Thursday, November 11, 2010

A World of Sinners, A God of Mercy

In previous posts I have written on what the Bible says about sin among the brethren, but today I want to talk about how the church should deal with sin in the world.  We all know the phrase "hate the sin love the sinner," but what does that really mean?  Some love the sinner so much they accept the sin and others hate the sin so much they hate the sinner.  Today I want to share what the Bible says about dealing with sin in the world in our dealings with nonbelievers.  How we deal with sin among believers and nonbelievers is very different. 
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner— not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."  1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NKJV
We see the difference in this passage.  Whereas in the past I have written on, in effect, ostracizing believers who refuse to repent, we are not to treat those in the world the same way.  We have the responsibility of judging those inside the church, God is responsible for those outside the church.  We are not to even eat with an unrepentant believer, but Paul clearly says here that we are "certainly not" do treat those in the world the same.  In the world, we are surrounded by sinners.  We have no choice but to deal with them.  

The greatest example of living among sinners in order to minister to them is Jesus.  Jesus spent much time around sinners.  In fact, that was one of the many things the pharisees criticized him on.  We see a great example of this in Matthew 9.
Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."  Matthew 9:10-13 NKJV
Jesus did not deny that he ate with sinners. He actually defended it.  He made the great point that he was here to call sinners to repentance and you can not reach out to sinners without spending time with them.  May we have that same heart today.  We need to spend time with sinners in order to share the message of Jesus with them.  We need to go into the world in order to bring the gospel to the world.  How do we spend time with sinners?  We do so every time we are around nonbelievers.  Whether we are at work, in the mall, with friends and family, or anywhere else where nonbelievers are.  Wherever God has you is the mission field you are called to.  Do not isolate yourselves from the world when out in the world, but reach out and be that light and salt you are called to be. 

Now that it is established that we are to be among sinners in order to bring that message to them, we need to see what the Word says in how we are to do that.  First, as we saw in 1 Corinthians, it is not our job to judge the world.  Jesus would not be in front of an abortion clinic with a sign reading "Abortion is murder" nor would Jesus be at a funeral with signs reading "God hates Homosexuals".  First of all, God hates homosexuality but loves homosexuals enough to have died for their sin.  Secondly, while abortion is in fact murder and a detestable thing, it is not our job to judge them for it.  The example we see from Jesus is that He would minister to those getting or who even have gotten abortions, showing them that there is forgiveness in Him for the conviction they feel in their hearts.  The example of Jesus is that he would offer grace to the homosexual and not hatred.  Here is what He said.
"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." John 3:17 NKJV
If Jesus was not sent to condemn the world then neither are we.  We are to share the gospel so that the world might be saved.  The Gospel is not telling people what their sins are because as slaves to sin and spiritually dead that message will be meaningless to them.  We can not convict a sinner of their sins. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.  Putting up signs telling an unredeemed spiritually dead person what their sin is has no effect but to harden them in their sin.  Sharing the love of Jesus with them will have an effect.  Sharing the Word of God with them will have an effect.  Praying for them will have an effect.  Even if they do not believe they are sinners, telling them that Jesus died for their sins stabs right to their soul and plants a seed that God can make grow.  Jesus again is our example.
Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. "Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."  John 8:3-11 NKJV
This is a wonderful example.  A woman caught in the very act of adultery is brought to Jesus, and the pharisees reminded Him what the law said to do about it, and asked Him how she should be dealt with.  He wrote something on the ground (and there are so many ideas on what that may have been, but I am personally of the belief that He was writing their sins) and told whomever of them was without sin to throw the first stone.  When dealing with sinners, we have to understand that we were once where they were.  We were once a slave to our own sins and it was only by Jesus that we are righteous before God.  Telling others that they are sinners implies that we are better then them.  Going around telling others how badly they sinned is forgetting how badly we ourselves sinned.  We make ourselves the Pharisees of today.  We have to be humble in our outreach as Jesus died just as much for our sins and He did for theirs. 

Am I saying that we should not preach against sin? Certainly not!  I am saying that our outreach can not be focused on their sin, but I am not saying we should excuse it.  Note the last part of what I quoted from John 8 when Jesus exhorted the woman to "go and sin no more."  Jesus extended grace, but by that grace he also began the work of her sanctification.  By telling her to go and sin no more He was telling her that she was not to be the same person that she was.  God was now working in her heart.  His exhortation would have been meaningless if He were not. 

Some churches make the mistake of ignoring the last part of that passage.  She did come to Jesus as she was, but Jesus did not leave her the way He found her.  So where do we find the balance between preaching Jesus and not excusing their sin?  How does someone know they are a sinner that needs to repent if we do not tell them what their sin was?  Let's start at the Great Commission.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.  Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV
We are told else where to preach repentance.
Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. " Matthew 24:46-37 NKJV
How do we preach repentance without preaching sin?  How does the world know it needs a savior if they do not know they are sinners?  Those are very good questions.  The answer, again, is that we can not convince or convict the world of their sin.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that.  We addressed that as one of His roles in my post on the Holy Spirit.  We also can not make anyone repent.  That again is the work of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which does not happen until after someone receives Christ.  The bottom line is that we are to preach Jesus.  For some we will just be planting seeds, for others it will be the answer to a longing the Holy Spirit is already causing inside them.  One can not be a disciple until someone is following Jesus, meaning obeying His commands.  One can not obey His commands until he repents of his sin.  One can not repent of their sins until they come to Christ and the Holy Spirit dwells within them.  One can not come to Jesus unless we preach Jesus to them.  That is our role.  We are to preach Jesus. 

And here is where some balance comes in.  We can not teach about a savior if we do not teach what someone is being saved from.  Someone may not want freedom from sinning, they probably love their sin.  This is where "fire and brimstone" come in.  But this also must be done in love.  We can not get on a soap box and scream out to the masses that they are all going to Hell in their sins.  But on the other hand, we can not share why Jesus needed to die for our sins without teaching God's hatred of sin.  We can do that without bashing them on the heads about their own sins.  We teach God's hatred of sin.  We teach God's judgment of sin.  We teach  God's wrath poured out on Jesus on the Cross for our sins.  We teach that everyone (including ourselves) has sinned and needed Jesus to come into our lives.   

So how do we as Christians hate sin in a sinful world?  How is that hatred expressed?  It is not expressed in our words, but in our lives.  We show our hatred of sin by not sinning, plain and simple.  We express it by not going out drinking with our friends.  We express it by walking away if a conversation turns to gossip.  We express it by not joining in dirty jokes or using foul language.  We express it by showing that Jesus has changed us.  Our lives are our testimonies to the power of God in our lives.  Our lives define our hatred of sin, not our words.  If you want to show the world that sin is wrong, then do not act like you love it.  Taking a stand for righteousness is in how we live our lives and in not joining the world in its sin. If you do not think that makes a powerful statement, try telling your friends that some sin you commonly fall into when around them is no longer part of your life.  If you tend to go out and get drunk on Friday nights, next time tell your friends that God has been working on your heart and you just do not feel it is right to do that anymore.  See how they react and tell me it is not a more powerful statement than anything else you could have done. 

So how do we deal with sin when someone does not know what they are doing is sin?  For example, there are many homosexuals that believe what they do is right.  This is where our pulpits come in, and this is where our pulpits fail.  The only reason that any homosexual believes what he does is not sin is because there are too many churches teaching otherwise.  The only reason that any sinner believes they are not sinning is because of our own failures in our lives and in our pulpits.  This post is in regards to how we preach to an unsaved world, but now how we preach from our pulpits to the body.  In our churches, sin needs to be preached.  If we are to teach people follow what Christ commanded, we have to teach what Christ commanded.  There is no way around that.  If we are to teach repentance, we have to teach what those who came to the Lord need to repent from.

In the end, we can not change hearts. We can only share the choice to live in their sins or come to Jesus.  Even if they choose Jesus, they come to him as they are.  The homosexual comes to Jesus as a homosexual.  The harlot as a harlot.  The drunk as a drunk. It is up to the Holy Spirit to change them because it is only God who can free them from that bondage.  They come as they but do not stay as they are as Jesus comes into their lives and the Holy Spirit into their hearts.  Be that light and salt of the earth, preach the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for their sins and share the hope that is in Him.  Live you life as a testimony to not only what God has done in your life, but what God can do in theirs. 
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!"  Romans 10:14-15 NKJV

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