What if I don’t like our president?

At the end of eight years, the general population is almost always ready for a change.  In the history of our country, it has only happened a couple of times that one political party was able to see their candidate take office after eight years.  We see ourselves getting too progressive and long to return to our heritage and then we feel so stuck in our ways that we need some serious change.  New generations rise up and consider their values earth-shattering and they rock the country, only to get bogged down in the mundane and a new generation rises up.

For the next month and a half we are in a unique situation where we still have an acting president but the next one has already been chosen.  This means something profoundly true:  almost everyone very strongly dislikes one of the two men.  The voting world who chose President Elect Donald Trump is sick and tired of Barack Obama, while many others still consider him to be one of the best presidents our country has known and fear that Trump is going to single handedly destroy our nation and “undo all the progress we have seen” these past eight years.  In short, if you are neutral about both men – or possibly even like both men, you are probably very far removed from politics.

One of the attributes that makes our nation unique and great in many people’s eyes is our first amendment:  our freedom of speech.  We can say whatever we darn well feel like saying and no one can harm us for it – or judge us, as the culture now states.  There are some tricky aspects to that as we can still be legally protected from slander and harassment, but none of us lives in fear that our daily conversation, our social media posts or even our blog posts will land us in jail.  We have an inalienable right to our opinions and we will make them known.

God, however, has a different opinion about all of that.  Slander, gossip and disrespect are all sins – which are fundamentally rooted in pride, arrogance and selfishness.

“Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.”

– Ps 101.5

“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.”

– Prov 10.18

“Speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

– Titus 3.2

God simply and profoundly commands us to speak evil of no one.  Not only that,  he clearly and profoundly commands us to respect our leaders:

“Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

– 1 Peter 2.17

One might object to this commandment because of how wicked our current or upcoming president is.  We simply cannot respect or honor a man who (fill in the blank).  But Peter was writing to the early church who was being persecuted and murdered.  The people were “scattered” across the known world – they were running for their lives.  And Peter’s command was to honor the king:  the king who would murder them for loving and serving Jesus.  Is Obama murdering us?  Is Trump threatening to murder us?  Are we running for our lives?  Even if this were the case we would still be commanded to honor the president.

One may object further and cite our form of government which allows us a voice in choosing our leadership and laws.  “We must speak out and help others make informed decisions.”  “It is our civic duty to have a strong opinion and to play our role.”  Yes, I whole-heartedly agree that we live in a unique and wonderful country whereby we are granted a part (albeit a very small part) of the decision making process.  This is why presidential candidates spend months and millions of dollars campaigning:  they must win our vote!

I would also argue, however, that there is a good and right way to make informed decisions and even to disagree with the values and positions a candidate would take while still respecting and honoring him (or her).  There is even a godly way to recognize a candidate’s moral failures, sin and perceived lack of qualification without slander, gossip and sin.

The reality is simple.  We live in a fallen world.  We are functioning in a fallen and broken system.  Democracy is not God’s form of government!  We are allowing ourselves to be governed by fallen and broken people.  Even if our president were the most mature and godly man to walk the face of the Earth, he would still be a sinner and a man.  He would make mistakes and we would disagree with him on something.  And each of us are fallen and broken people.  Imperfect people will choose imperfect leaders and mistakes will be made.  Period.  And yet we are commanded to respect and honor one another, and we are commanded to respect and honor our leadership.

Scripture does clearly command us to fight sin and pursue holiness.  Thus we see the example of Jesus, the apostles and many others to disobey the leadership when they would have us sin or not follow God (Acts 4.19. 5.29).  We also have the example of some of the greatest forefathers in our faith standing up against political sin, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the abundance of people who fought against the slaughter of the Jews and non-Arians in WWII.  We must never follow blindly, we must always evaluate our own actions and our government by Scripture, and we must refuse to sin even when we would be commanded to by men.  And we are fortunate enough to live in a society where we might be able to make an impact and bring about change!

But this in no way changes God’s expectation of us that we love all men and that we honor the position of king (or president in our nation).

So let me simply ask you this question:  Are your facebook posts and your political conversations Biblically loving, respecting and honoring the president?  Have you slandered Trump, Hillary or Obama?  Sure, you might do a better job.  Sure, you might know better.  But God does not give us a pass to disrespect or not love someone just because we know better.  He sovereignly and intentionally places every king and president in power.  Do you trust Him for that?  Do you follow His leadership when He gives you an opportunity to make a positive change?  Do you obey Him and respect authority?

You do not have to like your leader.  You do not have to agree with him either.  In fact, you are expected to weigh your actions and obedience against Scripture an never sin in the things that you do – therefore you should intensely evaluate your leadership  But you must love him.  And you must respect him.  Otherwise, we bring the condemnation of God upon ourselves:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

– Rom 13.1-2

Slander is still slander when spoken against our leadership.  Gossip is still gossip when spoken against our leadership.  Whether you distrust or dislike our current president or our future one.  Let us examine ourselves and remember our tongues.

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”

– James 1.26

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When you do sin…

shame

Christians are those holy people who live perfect lives and never do anything wrong.  Right?  Either that or they are a bunch of hypocrites who live just like the world and yet claim to have God “on their side”, or in support of whatever whacked-out thing they choose to do.  We tend to not really make room for a middle ground, recognizing the simple fact that Christians are people who should be interacting with God on a regular basis and dying to sin, yet still bound to their flesh and making mistakes and giving in to temptation from time to time.

Because of this fact – even within the Christian community – we tend to put up walls and be minimally vulnerable with one another.  Christ has given us the most beautiful community in which we should depend on one another for accountability and Spiritual sharpening, but yet we think that those around us are not falling into sin and we are too afraid of damaging our reputation to confess our struggles to one another.

But there is hope!

As long as we are in our earthly bodies, we will wrestle with our own personal sin, temptation and failure.  There are times that we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

“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 5.17

Notice here that the flesh and the Spirit are directly opposed to one another, and by giving in to one you are suffocating the things that the other desires.  When we submit to and follow the Spirit, we are not doing the things that we would please in our flesh.  When we submit to the flesh, we are not doing the things that we would please in our Spirit.

We might be tempted to blame the enemy or Satan when we sin, but the simple reality is that our flesh wants things that are sinful, and sometimes we give in.  Yes, there may be times that we are lured by an outside force, but by-in-large we lead ourselves into those situations.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.13-15

The simple reality is that sin looks attractive.  It feels good, at least for the moment.  And often times it starts small and snowballs or grows over time as we become immune to the conviction of the Spirit.  And sometimes we have been so inoculated by the world and our culture that we neglect to evaluate an action, word or deed against Scripture to even determine if it is sinful, and we sin unintentionally.

But it is all sin, it must all be confessed and we must repent from it as the Spirit leads and convicts.

So where is the hope?

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

The book of 1 John is a gut wrencher and convictor.  It makes statements that sound extremely black and white, cut and dry, such as:

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:  the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”

– 1 John 2.3-6

John even goes so far as to say that if you hate someone you are not saved (v 2.9).  Have you ever struggled to forgive someone?  Do you have any grudges in your life?  Or are you living perfectly at peace with everyone in your world?  The risk of that is our very salvation.

But yet John gives us this beautiful hope that when we do sin we have an advocate.  There is a heavenly court room in which the enemy approaches God to accuse us of our sin.  When we have confessed our sins and repented of them, however, Jesus stands as the defense lawyer to simply say, “Punishment paid”.  Jesus intercedes for us continually before the Father, taking the penalty of our sin upon Himself and presenting us as washed clean in His blood.

“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”

– Rom 8.33-34

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

– Heb 7.25

Jesus has already paid the punishment and appeased the wrath of God for our sins.  When we confess them and lay them at His feet, he covers them in His blood and deems us clean before God.  We will continue to sin, as long as we are in our bodies, and He will continue to wash us clean and empower us to die to that sin throughout the Christian life.

He has also given us community to help and push us on to holiness.  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another, to pray over one another, and to push one another on to holiness:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

Repenting is two fold:  turning away from sin and turning to God.  When you are convicted or when you give in to sin, confess it to God and turn away from it in His strength.  He continues to forgive us and sanctify us.  He forgave David for rape and murder.  Salvation was offered to those who murdered Jesus Himself.  There is nothing too great for Him.  Turn to Him, find your peace and comfort in Him, confess your sins to those who will push you on to righteousness, and rely on His mercy and grace.  You will sin, let’s be prepared for how to respond.

Let not your hearts be troubled.

comfort

Does your heart ever grow troubled?  What types of things lead to those troubles?  The future?  Decisions?  Children?  Security?  Jesus spoke on fear, anxiety and discouragement quite frequently.  His basic logic was:  God is sovereign and in control, so do not worry.  It sounds so simple, yet the vast majority of us still get worried (or concerned) when we find ourselves in transition or need (or want).

Perhaps the most dynamic command to not fear or worry is this command and promise:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.”

– John 14.1-4

Fighting sin always begins in the mind.  We have to understand what God defines as sin and submit to His Truth.  Once we recognize what sin is and see it in our lives, we have to confess our sin and begin the process of repenting from it – by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we are tempted or long to engage in whatever sin is before us, we can and must make a conscious decision to not sin.  Our emotions will be torn, but our minds are our strength.  After we successfully refuse the sin or temptation a few times, our emotions will catch up to the decision that we are making.  Thus we always begin by the “renewing of our minds” (Rom 12.1-2).

It is good discipline to intentionally claim promises of Scripture and to replace sin with a God-honoring activity when we are feeling tempted.  This keeps us from dwelling on the pleasures of sin or the immediate gratification we might seek.  Jesus regularly offered promises and hope along with His instruction to help us along this path.  For instance, “Do not let your heart be troubled” – don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t be anxious.  Instead, remember that we have an eternal home in God’s house and Jesus has prepared the way for us to get there.  He is, indeed, the way.  He utilized the same tactic when confronting fears and anxieties about our daily needs:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing?  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?  You of little faith!”

– Matt 6.25-30

Jesus uses logic to confront fear and anxiety.  Have you ever been concerned about what you will eat?  Or not having clothing?  And I don’t mean having that dream where you are giving a speech naked.  We truly want for very little, but Jesus promises that God – who feeds the birds and clothes the fields with flowers will feed and clothe us as well.  He loves us and will provide for us in the ways He deems best.

 

What is so interesting about the first command and promise, however, is the fact that Jesus gave this command to not fear during the last supper.  He had already washed the disciples’ feet, He has already sent Judas out to betray Him, He has already predicted Peter’s betrayal and yet while explaining His death and departure He seeks to comfort the disciples.  This command/promise is actually a continual flow of thought from Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s betrayal:

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me?  Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.  Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me…”

There is no break here.  Jesus is saying, I’m getting ready to die.  Peter says, I want to go wherever you go – I would die for you, and Jesus responds, you won’t even make it through tonight without denying me.  But don’t worry about it, I’ve got your eternity secure with God, just keep believing in God and in Me.

Jesus is just hours away from betrayal and the cross.  In fact, twenty four hours from this very conversation Jesus will be dead – and He knows it – and He is busy comforting the disciples about what is to come.  We see earlier in the chapter that Jesus’ heart was already troubled and in distress because of the coming events, not that He was stressed or worried in the way we get worried, but because He was dreading what was to come (John 13.21).  We can walk in faith and not desire to have to walk through what we are experiencing, as long as we claim the promises and obey throughout the trial.  Jesus obeyed and submitted to the plan of the cross even though He did not want to die on the cross and be separated from God.  He Himself claimed the promises and looked to the end goal when His heart was tempted and hurting.

We must do the same.  Look to the promises.  Are you worrying about the future or eternity?  Jesus has prepared the way for us to spend eternity with God through His death and resurrection.  He has prepared a place for us to live in eternity with God.  Are you worrying about what you will eat or wear?  God knows our needs and will provide for us, in the manner He deems best.  This may mean that we go hungry at times, or that we do not get designer clothing, but it will all work out to our best and to God’s glory (Rom 8.28).  But let us fight those fleshly worries in our minds, and let us also follow the example of Jesus who, even though His own heart was troubled, comforted those around Him.

Here is a great fighter verse for those moments when you are afraid, worried or hurting.  Use this, along with any others you already have to continually transform your mind while you walk in obedience and give our hearts time to catch up.

“When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust;
I shall not be afraid.
What can mere man do to me?”

– Ps 56.3-4

 

Our favorite sin

gossip

Let’s be honest.  Each of us has a scale of sins and wickedness by which we gauge and evaluate our personal morality and self-worth.  There are things that we would never consider in our day-to-day lives, like murder.  We think through the ten commandments and think, “I would never rob someone, I would never kill someone, I would never…” and walk away feeling pretty good about ourselves.

Then there are those sins of temptation with which we wrestle.  Sins of disposition, if you will.  We are all born with or inclined socially to certain sins:  white lies, fudging on our taxes, exaggeration, gossip, pride, slander, etc.  Some of us might be inclined to the large-scale sins like murder and grand larceny, but for the average Joe, it is typically these sins of the heart and more personal sins that tempt us on a regular basis.

But lastly there are those sins that we actually enjoy and with which we have made peace.  These are those most dangerous of sins.  Any sin with which we have made peace can potentially separate us from God.  Forever.  Again, it can be any of the listed sins from the major or tempting sins, but they are typically sins of the heart.  And what is most terrifying about these sins is that we not only accept them and allow them to continue in our own lives, but we also are keenly aware of other Christians preforming them and we give them approval in doing so.

This is a terrifying reality, of which the Bible speaks extremely harshly:

“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

– Rom 1.28-32

Read through that list again slowly.  It is a depraved mind that is full of greed or envy.  It is wickedness to gossip or slander.  Pride, insolence, any strife or boasting.  Disobedient to parents!  Anyone who is unloving, untrustworthy, or without understanding.  This mention of understanding is not knowledge based, it is someone who carelessly passes by someone in need – perhaps with a disability – and just continues about their own lives without concern for the person in need.  Do you avoid that mentally handicapped person who shows up at your church every week?

Pride, slander and gossip are so detrimental and yet so much a part of our lives.  In the church world, we might have felt convicted about any of those three, but in order to continue to placate our flesh, we dress them up as prayer requests.  “Please pray for Suzie Q, you won’t believe what happened…”  Or, “We really need to remember John Doe, he is struggling with…”  Or even still, “Pray for me, I really need/deserve/am angry at…”

We, if we allow this kind of attitude and conversation within the church are just as guilty as those who do it:  We “give hearty approval” by listening to their prayer requests, throwing out a verbal hail mary, and entertaining the sin (Rom 1.32).

But the danger of this sin is eternal:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.

– Heb 10.26-27

John teaches us that there is grace when we sin, provided we confess it, repent from it and never make peace with it (1 John 2.1).  Where we enter into dangerous territory is when we consider these palatable sins excusable.  When they are no longer bitter in our mouths or hearts, and we choose to enjoy them or receive the momentary pleasure that comes from them.

Hear me clearly, all sin is desirable.  It is a very rare occasion that any of us would give in to a sin that we despise and hate.  Sexual sin feels good in the moment.  Stealing provides a rush and the pleasure of ownership, if even momentary.  Lying pads one’s ego and creates some sense of image or appearance that is not true.  Even murder might provide some level of pleasure for some people.  Drunkenness pleases the senses and removes the worries of the world.

But when we are given Spiritual life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, He enters into our worlds and rocks them.  It is His purpose and job to convict us of sin and push us on to holiness – helping us and empowering us to stop sinning unto the glory of God:

“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

Thomas Watson teaches us well,

“Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”

When we choose to sin in light of His prodding and conviction in our hearts, we grieve The Holy Spirit who is working to convict us and make us hate sin.  How do we keep from grieving him?  Paul tells us clearly:

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.  Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.  He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.  Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.25-32

Slander and gossip are extremely dangerous.  Jesus said that we will each give an account for every careless word that comes out of our mouths (Matt 12.36).  God promises to destroy anyone who slanders his neighbor (Ps 101.5).  So let us not take it lightly.  Let us examine our own hearts and those with whom we interact in the Church.  Let us claim with Augustine:

“Let those who like to slander the lives of the absent know their own are not worthy of this table.”

– Augustine

All sins with which we make peace are damnable and can separate us from God.  Let us press on to fight these sins in our own lives and in the lives of those whom we love.  Let us put it away, remove it from our lives, our churches and our hearts.  Let us learn to hate the taste of sin – that it would bitter – so that Christ alone tastes sweet and we can grow in maturity.

Are there really two sides to every story?

witness

It is ingrained in us to state – and believe – that there are two sides to every story.  We sympathize with our friends when they tell us their woes, but when we debrief in our hearts or with our spouses we typically caveat the story with “this is her perspective” or “I’ve only heard one side”.  We so value individuality and the lack of absolute truth that we have muddied the reality of actual events into a philosophical goulash in which people’s perspectives and logic are more important than what happened.

For instance:  a man stands in a street intersection, pulling a gun and aiming at an approaching driver.  The driver stops, the man opens the car door, throws the driver to the ground, speeds off in the car and shoots the driver as he speeds away.  The driver dies.

These are the cold, hard facts.  Now, we can add circumstances and perspectives that alter this story to make either party appear innocent or excusable.  Perhaps the driver stole the car from the gunman, and the gunman’s child was in the back seat.  Perhaps the gunman was fleeing from a robber and his gun accidentally discharged while he was getting into the car.  Perhaps the two were convicts who escaped prison and turned on each other the moment they cleared the prison walls and both were running for their freedom while trying to frame the other.  Perhaps one of the parties is mentally handicapped and did not understand the ramifications of his actions.

It is always good and helpful to gather as many facts as possible when evaluating a story and situation.  Circumstances can add dimension and understanding to an event and help us to rightly evaluate events and guilt.  This is one reason God gave clear instructions that whenever a case was brought to the court, it could only be tried on the account of two or more witnesses:

“A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.”

– Deut 19.15

Where we often fail, however, is to allow the evidence of two or three witnesses to confirm an event.  We have become so softened to nuance that we desire everyone to not only have the opportunity to defend his actions, but to offer sympathy and alternatives to punishment.  We think that if we can understand why someone did something then we can help him change at the core level.  We believe that everyone is fundamentally good and we can help or rehabilitate them with the right understanding.  In short, we make excuses.

The Church has been given quite the opposite command, however.  We, as believers, have been taught clearly the reality of sin.  Lying.  Cheating.  Fornication.  Adultery.  Murder.  Stealing.  Idolatry.  Pride.  Gossip.  The list goes on and on, and even if we cannot quote the ten commandments or the deeds of the flesh which are listed in various places throughout Scripture, believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit to convict us when we indulge in sinful activities (John 16.8).  As harsh as it sounds, sin is black and white.  Sex outside of marriage is wrong.  Period.  Gossip and slander is sin.  Period.  There are times that we might find ourselves in a philosophical dilemma of self-defense or looking out for the greater good, but by in large our experience with sin is simply to gratify the flesh.  Most people do not lie, steal, or kill with pure motives.  And this is why God sets the standard for multiple witnesses:  to protect the accused and to hold accountable the accuser.

But since we understand the fact of sin and its consequence, the Church has been strongly commanded how to handle it:  accountability and church discipline.  These things go hand in hand.  It starts on the individual level:  If you see your brother or sister in sin, or if someone has sinned against you, you have been commanded to go to that person and confront him.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

– Matt 18.15

Notice that this assumes fault.  Jesus does not say, “ask him what he was thinking” or “evaluate the circumstances”.  No.  Jesus says, “show him his fault”, and then the sinner has the opportunity to repent or continue into the discipline process.  There very well may come an explanation for why the sin was committed, but Jesus is not concerned with the logic or excuse.  Jesus is concerned with repentance and change.

Thus, if the one who sinned does not not listen, we take the next step:  take one or two people with you to confront him again:

“But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.”

– Matt 18.16

Notice here, that this is not necessarily an ongoing sin.  Sometimes we think we should just get over a sin and utilize Church discipline for someone who continues in sin consistently.  But again, Jesus is concerned about our repentance and heart towards that sin.  If someone stole from another, the restitution of property is part of the repentance.  If someone cheated on his spouse, confession of the sin is part of the repentance.  If someone lied, gossiped or shamed another, apologizing and making right what was broken is part of the repentance.  If these things are refused – even if the sin or offense is over – we must take witnesses to confirm the event.  Because God is primarily concerned about our hearts and attitudes towards sin, and if we are unwilling to repent or confess sin, then we most likely are not saved.

If the offender still does not confess or repent, we take the next step:  go to the church at large:

“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.”

– Matt 18.17

If someone can stand unrepentant in his sin when the entire church agrees that he has sinned, we are to remove him from our midst.  He has proven himself to not be a believer because he will not submit to God by confessing his sin and repenting from it.  Recognizing our sin and guilt is the first step on the path to salvation.  If we are not guilty and condemned, then we do not need a savior.  Thus if a person is choosing to embrace sin and his own autonomy over his life, He has not submitted to Jesus as Lord and is not a Christian.

But what about “his side” of the story?  Most people can make themselves sound innocent or present themselves as the victims in their circumstances.  It has become common place to say that situations like divorce are always two sided.  But the simple reality is, that is just not true, always.  Yes, it is true that no person is perfect.  No marriage is perfect.  No friendship is perfect.  But one person’s imperfection or sin never warrants another person’s sin.

Philosophy aside, consider this:  A gay man marries a Christian woman because he thinks marriage will change who he is and hopes that her faith will wear off on him.  He never tells her of his disposition, and lives a life of turmoil until he can no longer handle it and eventually divorces her and gives in to the homosexual lifestyle.  Is the woman perfect?  No.  Of course not.  She might lash out at him for being unwilling to be physically intimate with her.  She might get angry or bitter because they will never have children.  She might get angry or bitter when she realizes the fact that he deceived her.  Is there something more she could have done to save the relationship or marriage?  Is she at fault for the divorce?

No.

This is not a two-sided event.  Sure, the man can paint a sad picture to make his friends feel badly for him: that he has spent so much of his life confined by society, that he is finally being true to himself, and that his wife was a terrible person anyway…but the fact of the matter is he sinned.  He deceived his wife, he entered into a covenant with her and did not keep it, and he divorced her for unbiblical reasons.  This is not a two-sided event.  Her sins of anger, bitterness, and just normal life failures do not justify his sin, and there is nothing she could have done to save the marriage.

It takes three people (God, husband and wife) to make a marriage work and one to break it.

Rape.  Child molestation.  Deception.  Gossip.  These things are never excusable because of the other person’s sin.  The old adage is true:  You can only control yourself.  If someone sins against you, you do not then have the freedom to turn around and sin against them.  The wife is indeed guilty of the sin of bitterness, and should seek to love her husband.  If he has been unfaithful to her or divorces her, the Bible says that she is free to move on and remarry because she is not guilty in the divorce – but anger, bitterness, gossip and sins of the like are not excusable and she must confess and repent from them (1 Cor 6-7).

Consider Jesus.  He came to the Earth declaring Himself to be God.  It was because “He made Himself equal with God” that the pharisees and Jews were trying to kill Him (John 5.18).  If we consider their side of the story, it would be extremely convincing.  God had given a promise to Abraham to make the Jews a great nation who would inherit the land of Israel.  They had lived in the land and then were sent into captivity because they had not kept God’s Law.  The very foundation of the Law was to have no other gods or idols, and to only worship God.  To claim deity is blasphemy, punishable by death (Lev 24.16).  Yes, they did not understand Jesus, yes they were wary of His power, but they were weighing Jesus’ claims against the Law and found Him guilty.

Unfortunately for them, Jesus is God and therefore was neither lying nor blaspheming and therefore not guilty of death.

So do they get a pass?  Can they justify themselves by explaining their side of the story?  No. Jesus pronounces terrible judgment on them (Matt 23).  Their sin is not justified or excused just because they thought they were obeying the Law.  They sinned.  Perhaps the most terrible of all sins.  And yet our logic would offer them a chance to defend themselves.

We need to get real about sin.  Yes, we need to remember that the voice of two or three witnesses is vital to avoid false incrimination and to help establish the facts, but we also need to validate the person who has suffered injustice.  We need to get real about confronting sin, but we also need to get real about moving on from sin.  If a person confesses and repents from his sin when confronted, then it is over.  Jesus says that person “has been won”.  Paul says that we should address these conversations carefully because of our own tendency to fall and sin:

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

– Gal 6.1

The reality is, we are all going to sin.  We will all need someone to point out sin in our lives throughout our entire lives.  And our love for one another should help us to confess and move on from those sins without permanently damaging our reputation or standing.  Peter was blessed to preach at Pentecost and lead thousands of people to faith just days after he denied Jesus.  God hates sin, and so should we.  God identifies sin, and so should we.  God honors repentance, and so should we.  God does not keep a record of wrong, and neither should we (1 Cor 13).

We might find that we are tempted to believe that there are “two sides” to every story, but sin is sin and one person’s sin never justifies another’s.  We are all responsible to confess and repent of our own personal sin, even if we have been sinned against.  Why?  Because our sin is ultimately an offense against God, and He judges sin with the harshest judgment.  And while our actions may cause an offense to another person, they never justify another person sinning against us.

Morality Vs. Salvation

morality

Is Christianity just fancy moralism?  So many Christians today are known for what they do not do and what they oppose.  We don’t drink, we don’t party, we don’t wear skimpy clothes, etc.  And the most holy amongst us are known more for what we do do instead of what we do not do:  we go to church, we give money (or little bags with snacks and a Bible) to the homeless, we volunteer, etc.  Is that the foundation of Christianity?  Did Jesus die on the cross so that we can clean up our lives and feel better about ourselves?

Moralism is as old as creation. The very first people, Adam and Eve, had two sons – Cain and Abel.  Abel loved God and offered sacrifices from love and Cain was jealous because he wanted God to accept his sacrifices, and instead of getting his heart right he murdered his Abel.  As soon as God handed down the Law of His expectations, there were people who set out to keep it in their own strength for their own glory.  God has been exceedingly clear about His expectations of humanity:  both on the heart level and on the outward – or pragmatic level, and human pride has always lent some to the effort of self-approval through keeping the law.  Morality.

It is also true that the Old Testament is centered on the Mosaic Law of God, and the New Testament is full of commandments for Christians saved by grace.  There is no doubt throughout the entirety of Scripture that man’s problem is sin – we are all condemned to death and eternity in Hell because of our sin and when we come to God for salvation through Jesus Christ, we are still commanded and expected to stop sinning (Rom 6.23, Gal 5).

The end goal, however, is not moralism.  God is not primarily concerned with our actions, He is primarily concerned with our hearts.  This has been true since the beginning.  When Cain killed Abel and interacted with God, God was not primarily concerned about his actions of offering a poor sacrifice and killing Abel, He was concerned about his heart:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, [will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

– Gen 4.6-7

When God gave the Law to Moses for the Hebrew people to observe, the first and primary commandment was to Love God with everything and to not worship other gods or idols.  The first three of the ten commandments, in fact, deal specifically with this command.  He sums up the whole Law thus:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4-5

And the summary of the entire Bible proclaiming the truths about the end times lists those sinners who will be condemned to Hell, even in light of salvation by grace alone through faith alone:

“But for the cowardly and [unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but we have similar lists throughout all of the New Testament which exhort Christians to stop sinning.

Compounding the issue of moralism is the prevalence self-acceptance and self-realization in western thinking.  Philosophy has lent us to believe that there are no true absolutes, that we all have autonomy to determine our own paths, and that there is truly no right and wrong.  Lying is acceptable in certain situations, murder in others, deceit against immoral persons or governments and even theft to care for the less fortunate.  No longer are there black and whites, but everything is a shade of grey and we are left to determine our own way.

Moralism, fundamentally, is looking to an outward standard and attempting to attain that standard in our own strength and power.  It can be based on aversion (avoiding certain activities) or action (preforming certain activities).  Either way, it is a person proving his righteousness by his actions.  Self-realization, fundamentally, is looking inward to realize who one is at the core and development of a life system based on one’s own valuation of right and wrong.

Salvation, however, is neither of these.  The Law was given to us to show that we can never keep God’s law perfectly and therefore never be moral or good enough to earn His favor.  Paul teaches us, in fact, that the entire point of the Law is to reveal our sinfulness and therefore the frivolity of trying to keep it in our own strength:

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”

– Rom 7.7-8

Scripture also teaches us that the heart is deceitful above all else, that we are Spiritually dead apart from Jesus, that there is none righteous and none who seeks after God in his own strength and that we are all fundamentally wicked (Jer 17.9, Eph 2.1, Rom 3.10-12).  Therefore, self-realization and determining our own truth leads us only down the wide path of destruction (Matt 7.13-14).

What does all of this mean?  Simply put, it means that we – in and of ourselves – are neither capable of being good enough nor able to prove ourselves by our logic and making peace with our decisions.  We need a savior.

Thankfully, salvation is the answer.  Salvation is that work of God whereby we are Spiritually awakened, we are changed at the core level and transformed into new beings.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

Once we have been Spiritually awakened and empowered by the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the Spirit begins changing us such that we keep the commandments of God because we love Him and want to please Him, rather than trying to prove ourselves or simply be good people.  We are no longer students, sitting in class learning a lesson and proving ourselves on a test, we are now children who love our father and long to please him by obeying what he says to do.  We do not fear a bad grade, we fear disappointing our father.

This reality teaches us that morality is not our internal realization – God has established a perfect standard and He expects us to obey, but He enables us and drives us to obey it by transforming our hearts to be willing to submit to His leadership and direction.  We are therefore compelled by the Spirit within us to please God, not driven by our need of approval or self-validation.

It is by this reality only that we are given commands.  And Paul clarifies for us beautifully that the works of the flesh are sinful, but our obedience is purely the works or “fruit” of the Spirit living in us:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.19-23

People who practice the sinful deeds will not inherit the kingdom – because they are sinful and sin deserves damnation.  But we will only truly discontinue these sins and live in righteousness when we have been transformed at a heart level and given Spiritual life, and thus the Holy Spirit can live through us and exemplify all of those righteous attributes.

So what does this mean practically?  How do I get Spiritual life and live by the Spirit?  How do I stop trying to prove myself and live in freedom, aiming to please my Father?

Jesus teaches us that our Spiritual and eternal life begins at the moment we are born Spiritually (John 3).  When we hear the Gospel and long to be made right with God, we confess our sins, begin the process of repentance and are given the Holy Spirit.  If you have had a longing to be made right with God, have confessed your sins and are experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life, then you have Spiritual life!  The Holy Spirit is alive within you.  It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of sin and righteousness (John 16.8).  Therefore, as we are reading the Scripture, understanding God’s hearts and desires, the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin in our lives and push us on to change.  We will know at a heart level that God is displeased with our laziness, with our lying, with our selfishness and with our pride.  He will then, through promises in Scripture, enable us to change.

This will be a lifelong process.  As long as we are in our human bodies, our sinful nature and our flesh will wage war against the Spirit.  Sin is pleasurable and desirable, and we will give in to it.  But the Spirit will convict us of it and the love that we have for God will drive us long for change and obey.

“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 5.17

We will fight sin on the heart level, on the actions level, and we will need tools to help us along the way.  Replacement tactics work very well:  when we are tempted to sin, we purposefully turn to God instead.  When we are tempted to look at pornography, we stop and pray or call a trusted friend to chat.  When we are tempted to go out drinking or partying, we call our Christian friends and gather together for wholesome entertainment.  When we are tempted to have an affair or fool around with a girlfriend before marriage, we turn to our spouse or go out on group dates to hold us accountable.

We can also utilize fighter verses when the sin is mental or emotional.  Are you fighting fear?  We can claim the promises of God that we have nothing to fear – even if we should die we would be in the presence of God and the troubles of this world will be over!  Are you fighting depression?  We can claim the promises of God that we are His beloved children and He has given everything so that we can be saved.  Are you fighting doubt?  We can claim the promises of faith, provision, or whatever specific doubt we might have.  Thus it is important to be in the Scripture daily and to have accountability in wise friends and mentors who can push us on in these truths and disciplines.

God is ultimately concerned about our hearts and the drive to please Him because of our Spiritual transformation.  Our morality is worthless because we can never be good enough.  Our self-realization is also worthless, because apart from Him we are Spiritually dead.  God Himself will give us Spiritual life and when He transforms us from the inside out, we will be driven by a love for Him to please Him by obeying Him.  We cannot obey Him, however, if we do not know the Scriptures and understands what He wants from His children!  So let’s get busy about loving and knowing God.  Let’s be transformed and work on pleasing our father, not trying to earn His approval.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.'”

– John 14.23

Why We Cannot Be Switzerland.

switzerland

Do you remember the childhood pacifist response to confrontation, “I am Switzerland!”  You could listen sympathetically to two friends who were mad at each other for any reason, but when a quarrel would break out in a large group the peace keepers would refuse to take sides, claiming to be neutral – like Switzerland always is – and just wait for the conflict to be resolved and everyone to be happy again.  This is a fairly safe method of conflict management for seven year-olds because rarely is the offense worthy of a life-long feud and while the reconciliation process might be lacking, the conflict is quickly forgotten by distraction.

What does last, however, is the implantation of the worldly worldview that it is best not to intervene.  Our young minds were molded into pacifism, cowardice and selfishness all because we were never trained to rightly and Biblically handle confrontation and sin.  We think if we bury our heads in the sand, someone else will figure it out.  We think that it is not our problem or business, so we turn our backs and ignore the situation.  We do not recognize the eternal consequences of the situation and just wait around for things to work themselves out.  We do not want to pick sides, try to befriend both sides, and end up with nothing in the end.

Does the Bible have anything to say about all of this?

Yes, actually.  It has a lot to say.  First of all, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in humility.  If we have been saved, then we have recognized our own sin, we have recognized the weight of that guilt, we have confessed our sins (and are continually confessing them) to God and to close friends, we are repenting of our sins, and we are forgiving those who offend us (Matt 6.12, 18.22).  If we all were capable of dying to ourselves at every moment and in every situation – putting one another first the way Scripture commands – this would be a non-conversation.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

 – Phil 2.3-4

Secondly, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in love.  It may feel like the loving thing to let people do whatever they want, but we all know that sometimes love intervenes.  Loving parents do not let children put themselves in harm’s way.  “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”, right?  And we all know the intervention that is required to help a friend who has been allowed to destroy themselves for years.  But more importantly, we recognize that when someone’s heart has been hardened against repentance, his eternity is at stake (Heb 10.26).  This is why Scripture commands us to confront sin in one another, pushing one another on to holiness, and holding one another accountable.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  “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.”

 – Matt 18.15-17

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”

 – Heb 10.24

Notice here, that Jesus does not say “If a brother sins against you”, but rather “if your brother sins”.  We often try to excuse ourselves from responsibility because we are not a part of the conflict.  But Jesus says no matter what, confront him so that we might see him repent and be restored and pulled back from the snares of the devil!  It is the loving thing to address sin, so as to help one another along the way to salvation.  We do this with greatest humility and tenderness, knowing that we ourselves are not perfect or above temptation:

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

 – Matt 7.3-5

Thirdly, we will be convicted to approach life, relationships and conflict when we understand God’s expectation of us:

“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.  When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.  Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.  However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself.”

 – Ez 3.17-21

If we do not confront sin in our brothers and sisters, their blood is on our hands.  If love and compassion for our brother who is toying with his Spiritual walk and eternity will not drive us to say something, then perhaps the direct commandment from God and the consequence of forever having his blood on our hands will.

“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself:  God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

But how do we know?

Ok, so now we know that we are commanded to confront one another and it is the loving thing to do, how do we know what to say and when to say it?  To oversimplify, we take note of the unrepented sin.  As redeemed and forgiven children of God, we should not walk around looking to beat people up for mistakes and sins that they have committed.  Rather, when we observe that someone has given in to any sin, they have made peace with it, they are not changing from it.

What this means, first and foremost, is we must know what God calls and considers sin.  He is God, and He gets the final say.  Everything from murder to sexual immorality (lust, fooling around with someone and sex outside of marriage, pornography, adultery), to lying, to bitterness, pride and selfishness.

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

 – Gal 5.19-21

Secondly, this means that we recognize repentance is the key.  We will all stumble and fall into sins at times, we will all willingly choose to partake in sins at times, but the determining and damning factor is our response to that sin.  Do we make peace with it?  Do we enjoy it and continue in it?  Or do we recognize it, confess it and repent from it?  If you see someone repeatedly participate or give in to a sin, then we lovingly confront them and walk them through repentance holding them accountable.  If we see two friends fighting, and they are unable to come to resolution, then we confront the pride, bitterness and division – walking them through repentance and holding them accountable.  The expectation of God is not for us to simply point out sin in one another, but to actually enable and walk alongside one another to maturity.

We also understand that God is sanctifying us all differently and we are at different points in our Spiritual development and maturation.  So when we breach a topic of sin, we first pray and rely on the Holy Spirit’s leading, then we bring the Scripture with us – because the person may not yet know that his actions are indeed sinful!  The Holy Spirit might not have gotten there yet with him.  The person may not be hardened in sin, but immature.  This is no excuse, and it is still our role as brothers and sisters to confront and walk alongside.  This is also much easier than dealing with someone who has given in to sin and has hardened his heart against God and Scripture.

Finally, this means that we do take sides.  We take sides against sin.  So often we gloss over confrontation and division and desire to remain neutral, but Scripture teaches us that division itself is a sin (Gal 5.20).  Has a husband abandoned his wife?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Has a wife had an affair on her husband?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone stealing from the Church or their job?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone proud, sleeping around, unforgiving or a gossip?  These are all sins.  We stand up against those sins.  It is very rare that a conflict is based purely on one person’s sin.  It does happen, though typically there is guilt on both sides.  What then?  We stand up against all sin, and we forgive, overlook and hold accountable the repentant.  Our hope and prayer is that all parties repent.  Our instruction is to push all parties to repentance, and to maintain the purity of the body by removing the unrepentant from among us.

Sin is no laughing matter.  It is, in fact, what merits our eternal damnation.  We must, in love, push one another on to holiness and for the sake of our own conscience and confront sin.  We do not want blood on our hands.  We do this all in love, all in humility, and all to the glory and honor of God, hoping that we maintain purity and holiness in our families, churches and communities.  Let us consider one another – better than ourselves – and hold one another accountable!