One of the first things that I have to make a decision on when I meet a person is in which one of three spiritual “categories” he/she falls. This decision will have a profound influence on my dealings with the person. The categories are simple: True Believer, Nominal Christian and Non-Believer.
Dealing with True Believers and with Non-Believers is quite straightforward. The new testament is full of instructions and examples on how to do this:
In his sermon on the mount Jesus gave many practical guidelines on dealing with Non-Believers, and when praying with his disciples shortly before the crucifixion (in the gospel of John), Jesus spoke about how believers must love each other. There are also plenty of guidelines in the epistles about how we are to live with other True Believers.
But dealing with Nominal Christians can become complicated very quickly. Especially if they are overtly living in sin. Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” For me the acid test to determine whether or not someone is a true believer is to simply ask whether their day-to-day lives are in accordance with Jesus’ commands.
I find it very disturbing when a person overtly lives in sin, such as sexual immorality, drunkenness or homosexuality, yet claims to be a Christian. I need no incentive to not be friends with such a person – I don’t want to.
But sometimes “evading” such people are sadly not an option. Examples: my one friend is in a cell group with a guy who is living with his girlfriend. I have recently started dating a girl who’s sister is doing the same thing (while claiming that they are both Christians, and that they pray together and so and so.)
I find it tricky to deal with this situation, and I would like your guys’ input on how you understand scripture concerning this.
Here’s a bit more context:
I have been a family friend of the Smith’s for awhile now. For many years in fact. I am very fond of the 6 children in the house and of the mother. They have all always been Christian.
Over the last two years, my friendship with one of the daughters in the family, Sally, steadily became closer and closer. Almost a month ago I asked her out.
However, there are very questionable things afoot in the Smith family. Both the mother, Jane, and the one daughter, Judy, are living with their lovers, outside of wedlock at the moment. Yet they claim to be Christian and often speak to me about spiritual things.
Up until recently, they have been living very far away and the situations with their lovers had come to be without me really ‘knowing’ about it (one day I heard that they had been living together for some time now).
But now two things have forced me to face up to the situation: (a) I have moved to Gauteng, where the mother and Judy stay. (b) I have started going out with their daughter, Sally.
I am trying to understand from scripture how I am to ‘deal’ with these people now. The obvious part to me is that I should speak to them, in love, telling them that what they are doing is wrong before the Lord and that they should repent. But where it gets tricky is: what if they don’t listen?
Am I to cut ties with them? And what if they do get married? Should I then re-establish ties with them?
There are many things to consider here:
- I don’t want to cause a divide in the family of my girlfriend. Not “accepting” these people the way that they are may very well led to such a divide. But if doing the Lord’s will means causing a divide, I’ll do it.
- These people know that what they are doing is wrong before the Lord, yet they persevere in their sin.
- I want to protect my relationship from the influence of the sin that these people are living in, and also from the judgement that will befall them.
- In scripture, I can not find a single example where people were knowingly living in sin, and was met with love and acceptance from believers, and that this led to them repenting. However, I can find plenty examples where harsh judgement befalls people who knowingly sins before the Lord.
- Jesus ate with sinners and tax-collectors, but he implored them to stop sinning. What would he do if they said “Thanks Jesus, but we’re just going to keep on living the way that we do, and we expect you to accept us the way that we are.” ?
When I look at scripture, I interpret that I ought to act as follows:
Confront these people in love about the way that they are living. If they listen and repent, I should support them in it. If not, I should severe my ties to them. What do you guys say? What should a Christian do?
I am eagerly waiting to get your input.