When we talk about sin as a concept its easy to be outraged. We can look at it, full in the face, and passionately discuss how wrong it is. But when the sinner is someone we love, friend or family, its amazing how our perspective changes. Suddenly something that seemed so wrong just a little while ago begins to seem much more acceptable when there is a familiar face on it. Now its the rules themselves that look like enemies, and those who enforce them as cruel and arbitrary. Excuses for our loved ones behavior readily come to mind. We search for someone else to blame. Full of indignation we rise up to defend our friend against those who would demand that the old standards be upheld.
If we live long enough sooner or later this impulse to call wrong, right and right, wrong will tempt each of us. Our love for someone can be stronger than our commitment to principle. Even if that principle comes straight out of the Bible. In past years we boldly declared our allegiance to this value and understood why it was wrong when others violated it. But now that a friend has done it, we discover we cant bring ourselves to do or say anything that might bring our treasured relationship to an end. Intuitively we know that if we take a stand and say that what they are doing is wrong, theyll abandon us and treat us like an enemy. So were tempted to stay silent or claim to have had a revelation about how wrong our attitudes have been about this matter all these years. Were tempted to ignore the clear moral commands of the Bible, or even condemn them, because it was a friend who fell, not a stranger.
Gods unchanging principles (Heb 13:8)
Human culture is constantly changing: What we like and dont like, whats good or bad, whats beautiful or ugly. All these change from place to place, from group to group, and from year to year. Which is why following the Bible, sooner or later, will get you in trouble. Your values dont change while everybody elses do. Here are four reasons why our basic moral standards will never change:
1) God asks us to become like Him, and He doesnt change. This isnt because Hes boring. Quite the opposite, Hes wildly creative, just look around. But His truth and His moral standards dont change because they are expressions of God Himself.
He asks us to be honest because He is honest
He asks us to be pure because He is pure
He asks us to be generous because He is generous
He asks us to be merciful because He is merciful
2) God asks us to honor Him as Creator and to use His gifts in the way in which they were intended to be used, to honor the boundaries He sets in place. Hes the one who has given us our bodies, our minds, our senses. And He created us so we can enjoy His world (food, sex, beauty, music
), but He also puts limitations around these so they dont overpower us and destroy us.
3) God asks us to submit to His wisdom, to trust that He knows best, to obey even when we dont understand His will.
the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, for it does not subject itself to the Law of God, it is not even able to do so.
4) God asks us to follow Him even when others dont, to desire to please Him more than we desire to please humans.
Sin changes people
When friends fall, unless they repent quickly and abandon the sin, they undergo a strange transformation of their personality. They cease to be the person we used to know. They still look like the same person, but they think and act and talk like someone else is living in their body. People who refuse to repent:
1) Deny they have done anything wrong.
This is the way of an adulterous woman (man); she eats and wipes her mouth, and says, I have done no wrong. (Pr 30:20)
2) Want you to approve what they are doing.
Nobody wants to sin alone. They feel hidden from Gods judgment when they are surrounded by a group of people who are doing the same thing.
3) Go on the counter attack.
They turn the table and put the focus on you. They begin to condemn you for judging them.
They are extremely sensitive to any hint of disapproval and react aggressively.
4) Become convincing liars.
Lying is a learned skill and they had to learn it in order to hide or justify what they were doing,
They have to deceive themselves first so when they talk to you they give every evidence of being sincere (tears, eye contact, passion).
5) Transfer the guilt for their sin onto others by claiming to be a victim.
I was driven to do this by
6) Often become false prophets claiming God has assured them that He accepts what they are doing.
God told me He is okay with this!
7) Invite you to join them in their sin.
I wish I had done this sooner. I regret letting the opinions of others hold me back.
But hopefully there will come a moment when you observe another transformation of their personality: when they truly repent, the loved one you once knew comes back. You can talk again like old times. Youll find you want to ask, Where were you? What was that all about? We missed you! and you may well hear the reply, I missed you too!
How should we react when friends fall? (1 Co 5:1-13)
Heres an example of a church struggling to know how to respond to a brother who has chosen to violate a basic moral standard. Their first response was to ignore the sin and preserve the relationship, but then Paul hears of the situation and writes to show them how to respond, and thankfully he explains to them why. By the way, Paul would have expected that the confrontational process Jesus lists in Matthew 18:15-18 had already, or would now take place. Heres what Paul tells us to do:
1) We should grieve because someone we love has become deceived.
2) If weve tolerated their behavior we should repent of our arrogance because we decided to ignore Gods standards.
3) We should recognize the spiritual danger they are in and be alarmed. (see below)
4) We should use our spiritual authority in prayer to rescue them, not punish them (vs 3-5)
(Mt 18:18) Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
5) We should remove the person from fellowship in order to protect the church from following that persons example.
6) We should remove the person from fellowship as a prophetic warning. By it were saying, You are outside of the community of the saved. Your soul is in jeopardy, please repent. This is the word they need to hear, not another sermon.
Seeing from Gods perspective (1 Co 6:9, 10)
Why must we be willing to do things that are so confrontational? Cant God handle this without us? To answer this lets first look honestly at what will happen if that person doesnt repent. Paul went on to say these words to the Corinthian church:
Or do you not know the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1Co 15:50)? Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1Co 6:9, 10) (Also: Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5-7).
When we die, we stand before the God of the Bible, not before a group of our peers. And He will judge us by His standards, not ours. Calling myself a Christian will not be enough, if I have lived as a hypocrite. He will look into my heart to see if real repentance and faith is present. The problem is those who deliberately chose to violate Gods moral standards harden their own hearts in the process. Saving faith is not something you do once. Its an ongoing relationship based on Gods constant correction and my repentance and faith. Jesus compares faith to the flame of a lamp that needs to be continually refueled (Mt 25:1-13).
Heres the terrible truth. You can lose your salvation. The warnings are there in the Bible because the danger is real. It warns us that you can let your faith die by neglect; or faith can be smothered under piles of guilt and shame that result from unrepented sin; or you can renounce Christ to protect yourself from persecution or rejection. Yes, of course, God will fight to bring you back. There is usually a progressive order to the way God confronts us to bring us to repentance:
1) The Holy Spirit convicts the heart
2) God sends prophetic warning (individuals, church discipline)
4) The final judgment
So why would a person be willing to confront a friend who falls, and put that relationship at risk? The reason must never be anger, hurt, fear or impatience. There are two reasons God wants us to do this:
1) We believe
Heaven and hell are real
The judgment will happen
Gods moral standards dont change
2) We love
We love them enough to lose their love if it means they might repent and turn from the dangerous path they are on.
1) Count the cost
2) Tell the truth
3) Declare our love
4) Offer to help
5) Promise to pray
6) Refuse to gossip (but we will correct a lie when we hear it, we wont stay silent in the face of a lie)
7) Explain how to come back
8) Never give up hope
1) Have you ever had to confront a friend about their behavior? How did it go?
2) Has a brother or sister ever confronted you about an area of sin? How did you respond?