners who violate the boundaries of their Creator by harming others, destroying creation, and living a selfish, lustful life without a heart of love toward God and their fellow man, even if all the aforementioned is done in the name of God or religion, will one day be righteously judged by the true God. It's a terrifying thing to fall into His hands.
But Whitney Houston did not reject Christ. She professed faith in Christ and is free from God's wrath and judgment, and she should be from yours as well. The evidence that we are Christ's is our heart of love for others, even our enemies (see John 13:35). Christianity is distinctive from all other religions in the knowledge that the judgment and wrath of God is completely and totally gone for those who trust Jesus Christ! When a sinner realizes the generous gift he's been given by the grace of God (even while he was yet an enemy of God), he can' help but be generous, kind and loving to others, even his enemies!
Any judgment for a sinner who professes faith in Christ should be gone in you like it is gone in God. The sinner who professes faith in Christ will STAND before CHRIST and proclaim Him as the only righteousness there is. Therefore, when you pass judgment on a brother in Christ, you may be indicating a poor understanding of the basis for your own righteousness before God. Your righteousness before God is ALL of Christ. In the Lord ALONE there is righteousness and strength.