In the news this week, another believer has fallen into mortal sin. Details are unnecessary because it will be someone else next week. Perhaps they won’t be as well known to the Christians in America but it is no longer uncommon.
Some Christians seems unsure how to handle this. We want to love the sinner and hate the sin but how do we actually do that?
God is Love
God loves everyone and He is our example. In the book of Jonah, God reminds Jonah that He knows every soul in Nineveh and that He has watched over them since they were conceived in their mother’s womb. God loves each person deeply and profoundly and they are worth dying for.
But loving someone is not a feeling. It requires action. If someone is worth dying for, that makes them worth living for and it makes their soul worth fighting for.
Have you ever read Galatians 1? Paul’s tone is harsh. How about 2 Corinthians 11? Again, harsh. But it WAS loving. You don’t let your kids or even your dogs play in a busy street without yelling at them… not to be harsh but because they are in danger! And those in mortal sin are in great danger.
Sin is Progressive
Sin is progressive. It begins as a thought. We are warned about that by Jesus. The flesh is like fire. The more you feed it, the more powerful and dangerous it grows. Flesh, like fire, never says “enough.” So walking in the flesh leads further and further into sin and debauchery. What begins as a desire works its way as we think upon it, subtly into words and small actions and then into more words and stronger actions and then it erupts into sin. By the time sin has become apparent to all, it has already gone far towards producing death.
All sins are not equal. If I fantasize about having sex with your wife, it is not nearly as bad as if I did have sex with your wife. The first sin leads to death but the second is a lot further down that same road and reveals a commitment to sin. “These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” — James 1:15
For sin to grow, a person has to deceive themselves and harden their heart.
Hebrews 3:12-19 NLT
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.
What does the Holy Spirit tell us to do?
- Make sure your own heart is not evil and unbelieving.
- Warn each other.
- Be faithful and trust God.
Make Sure Your Own Heart is Not Evil and Unbelieving
Many believers cannot pass the first test. Their own hearts are also evil and unbelieving. They cannot rebuke sin because they would have to begin by rebuking themselves. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t say, “Don’t say anything if your own heart is evil and unbelieving.” It says “MAKE SURE your own heart is not evil and unbelieving.”
How do we do that?
Matthew 6:22-23 NLT
“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. 23 But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!
When you’ve been listening to the wrong voices, you will quickly find yourself stumbling in the darkness. If you continue to toy with sin, it will lead you astray. Whatever the mind conceives, the body can achieve. You are programming your flesh to pursue destruction. This believer who has wandered into mortal sin is your warning. They never set out to do this. They deceived themselves and their flesh never said “enough.” Repent. You are also in danger of the same thing.
Everyone is drawn away by desires. We are warned that “all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things.”
The issue is our focus. Begin by putting your eyes back on Jesus. Jesus did only what He saw His Father in heaven doing and said only what He heard His Father in heaven saying. This is how He was able to live a sinless life. So take your eyes off your own desires and fix them on Jesus. When your eyes are on Jesus, believe. Trust Him. Your words are only a reflection of your thinking. Your actions are a reflection of your believing. True believing requires an action.
Be Zealous and Repent
When Jesus wrote to the church at Laodicea, they had also become evil and unbelieving. They had allowed their love of God to cool as they had become enamored with the things the world had to offer. Jesus tells them to “be zealous and repent.”
Zeal may not mean much to the average believer. It isn’t a word we use every day. So let me put it to you another way: “Be radical and repent.”
When you find yourself walking in darkness, it is not the time for half-measures. It is time to change something in a big way. What radical thing should you do? I suppose that would depend on you and where you are. Change is not easy. Sometimes the only way to change is to do something very different from what you have been doing.
When I first received Christ, I changed radically. I chose to change radically. I stopped listening to secular music. I stopped putting others down. I stopped cursing. I put on Christian music. I began to make a point to build others up. I began praying. I developed new friendships. In fact, I got rid of anything that stood between me and my God. That is zeal.
So what is getting between you and your God? Attack it. Change it. Don’t let excuses and half-measures represent your Christian life.
Even now, I can hear the excuses. Ask yourself one question—“Is this more important than my relationship with God?”
Imitate the Father and the Son
Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Put your eyes on Jesus. Imitate God.
Judas Iscariot was warned by Jesus constantly. He was stealing money from the moneybag. He was warned that Jesus would demand an accounting; He was warned that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” In fact, if you read the Gospels with Judas’ sin in mind, you will be astonished.
Judas Iscariot though, never did repent. Judas ended up in hell even though he had multiple encounters with God and had seen and witnessed miracles and was counted among the apostles of our Lord. His sin devoured his soul and led him to destruction.
The mortal sin of Judas was greed. Was Jesus silent in the face of mortal sin? No.
Warn Each Other
Deception is our enemy’s chief weapon. He can twist people in knots and have them justifying their sin. A man who leaves his wife and young children to be with his lover is not being led by the Spirit. He is walking according to the flesh.
I’ve been deceived. I know this. I understand how hard it is to tell which of the still small voices are God and which are just you. God’s Word is the standard by which we test the voices (Hebrews 4:12).
When you proclaim the truth, you are going to hurt people’s feelings. Examine the Scriptures. When has God ever been concerned about hurting anyone’s feelings?
I am fond of reminding believers that God is not very nice. God is good. God does not hesitate to hurt our feelings to save our souls. Imitate God.
Silence is NOT Golden
Some people think we should just pray—that saying anything is being judgmental but the example of God is clear on this:
2 Chronicles 36:15 NLT
The Lord, the God of their ancestors, repeatedly sent his prophets to warn them, for he had compassion on his people and his Temple.
God was not silent until the Day of Judgment. He sent prophet after prophet. He warned. He pleaded.
His Word to His prophets was clear:
Ezekiel 3:17-18 NLT
“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths.
People who have sold themselves into sin will not listen. Those who listen and repent, God will have mercy upon and forgive them and they will be saved.
Prayer can be a great thing to hide behind to maintain our silence and instead of being salt and light in our culture, we fool ourselves into thinking that all we need to do is pray instead. But love contends.
Jude 1:3 NLT
Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.
Jude had a great love for the believers he was writing to but as he tried to write and encourage them, he found himself compelled to contend for the faith and urged them to do the same.
There is a war going on over the soul of the person who has claimed Christ but has wandered into sin, but also for the heart of the church. A church must always stand for God. We are Christ’s ambassadors to this world and our purpose and duty is to stand with God against the world and call the world to repentance.
To the Church at Corinth who thought that walking in love meant affirming someone in their sin, Paul wrote a letter contending.
1 Corinthians 5:1-2 NLT
I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.
The church that produced this man was part of the problem. Paul commanded that the believers put the man out of the church and treat him as an unbeliever.
1 Corinthians 5:6 NLT
Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough?
The whole church was in danger and not just this one man.
I’ve seen this happen. I once knew a church where they “loved the sinner” instead of standing against sin and it turned the church into a game of musical beds with men and women divorcing each other and remarrying within the same congregation. Adultery became rampant.
No one stood up and asked, “How can you claim to love God and not love your own husband or wife? (1 John 4:20) Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors. What neighbor is closer to you than the one who shares your bed?”
You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.
Point them to God
We do not call upon people to merely stand and admit that they are sinners. The scripture is explicit that for salvation to come there must be repentance. As believers, we hold up the standard of who God is and call upon people to align their lives to His pattern and conform themselves to His standards. To do so, first they must believe that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him and second, they must trust Him with their hearts and their lives. It is the act of trust that produces salvation and makes us a child of God. We then become like a little child and slowly learn to imitate God with our lives. Isn’t that the whole point of John 8 and Matthew 3?
Along the way, some people stop trusting God. They take their eyes off of Him and put it on the things they desire. The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches or the desire for OTHER things enters in and they wander into self-deception and sin. They stop imitating God and begin imitating the world around them.
What happens to a person can also happen to a congregation, especially when they are always being fed candy instead of what will feed their faith and satisfy their souls. There is a place for candy, children love candy. But the menu in the church should be focused on God so that we can imitate Him.
When a congregation has grown cold and worldly, it cannot contend for the faith because their own sins accuse them. Their own hearts condemn them. They have more in common with those in rebellion against God than with the people who stand with God. They need to see Jesus.
Those who walk with Christ must contend. We don’t contend with the sinner and with an apostate church, we wrestle against spiritual forces of wickedness. Our struggle is to not compromise who God is but to lift Jesus up so that sinners may be drawn to Him. Those who are offended by truth are fools. Those who are offended by Jesus are condemned.
Be Faithful and Trust God
We become either the scent of life or the stench of death to those we lift up Jesus before. We will not be well received by those who cling to their sin instead of Christ.
The Bible teaches us not to judge sinners. It tells us we MUST judge those who claim to be saints. I do not truly care what people who are in total rebellion against God do. But those who claim Christ? They should walk like Christ.
1 John 2:6 NLT
Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.
Hating sin is not wrong. Love and hate are two horns on the same bull. The opposite of love is not hate but apathy. I do not diminish at all the love of God, repentance will lead to forgiveness. Repentance… that is a Bible word for CHANGE. It does not mean just do what you please.
Matthew 7:21 NLT
“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”
We have to be faithful and trust God and even when we are accused of hate, we must walk in love. Love does not remain silent. We choose to place ourselves between those who are deceived and death. We choose to make them trample over us and over the blood of Christ rather than allow them to wander to their deaths without warning.
Hebrews 10:29 NLT
Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us.
If we have done our part and stood faithful to God, we will have nothing to be ashamed of when we stand before God. We have loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have been Christ’s ambassadors. We have been faithful to point sinners to Christ. We have been preachers of righteousness, testifying to the truth against the ungodly.
Revelation 21:7-8 NKJV
He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Ken Van Horn is pastor of My Father’s House Family Church at 501 Broad Street in Cusseta, Georgia and author of the book: “A Greater Reward,” which is available from Amazon on Kindle. Questions for him should be asked in the form below. You may also contact him through Facebook or follow him on Twitter.