Unequally Poked

poke

A friend of mine posed an interesting question on Facebook: Is there a place for Christians to call out unbelievers on their sin?

The thread that followed posed two distinct lines of thought:

  • No. The world is already skittish when it comes to the condemnation of Christians. We need to put our fingers back in their holsters, and show the world was love is all about. Maybe then they’ll be willing to listen.
  • Yes. Love is important, but it is not passive. If you have the cure for cancer, is it loving to simply walk around healthy and hope your dying friend asks why you’re smiling? Sure, actions speak louder than words, but sometimes the right word at the right moment can make all the difference.

Let’s take the question to a practical level. What do we do with an unbelieving friend that drinks too much? Should we just set an example by not drinking around them, wearing a cross necklace to let them know where we stand? Should we volunteer to be their designated driver? Should we set them down and tell them our concerns?

I don’t think we need to open the Bible for this one. Personally, I don’t believe that drinking alcohol is a sin, not in moderation. Otherwise Jesus’ first miracle is problematic. But if alcohol is destroying a person’s mind and body, ruining their relationships, and crippling their finances, I think you can’t call yourself a friend and sit passive. Talk to your friend. But leave your Bible at home.

This holds true for plenty of sins. Adultery? How often does that end well? Compulsive lying? Murder? Theft? Come on.

But what do we do with more subtle sins like coveting or greed? Can we call unbelievers on those? Realize that you’d be speaking out against American consumerism. And with so much compromise in the Church, what leg do we have to stand on? And what if your friend flips the conversation around, calling you on your own financial worries or gaudy spending? What one person calls greed, another person calls responsibility or security.

What about things like lust, anger, or gossip? Look in the mirror.

Let’s not confuse this with evangelism. I’ve already given that topic a shot. When it comes to calling out sin, we have some obligation to one another, but what about the rest of the world?

People are under no obligation to follow the values of any religious culture. Do you want Muslims to insist that you pray at certain times facing a certain direction? Do you want Mormons to insist that your kids go on a two-year mission in support of Joseph Smith? I know these are not exactly moral issues, but to a non-believer, any time you open the Bible it feels like the same kind of intrusion.

My advice? Leave the Bible at home. If your friend is living in a sin that can destroy their mind, body or family, you should sit with them as a concerned friend, not as a Christian. Pray for them. Encourage them. Set an example with your own life and family. Who knows? Maybe they’ll ask about Jesus. Maybe not, but at least you’re doing what you can for someone you care about.

People always respond well to sincerity. They probably know you’re a Christian. If not, they should. But don’t force anything. That tends to be counterproductive. Pray for the right words at the right moment, and in the meantime, set an example with your own life.

Sure, the Church is supposed to be a thriving community of loving, giving, stable families and individuals. Salt and light. Sadly, on the whole, it’s not. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to keep our minds fixed on Christ, our bodies pure, our families strong, and our societies free of corruption and inequality.

Maybe then we can speak out for what we believe. Maybe then people will actually want to listen.

6 thoughts on “Unequally Poked

  1. If you are sitting in jail, a friend might post bail. A True Friend will be sitting beside you saying: “Damn that was fun!” This is a great story that works on many different levels. Jesus loves all sinners and has died for us. Until death do us part? Butch and Sundance jumping off the cliff? Thelma and Louise driving off the cliff? Passion that goes beyond reason. Faith that it can only get better. How much will we risk for a friend? How long will we sit with a friend? Are we willing to let go of our own wealth to be with those going down to poverty? Unconditional Love.

    “Have you considered My servant Job?” (Job 1:8) Thus does God challenge Satan to test unconditional love. Satan is the adversary (Strong’s 7854) and the accuser (Strong’s 7853). Some NIV footnotes emphasize this role of Satan as the accuser. The folly of Job’s friends was to analyze Job’s misfortune according to their own views. Reasoning is applied rather than love. Accusations are implied in attempting to find what was done to get Job into a mess. At the end, Job’s friends must make peace with Job before God will relent. And we will be judged as we have judged others.

    Paul remarks on the sins of the Romans, noting that “those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1:32) Then Paul notes that we should not judge others. Neither do sin, approve sin, nor judge sin.

    Paul then goes on to observe that God will have mercy on whom God will have mercy. God can remove His protection and let the prodigal children hit bottom. Then there will be rejoicing when the prodigal children repent and make peace with those whom they have disappointed. God has the power to do such things. In God we trust.

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    • I like that. Especially the story of Job. You’re right, we tend to apply reason without love. People want friends, and friends can speak into people’s lives. But how can we be friends if we start the relationship with a posture of judgment or disapproval? It’s easy to sense disingenuous relationships. No one wants those. But if we make a effort to really be friends with people, we have to be comfortable with thoughts and actions that are contrary to our worldview.

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  2. When we talk with our friends about their bad choices, things that could ruin their lives, it is love, and it is an expression of Christian faith to love. In society at-large, I may speak out against social harms, again as a Christian, though plenty of non-Christians share the same concerns about social and personal harms.
    We’re not talking about sin in those cases. We’re talking about choices that lead to undesirable consequences – an unfavorable transaction for the person or the society. We may see things this way because we first heard about the problem of drinking or human trafficking in church, so we identify our concern as coming from our Christian tradition, but these evils are not entirely commensurate with sin, biblically speaking. Sin is not a matter of a bad transaction – tit for tat.
    Our Christian traditions may have a long and (sometimes) illustrious history of approaching certain personal and social issues – 12 Step Recovery started in a church, the wars against human trafficking and for women’s right began in the church. But, when we talk about rebuking sin in the life of a non-Christian, I think we should keep the true nature of sin in mind, not just the manifestations of personal and social evil. Sin is dismissing the “self-evident” truth you talked about earlier. It is a failure to be grateful and to honor God – lack of pistis (Romans 1). All else is simply evil – drunkenness, bigotry, inordinate passions – mere manifestations.
    Confronting non-Christians about covetousness or Sabbath-breaking is totally inappropriate (i.e., not fitting), though we have a responsibility to each other with respect to those issues. Why? Because those are commandments given within a covenant prefaced by “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out…you shall.” The command is given in the singular – each person for whom the covenant is true (i.e., all Israel, which had been involuntarily chosen by YHWH) is obligated to obey.
    Yes, that means that everyone for whom Christ died is obligated to obey, which would be everyone. But, if they don’t accept the first premise (which is the essence of sin), then there’s no sense in talking to them arbitrarily about the ninth or tenth, for example, or the sixth or seventh. That is, if they fail to acknowledge God as God, refuse to honor and thank God, then any rebuke for private or public sins will not have a plausible context.
    Any rebukes of theft, heavy-drinking, wife-beating, or bigotry are not addressing the sin problem in humanity but are rather addressing social and personal problems along the lines that many people in society, often from religious traditions or cultivated spiritual instincts, do within a secular context.
    Evangelism has to do with faith in the gospel, faith in a Savior. Whole integration of moral righteousness begins there; otherwise everything we do is sinful.

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    • Thanks, Isaiah. I wish we could hang out more…

      This leads me into thoughts about secular vs. sacred. We tend to categorize things in unhealthy ways, as if to protect ourselves from getting contaminated. I had a Christian dentist growing up. Seriously? What would a secular dentist do? Try to shove sin into my root canals? We can be so finicky about “the world,” that we tend to forget that we are all in this human race together.

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