How should I respond to a “red-letter Christian”?

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Candice Watters

How should I respond to a “red-letter Christian”?

Nov 02, 2015 |Candice Watters
Question

I am 18 years old and just moved to Texas where I am living with my half-sister who claims to be a Christian. The only problem is that she calls herself a “red-letter Christian.” I had heard that term before, as two of my other siblings had called themselves that, but I never really knew what it meant.

When I asked her, she told me it means she believes the parts of the Bible that Jesus said, but not the parts that the Apostle Paul wrote. She said that in her opinion, he is just a man and was too uptight, so who's to say that he's an authority on anything? I brought up the verse in 1 Timothy about all Scripture being God-breathed, but she dismissed that as having been written by Paul.

She also believes it’s OK to get drunk, have sex before marriage, lie, lust, etc. She claims that she is just as much a follower of Jesus as I am, and that I am too uptight and regimented and that I need to let loose and "have fun." She does not attend church and does not read her Bible. Occasionally she prays before a meal. Basically she lives her life like an unbeliever, but insists on calling herself a Christian.

Another argument she often uses is that so long as we agree on the basics (Jesus is the Son of God and died and rose again for our sins) then that's all that really matters and that's why there are so many different denominations. Usually I just tell her that I believe the entire Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God and that we should probably just agree to disagree, since neither of us are going to be able to convince the other.

My other two siblings who are also older than me agree with her and often try to convince me to sleep with people, get drunk, etc. Her son, who is in college, is a professional debater and atheist and often comes over to debate this with me. I am horrible at arguing/debating, but I do my best to explain the Gospel and be prepared to answer whoever asks me about my faith.

I pray for them daily.

What is the best way to go about dealing with this situation? I know the Bible says to live at peace with everyone, so far as it depends on me, but I am wondering how far I should take that.

Answer

Thank you for your letter, and even more, for caring so deeply about how you conduct yourself as a Christian in the midst of such a difficult and hostile setting. You say your half-sister is a self-described “red-letter Christian,” someone who says she believes only the words of Christ — what some publishers print in red ink. The problem with this description is that it is self-conflicting.

Anyone who truly believes only the words in red will find that they must believe all of the words of the Bible, red, black or otherwise, because Jesus did. In John 10:35, Jesus said “Scripture cannot be broken.” As Kevin DeYoung points out in his book Taking God at His Word, “For Jesus, anything from Scripture, down to the individual words and the least-heralded passages, possessed unquestioned authority” (p. 98).

Jesus affirmed every word, down to the smallest Hebrew letter (“iota”) and character (“dot”), of the Old Testament Scriptures (see Matthew 5:17-19). He took as historical fact Jonah’s odyssey in the belly of the whale, “never questioning a single event, a single miracle or a single historical claim” (p. 104). Jesus, says DeYoung, “believed the Bible was all true, all edifying, all important, and all about him. He believed absolutely that the Bible was from God and was absolutely free from error.” Daniel Darling’s book The Original Jesus says helpfully in his chapter “Red-Letter Jesus” that “All Scripture is written in red.”

You ask what is the best way to deal with your situation in light of the biblical imperative to live at peace with everyone. The verse you cite is from Romans 12 and says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (v. 18).

Hebrews 12:14 takes this call to peaceable living further, saying, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” It is not peace alone that we should seek. Hebrews is clear that we are to strive for peace and holiness. It is often the Christian’s pursuit of holiness that stirs up trouble with unbelievers. 1 Peter 4:4 says,

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;

Later in that same chapter, Peter writes,

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). You must ask then, what does it mean to be a peacemaker? It cannot mean living sinfully in order to quiet the mocking of your relatives. It doesn’t preclude the possibility of being maligned for saying no to getting drunk and sexual immorality.

Take a look at what Jesus said right before and after He said that peacemakers will be called sons of God:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:8-12).

It’s clear from the context that it won’t be unbelievers who bless peacemakers and call them sons of God. Jesus knew that living for Him, loving God and neighbor, would be for many, a declaration of spiritual war.

He said,

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

Peace with everyone does not mean the absence of conflict, or tension, or disagreement. How can you do what Paul commands in Romans 12 in the context of a hostile family setting? Keep in mind the two qualifiers that precede “live peaceably with all.” Paul says, “If possible,” and “so far as it depends on you.” This means you are not to be the one stirring up strife or initiating conflict. If they are challenging you to debates, if they are mocking your beliefs and taunting you to sin, the call at that point isn’t one of making peace, but of fleeing temptation.

I would point you to another of Paul’s exhortations to believers:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. (2 Timothy 2:22)

It may be that the best thing you can do to make peace is to find another place to live, along with Christian sisters who love Christ and want to live for Him and spur you on in holiness. Living peaceably with all doesn’t mean you must share a house or apartment with them. Proverbs commends the wisdom of choosing smaller or less desirable quarters rather than abide a contentious, quarrelsome home (Proverbs 21:9, 19, 21:19).

Who knows but that a little distance will remove that day-in-day-out pressure between you, providing better opportunities to share the Gospel. In your own strength, you won’t be able to convince them, but you are right to keep speaking the truth in love and praying that the Holy Spirit will give them eyes to see the truth. It is the Word of Christ that regenerates spiritually dead hearts, and He has chosen to use people to speak His words so that people might believe. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

May the Lord guide you.

Sincerely,
Candice Watters

Copyright Candice Watters 2015. All rights reserved.

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