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.
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.