On Tuesday I was reflecting on the remaining sinful nature of the members of our churches, how we need to strive to hold one another accountable and in situations of non-repentance we need to remove the nominal believer from our midst.
At the end of the post I made a clarification, just as a side thought, that has been simmering on the back-burner of my thoughts for the last few days. This was the application being made to the Biblical truth: “Let us build up the reputation of the church by not expecting lost people to act like believers. It will serve no one to judge a dead man for stinking (Eph 2.1).”
Paul says that before we are saved, we are spiritually dead in our sin (Eph 2.1). Jesus says that to have Spiritual life, we have to be born Spiritually (John 3.3). Until we are conceived and born, we are not alive. [Insert caveat: I am not arguing scientifically as to the point of the beginning of life in a fetus – though I do find it interesting that God says the life is in the blood, Lev 17.11, and the blood vessels form on day 17 of gestation, with the heart pumping blood through the fetus’ body by day 21, week 3.]
This is common sense, no? How do you know you are alive? You were born. You are walking around. You have life. And it is God who gives us life, who gives us faith, who gives us Spiritual breath. How then do we know we are Spiritually alive? If you have Spiritual life! Are you sensitive to the working of the Spirit in your life? Is He living through you, growing you in the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control? All out of love for God?
So here is where I am afraid we often fall off the boat. We Christians, in our safe, comfortable, sterile bubbles are shocked that the world acts like the world. Sinners sin. Dead people stink. We are more concerned about morality than we are about people’s hearts and destinies.
What’s that? You have moved in with your boyfriend before marriage? Don’t you know that’s a sin?! Let’s gather and bigot gay/lesbian parades because God says homosexuality is an abomination. Oh, you have tattoos. And you get drunk. And you smoke. How dare you! [I hope you can infer my extreme sarcasm in this paragraph.]
Let’s open our eyes, Christians. The world is going to act like the world. These are the exact reasons that we, they, need a savior! Every single one of us is going to have to give an account for everything we have done on Earth, good and bad:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
– 2 Cor 5.10
“But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
– Rom 14.10
Dead bodies stink. They rot, they decay, vultures come and pick at them, and they are quite simply disgusting. I lived in a city when I was overseas, and would run at daybreak – to avoid the heat of the day. I could smell dead rats from a block away, even in the cool of the day! You know you have rolled your windows up a time or two when passing by a dead raccoon in the summertime.
We can bathe these dead bodies in cologne, we can cover them in flowers, we can wash them and even embalm them to preserve them for years to come. We might remit the stench, but we will never bring them to life. And since they are dead, we do them absolutely no good to try to make them prettier. Or less stinky. None.
When we meet Joe Shmoe on the street, concern #1 must be, without a doubt, is he alive? Because if he is dead, nothing else matters. All we will do is whitewash a tomb, or pave the road to Hell in gold. Is he a liar? Is he a cheater? Is he unfaithful to his wife? Is he a drunk? None of these things matter before he meets Jesus. Morality is worthless apart from saving faith. Political purity is nothing if separated from a desire to honor God.
There are times that we need to take a stand against public sin. There are times that we need to stand up for those who have no voice: to fight injustice, to free those who are kept in bondage in the sex slave or trafficking, to protect life where it would be murdered for the sake of so-called choice.
But when you encounter a person in your day-to-day who has not come to Jesus in faith for the forgiveness of his sins, it serves no purpose to condemn that person for his actions.
Instead, let us offer hope! If we are honest with ourselves, we all know that even if we are generally good people, we have sinned. Even if our morality surpasses that of the politicians, our coworkers or the population in general, we all remember that bad decision we made in our youth, or the cookie we ate when our mom denied us, the test we cheated on or the lie we told.
Jesus died on the cross for the cookie disobediently eaten, the baby aborted, the money stolen and the person murdered. And it is through the confession of His Lordship in our lives and the repentance from our sins that He gives us life. That is the good news. That is the hope that we have.
Then, and only then do we begin the battle with sin. It is once we are Spiritually born that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives and sets itself decidedly against our flesh and we fight the battle of killing our sinful tendencies and desires.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”
– Gal 5.15-16
In love we hold one another accountable to rid such sins from our lives:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
– 1 Cor 6.9-11
Let us not forget that such were we, before Christ saved us. Let us not hold dead people accountable to the standards Christ has for us after He brings us to life. Let us focus on the love of God that would give life to our Spiritually dead bodies, that would die on the cross to pay the punishment for our sins, and only exhort one another to obedience out of love and thankfulness for the forgiveness rendered as such. He who has been forgiven much loves much and does not want to dishonor the one who has forgiven him. It is through thankfulness that he obeys. Not duty. Not obligation. Not guilt. Love.
Hear me clearly. Our dying to sin is the mark of our salvation. Fighting against the temptations and failure of the flesh is the mark of the believer. Do NOT make peace with sin. Jesus’ death on the cross is not a hall pass to live however you want and spend eternity in bliss. I am simply saying we ought not and cannot try to help someone die to sin if he is not alive to righteousness, if he does not have spiritual life.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin asinstruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members asinstruments of righteousness to God.”
– Rom 6.12-13