This Sunday is World AIDS Day...
The frightening reality is that almost half of all people infected with HIV in the U.S. have died since first detection of the AIDS virus. And the epidemic in African countries and some Caribbean countries as well shockingly leave us speechless as to the untold millions of those HIV infected and the subsequent deaths.
AIDS is not the new leprosy; it is not God's judgment specifically against homosexuality as we think of O.T. cataclysmic judgment against entire cities or nations for sinful behavior (i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah). We could rightly say that there is personal judgment or responsibility to everyone who has contracted this disease due to homosexuality, sexual promiscuity among heterosexuals, or by illegal IV drug use (see Romans 1:26-27). However, AIDS is not solely a "gay disease" or an issue that the homosexual community is responsible for or faces alone. AIDS affects us all. In Africa, AIDS is primarily a heterosexual disease and many children are now orphans having lost both mother and father due to this pandemic.
Love Your Neighbor...Even if They Have AIDS
Why should Christians get involved in such a controversial and life-threatening disease? The answer is simple. It is the second of the two great commandments: "love your neighbor as you love yourself." Dying people do not need bigotry, hatred, disdain, self-righteous loathing, or societal isolation. They need a Savior and need to know the hope that is found in Jesus Christ our Lord. I was asked at an AIDS gathering under the Bush Administration in Washington D.C. a few years ago June a thought-provoking question by one of the doctors seated at my dinner table. He said, "Steve, isn't the most loving thing a Christian like yourself should do for someone who is HIV positive is give them dignity in their dying?" I thought for a moment and responded. "The most unloving thing that I as a Christian could do for someone facing certian death due to HIV infection is give them only dignity in their dying." Shocked as our table was, I followed up with these certain words, "for you see, giving someone all the dignity in dying in this life doesn't mean a thing if they upon giving their last breath wake up in perdition to be tormented by God's wrath for all eternity." I was not trying to be harsh, but truthful. Sometimes the "tyranny of the urgent" can out weigh the "need of the important." When dealing with AIDS we must keep eternity in view.
The Dignity of the Gospel
The most dignifying thing we can do as Christians, (while helping their physical plight) is to share the glorious good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. There is no cure currently for H-I-V, but there is for S-I-N in the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. In the midst of the devastating plight for those who have AIDS. there is also a wonderful opportunity for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to bring hope into very hopeless situations by loving their neighbor and being Christlike right in the center of their situation. And we can do this by proclaiming the gospel; for as we know in Christ Jesus there is the hope of eternal life beyond any sickness or disease that any of us might contract.
"His holiness not compromised..."
God does not condone sexual promiscuity whether gay or straight--both are an offense to His holy character. And we must also include illegal IV drug use for even governments are called "ministers of God" (Romans 13:1-5) to restrain evil and keep peace for the general societal good. Its laws are to be honored. That is why there are important laws prohibiting the use of harmful narcotics because of the danger they inherently possess and how they ruin so many young lives, but also because through needle sharing the HIV virus is so easily transmitted as well.
Nothing that exalts itself against the character of God should be condoned as right and good. The prophet Isaiah warned against this when saying, "Woe unto them that call good evil and evil good; who put darkness for light and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20). God has a standard for holiness and all His creatures are held accountable to it--even evangelicals. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
His Inflexible Law and Undeserving Grace
The law of God unmasks each one of us doesn't it? For no one can keep perfectly God's law. The Apostle James is right, "if break one commandment we are guilty of breaking all." Isaiah says so convictingly to each of us, "all of [our] righteousness is like dirty filthy rags." Literally, he is comparing our own goodness (works of righteousness) worthy of being compared to a woman's menstral rags or human refuse. God is holy and His holiness cannot be compromised no matter what the social agenda might be or cause one is emotionally drawn to. But holiness without love can be cold-hearted orthodoxy; and love without holiness can lead to empty-headed sentimentality. We need both; holiness and love.
God is a God of love. "God demonstrated His own love toward us; in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). That is the motive and power of the cross--God's justice, righteousness, holiness and love was manifested through the once for all propitiatory sacrifice in Jesus Christ the Lord. We are told by the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts chapter seventeen verse thirty to "command all people everywhere to repent." As stated before, God doesn't condone homosexuality, promiscuity among heterosexuals, illegal IV drug use, etc. (And He doesn't condone the self-righteousness attitudes of Christians either.) But, the good news is He doesn't leave us to our sin; He provides a way of escape--forever! And in response to His forgiveness He calls us to "go into all the world and make disciples." And that includes the world of AIDS.
This should be our first impulse in response to the holiness of God in helping those that are HIV infected--to see them repent and come to salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. Why is this? Because if we have been given the undeserved grace of the Lord for the forgiveness of our sins, how much more should we be patient and gracious to all who do not know Christ as their Lord and Savior? Do you remember the day that God by His grace arrested your life and granted you saving faith? How tremendous it was to be translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love? All our sins forgiven--past, present and future sins--no matter what we had done or who we had done it with--the Lord by His grace saved us.
Fire Can Never Make Ice
If you have tasted the kindness of the Lord then you will share His life-giving truth with another. It is unavoidable. I have had so many opportunities to share the gospel with AIDS patients and to be a spectator of God's grace in those situations. Not one of them have ever been offended by sharing the truth of their sin and the good news of the gospel. They may have been offended because of the cross, but never because of the sharing. Many, in fact, have responded to the gospel of grace and what a joy to see another sinner repent for salvation in Christ alone. People with AIDS are much nearer the grave, eternity stares them in the eye and they need to know how to have life everlasting. As one AIDS patient told me after he had received the Lord, "Steve, I only have a few weeks left to live, but I want to spend my last days telling others about Christ and how they too can have eternal life in Jesus. For now I know that to be 'absent from the body is to be present with the Lord!'" He died one month later.
May I encourage you today to lovingly share that call of repentance to follow Christ even if they only have a few days or weeks to live.
"yet His mercy not restrained."
It is sad that many believers won't help those that are HIV positive because they think they are better than those with this disease; and this for one main reason--most people who contract the AIDS virus in this country come from the homosexual community (Contrarily in Africa, it is primarily contracted through heterosexual transmission). The church in America for the most part has been isolated from the gay community that we have lost opportunity, and in some cases abrogated our duty, in sharing the gospel with them.
The Apostle Paul gives the antidote again for this problem too. In Titus 3:3 he writes, "For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another." Homosexuality is not the unpardonable sin ladies and gentlemen... Though I have never been tempted or caught up in that particular sin--my sin issues were far worse. I had a worse problem than any prostitute or drug addict ever dreamed of. I had a worse problem than homosexuality in my life. You see, I suffered from the most severe of all sins: I was consumed with self-righteous religious pride. Biblically, it is the most grievous kind of iniquity. Paul is saying here that all of us are to have empathy for all who do not know the Lord because we all were consumed with the sinfulness of sin before we met the Lord. We are not to sit back in our smug evangelical chairs and condescendingly, with theological scorn, treat with religious disdain and arrogance those who do not know the Lord. Those who may have AIDS. Listen "His mercy should not be restrained." How dare we pass judgement on another who has not Christ rather than share the powerful message of hope in the gospel of grace? Are we willing to risk our carefully cultivated reputations for another? Are we willing to risk our very lives in sharing the gospel with another? To paraphrase Amy Carmichael, "if we are not, then we know nothing of Calvary love." In other words, "don't tell them Jesus loves them, until you're ready to love them too."
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
And here are our marching orders for today: Paul continues on in Titus 3:4-5 by saying, "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 5 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." At every turn, the Apostle Paul by the divine superintending of the Holy Spirit says we are robbed of all our boasting; we are robbed of all our pride; we are robbed of our very selves. "He saved us"--not because we are better than others; or wiser than others; or more righteous than others--"not according to works done by us in righteousness." NO! He saved us simply according to His own purpose, mercy and grace. And needless to say, if He can save us--He can save them too! Praise be to the Lord that we are saved not by the goodness of our works, but according to the riches of His grace. Amen? I wrote a song about people with AIDS several years ago that I sang at the Word AIDS Medical conference in San Francisco in 1990. The chorus says, "Do you feel their pain? Has it touched your life; can you taste the salt in the tears they cry? Will you love them more than the hate has been? Will you love them back to LIFE again?" (You can listen to this song above on the AIM Radio Player.)
Give yourself away this year for Christmas beloved. Get out of your comfort zone and share with someone the greatest gift of all--the gospel of Jesus Christ--God's "unspeakable gift to us." And as you do remember: His holiness not compromised; yet His mercy not restrained.
Rescue the Perishing,
1 John 3:16-17