This article by CRN managing editor Marsha West was first published October 8, 2013.
No one has any right to believe that he is indeed a Christian unless he is humbly seeking to obey the teachings of the One whom he calls Lord. Christ once asked a question that can have no satisfying answer, “Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” –A. W. Tozer
Bill and Beth (not their real names) are professing Christians. Bill gave Beth a “promise ring” so she decided that God would be okay with them living together as man and wife. If the arrangement works out, they’ll marry. If it doesn’t work out they’ll move on to the next relationship.
Beth’s mom is also a Christian. Beth opened up to me that when her mom found out she had decided to live in sin her only concern was that she could become pregnant. Both of Beth’s sisters have children out of wedlock and this understandably distresses Mom as she worries that her youngest may follow in her two older sisters’ footsteps. To me what’s more troubling than the pregnancy issue is that this Christian mother isn’t all that concerned that by living together Beth and Bill are sinning against God! In fact, she hasn’t even broached the subject with her daughter.
Except for Christmas and Easter, Beth and Bill haven’t attended church together. According to Beth, Bill has a hang up about church that he prefers keeping to himself. Since she doesn’t want to probe too deeply into her man’s past, she has decided that it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie (in bed on Sunday) and join her mother for the service. What would happen, I queried, if Bill doesn’t get over his church hang up? Beth replied sharply, “Well, he’d better!”
I also asked what her pastor would say if he knew that she was living with her boyfriend without the benefit of marriage. She appeared surprised and said with conviction, “Nothing!”
I pressed on. “A minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has no problem with Christians living in sin?” Her bemused expression spoke volumes: “If he doesn’t like it, I’ll change churches,” she stated matter-of-factly. In other words, Beth would shop around for a church with a more progressive thinker in the pulpit; a church that bends to her life-style choices, one that meets her needs.
Therein lies the problem.
By Beth’s way of thinking, the church she chooses will have to accept the sort of behavior that’s explicitly forbidden in Scripture or she’ll find one that does!
After listening to Beth attempt to justify her sinful lifestyle for several agonizing minutes, I passed on the Apostle Paul’s instructions concerning how the Church body should handle those who indulged in overt sin. Briefly stated, Paul made clear that couples involved in sex out of wedlock (heterosexual or homosexual) must be counseled by church leaders to abstain forthwith. Moreover, they had to repent of their sin and separate. Unrepentant sinners were prevailed upon by their church family to leave. This is known as “church discipline.” Paul’s instructions still apply today. In other words, God has not changed his mind.
Well, Beth was shocked. “That’s ridiculous!” she gasped. “They can’t make me leave my church, can they?”
I assured her that church discipline is biblical and that this sort of confrontation and correction has been practiced all throughout Church history (2 Thes. 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 5:12-13; Mat.18:15-17) and that the purpose is to bring the person to godly sorrow and repentance. I reminded her that some folks need a swift kick in the pants to get them to turn away from sin. However, punishment is never the goal; the aim is a fully restored relationship with God and other believers.
Beth wasn’t buying it. She retorted, “There are other couples living together and my pastor knows it. They haven’t been disciplined!”
It seemed Beth had already found a liberal pastor that had chosen to ignore the biblical teaching on “fornication.” I had taken up the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) to defend my position so I decided it was best to leave it at that and simply pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate Beth’s mind and convict her of sin.
Those of us who spend time reading the Bible are fully aware that from beginning to end sin is a major topic. When we read through the Old Testament we learn that our Creator was justifiably at odds with His people over their continual sin and their unrepentant hearts. In our postmodern world, many of God’s people don’t realize that when we sin—no matter how big or how small it is—we are sinning against God. Psalm 51:4 makes this clear:
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
In his essay A God-Centered Understanding of Sin, Stephen Witmer wrote: “The Bible consistently presents sin as mainly a ‘vertical’ (person-to-God) offence.” … “The seriousness of sin is a function of the worth and value of the one who is sinned against.” (emphasis mine)
Consequently, the Lord deals harshly with sinners. Take for example David and Bathsheba. Most Christians are familiar with this story and the result of their adultery, which is first and foremost a sin against God. So His punishment was harsh:
The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. On the seventh day the child died. (2 Samuel 12:15-18)
God’s judgment was that the child Bathsheba borne to David should die. Yes, David confessed his sin, he sincerely repented, and the Lord forgave him. Still, there were grave consequences for what he did. In the New Testament we have the story of Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1) In a nutshell, the couple lied to the Holy Spirit and to God’s people. His punishment for their hypocrisy was swift — He struck them dead on the spot. Yes, our Heavenly Father is merciful and long suffering. However, He will only tolerate sin for so long. Ananias and Sapphira paid with their lives! Many believers fail to realize that an attribute of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is that He is “independently, infinitely, immutably holy.” Revelation 15:4 says:
Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.
Thus, a holy God cannot tolerate sin in His presence! Psalm 29:2 reminds us:
Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
For those who wish to understand why sin is so egregious, read the following scriptures:
Devastating effects of sin, Romans 1:18-3:30
God will punish the world for its evil, Isaiah 13:11
Sin causes death, Romans 6:23
Three areas of sin: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life, 1 John 2:16
When I first became a Christian, Isaiah 59:2 hit me like a ton of bricks:
But your iniquities have separated you from God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
I was terrified to learn that sin separates us from God, that we can petition God until we’re blue in the face, but He may not be listening! In other words, He hears our prayers but chooses not to act. At times He looks the other way. To stand in God’s holy presence, our sins must be removed. How is this accomplished? By the blood of the Lamb that takes away (covers) our sins. “And he [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation [turning away God’s wrath by an offering] for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). (See also 2 Cor. 5:19; Gal. 1:4)
With all the willful unrepentant sin going on in the Body of Christ, one can’t help but wonder if God has indeed hidden His face from a whole host of believers who don’t seem to realize that sin is our mortal enemy, therefore it shouldn’t be taken lightly. So when we knowingly transgress we must sincerely repent. Moreover, we must make every effort not to become repeat offenders. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9)
Today when a pastor dares to preach on sin (or hell) it gets under the skin of the folks who go to church for sheer entertainment value. (Read my column on church entertainment here.) For many church goers hearing the “s” word is downright offensive. In point of fact, sin isn’t in their vocabulary! In an attempt to not offend their parishioners, sinner has been replaced with less offensive words such as wrongdoer. And when wrongdoers misbehave they must be reassured that God will tolerate it. These folks mustn’t be told that God severely punishes bad behavior. Their image of God is the father who places his hands on his hips and says to his defiant child: “That is not okay, Justin,” and simply walks away. No punishment. No consequences.
Sadly, more and more Christians are choosing churches that offer contemporary praise and worship songs because, through music, they feel they can experience God on a much deeper level than simply reading and studying His Word. These same people insist on hearing a message that’s positive and uplifting — not too preachy, thank you very much. About all they can handle is a sermonette that tickles the ears and makes them feel warm and fuzzy all over.
In today’s pop culture it’s all about a person’s “felt needs.” So if a minister’s message fails to meet those perceived needs, disgruntled consumers, like the aforementioned Beth, go looking for a church where sin is swept under the rug. Pastor Brent Riggs reminds us that “Sin is the essence of everything bad, wrong, ruined, spoiled, messed up and broken in your life. Therefore, you should be educated about it.”
Riggs has it right when he suggests Christians should be educated about sin.
Straightforward preaching from the pulpit on sin and hell is essential. As John Wesley so aptly put it:
Give me nothing but one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Christians must become a people who fear God, not man. “In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me” (Psalm 56:11).
When People Are Big And God Is Small—Edward T. Welch
Copyright by Marsha West, 2013. (Revised)