It has been said that 16th century Scottish reformer John Knox feared the face of God so much that he feared no man. This is a powerful statement considering the intense persecution Knox faced throughout his life. As I examine my own life, and today’s evangelical church in America, we are in desperate need for the same statement to ring true with each of us.
Scripture is clear, to please both man and God is mutually exclusive and cannot be done (Galatians 1:10). Rather, we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30) which is demonstrated through our obedience to His commands (I John 5:3); including the commands of what to do, what not to do (mortification of the flesh), and how to conduct ourselves within the church. It is this last area which I would like to dwell on for the remainder of this note.
I believe that within the Christian community, we tolerate/accommodate too much sin in the lives of other professing Christ-followers. We avoid confrontation because we do not want to feel uncomfortable or offend the other person. Yet, this is contrary to Scripture:
- If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)
- Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.(Galatians 6:1)
- My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20)
Jesus taught His followers that: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-26).” In comparison to our love for Christ, the love we have for all others is to look like hatred. As a result, when we take firm stands against ongoing sin in the lives of another professing Christian because of our love for Christ- it may appear as hate by some who do not understand the motivation (repentance and restoration). Likewise, we may be hated by others for our firm stance against sin.
Paul spoke very directly to the Corinthian church in regards to the handling of ongoing sinwithin a professing Christian’s life (1 Corinthians 5). Specifically, he gives these instructions in verses 9-12 (emphasis mine):
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since the you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?
The goal of this approach is repentance and restoration for those engaged in an unrepentant pattern of sin. I appreciate Dr. Harry Ironside’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 5: “This man was in the circle of those who are “of God.” Somebody might say, “The way to help him is to keep him in the circle, let him sit down with you at the Communion table; do not be hard on him, try to win him back, throw your arms of love about him and sympathize with him.” The unrepentant man will be more hardened in his iniquity if you do that. Put him outside in the Devil’s domain, let him know that he has forfeited all title to a place with the people of God—that he has been put back into the world where Satan rules. That is what he means when he says, “Deliver such as one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” What has caused all this trouble? The activity of the flesh. Very well, put him out in that sphere where he will find out that “it is an evil and a bitter thing to forsake the Lord his God.” When he finds himself abhorred by men and women who love Christ, when he finds his sin is a stench in the nostrils of Christian people, he may break before God. If, in spite of his sin, he has really been born again, he will break. If he has been a false professor, he will plunge deeper and deeper into evil things.” Ironside continues, “The greatest kindness that the people of God can do to a man who is deliberately going on in willful sin is to refuse Christian fellowship to him. As long as you treat him as a brother he will only be puffed up in his ungodly ways and it will be harder to reach him. But if you obey the Word, God will work toward his recovery and restoration.”
I believe that Christians within the American church need to learn to fear God over man and respond directly to sin within the body in gentleness and love.
In conclusion, personal holiness has become passé in today’schurch, especially among the millennial generation. As a result/consequence, we look little different than the world around us. Unless we respond with a new resolve to address our sinning brother/sister as laid out into Scripture, the church in America may well slide into obscurity when the Voice of Truth and Message of Hope needs to be communicated in this most desperate hour.
For further reflection on this topic, Francis Chan preached a powerful and challenging sermon on this topic a few years ago. It has generated much thought and reflection in my life and is worth the approximately 45 minutes to watch.