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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

23 January 2006

Good Christian; Bad Christian

Q: I began a relationship in 1992 and became pregnant after about a year. The man I was involved with insisted I get an abortion. I didn’t and we ended our relationship. I became the mother of a beautiful daughter in 1994. Her father decided he wanted to be a part of his daughter’s life, and I decided to let him in 1995. We started spending time together as a result and I found myself falling in love with him.

We both became born-again Christians in 2001. I would like to get married. He does not. He told me that since we disagree on this subject, he probably should stop being in his child’s life. He also informed me that if he wasn’t involved in her life, as long as he was financially supporting her, it was no big deal. He said that Christ would not be judging him on his ability as a father, but on his character. This seems very, very strange to me. Well, my question is, “If a man abandons his child, how can he be a good Christian?”

A: All of your inquiry is wrapped up in a theme of relationships. Your saga began with a relationship — sexual union between you and this man. You developed feelings toward the child in your womb and fostered that relationship even at the expense of the man you loved. He came back — whether more for you or for the child, it’s hard to tell.

Behind the scenes, God was working to establish (or reestablish) a relationship with you. He came in grace and forgiveness, offering you peace, purpose, and wholeness.

Meanwhile, your relationship with your daughter’s father suffers once again. You end up asking, “If a man abandons his child, how can he be a good Christian?” His relationship with Christ effects your relationships both with Christ and with him. Yet in asking, you also step into a trap in which most believers occasionally catch themselves. You attempt to compare his Christianity to your own, or to some external scale.

The simple truth is that none of us is always a “good Christian.” Sin continually interrupts our faith walks. Each Christian is saint and sinner simultaneously. Calling him this man a “good Christian” or a “bad Christian” judges his heart. Instead, judge him by his words and deeds.

You caught the crux of the judgment already. He slipped “ability” into the discussion. He’s turning fatherhood into a test of innate skill rather than ongoing relationship and commitment. His undefined “character” defense is indefensible. If his character were unimpeachable, he’d already be completely involved with and committed to his daughter’s well-being.

He appears to suffer from the delusion that God rewards good intentions. He seems to be attempting to justify himself before you, your daughter, and God. We know from Scripture that this is folly. Only Christ justifies. We become right with God not because we were “good enough” or tried “hard enough.” Only the complete remission of sins offered and granted in Jesus Christ makes us right with God.

Jesus applies His own righteousness to us believers. He was not only “good enough” — He was and remains perfect. His character was expressed in word and deed as He perfectly kept God’s Law. His gracious Father credits this perfection to us, who remain imperfect until the Last Day. He maintained a constant relationship of love and obedience with His Father that He might forgive our lapses in love and our open rebellions against the Father. By the Father’s grace, working through Christ’s Word and sacraments, His Holy Spirit renews and restores our lives and our relationships. When the bond with God is strengthened, so are our bonds on earth.

My caution is that you not disrupt your own relationship with God, nor that of your daughter. Paul warns us, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)”

What sort of relationship has only conditional commitment? Does God allow us to buy our way out of doing right, even under difficult circumstances? Christ committed Himself to absolute obedience, total sacrifice, and extreme horror in order to repair the damage sin inflicted upon our relationship with the Father.

We show our regard for His sacrifice as we establish our earthly relationships with Christ’s commitment as the glue holding us together. Seek to follow Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, where he urges us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4:1-3)”

It may remain just you and your daughter. Yet as long as you continue in Christ, you’ll not be singing a lonely duet against the world: His “grace is sufficient for you”; His “power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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