Getting a biblically balanced outlook on various issues is often quite difficult to achieve. Usually we have a lot of muddled and misguided thinking in our churches when it comes to so many contentious social and moral issues of the day. I was reminded of this again when I penned a piece on the case of a public figure and his sex scandal.
The number of rather worrying thoughts that believers offered to this in various places is a concern. It seems many believers just are not thinking as straight or as biblically as they should be. Let me focus on five main mistaken notions that too many Christians have offered on this and related matters.
We should not expect non-Christians to be ethical
I think such a notion is not at all biblical or helpful, and I have often written on this. But I need to do it once again. A few quick prefatory remarks:
-Yes, pagans need salvation and need to be prayed for.
-God’s common grace applies to everyone, and as Paul makes clear, we all have a fundamental – if fallen – sense of right and wrong within us (See Romans 1).
-Not all sins should be crimes, and not all crimes are sins.
-Yes, a separation of church and state, properly understood, is vital.
But the idea that we cannot expect non-Christians to act ethically is just silly when we stop to think about it for a moment. If this were true, and we applied it across the board, then we would:
-not expect non-Christians to obey traffic lights (nor expect judges and courts to penalise them for doing so);
-not continue any prolife work – after all, pagans cannot be expected to act ethically here;
-not have sought to stop Hitler – he is just doing what we would expect a pagan to do;
-not seek to stop a rapist in action, since he cannot help it: he does not have the Spirit of God.
On and on it goes.
We should only preach the gospel to non-Christians, and not expect them to do right
The truth is, Christians of course should always do both: present the gospel to others AND be salt and light. It is not one or the other but both – always! If we really believed the church has nothing to say to non-Christians in terms of ethics, then again, consider how this would play out:
-We would have to say that the Old Testament prophets who chewed out pagan nations for their unethical actions were simply wrong.
-We would have to say that John the Baptist was simply wrong to rebuke the unethical actions of Herod – and he did not bother to say a word about Herod’s faith or lack thereof.
-We would have to say that Wilberforce was entirely wrong to stand against the unethical slave trade, and it was all a waste of time. He should have just dealt with the salvation of people and preach the gospel. (He actually rightly did both.)
Hopefully you get my drift. I reject the notion that because a person is not a believer, we must just sit down and shut up when it comes to ethics and morality. I for one just don’t buy it! Right and wrong matters, and we expect all people to some extent to comply. That is why we have police, courts, laws, judges and the like.
We are all sinners, so who am I to judge?
This is such a foolish and unbiblical notion. Sure we are all sinners – tell us something we don’t know. But the whole point of the gospel is to deliver us from our own sin, and then for us to encourage others to do the same. The truth is, we ARE called to judge. We are to be salt and light, and Jesus said we should discern where folks are at.
Jesus said we can judge people by their fruit, so we are to be fruit inspectors. We are to test all things, use biblical discernment, judge between right and wrong, and so on. The idea that we can never call out any sin, whether in another person or in society at large, because we are not yet perfect is as ludicrous as it is unbiblical.
Sure, as it’s been said: we should be hard on ourselves while soft on others. There is some truth to this, but only to a certain extent. Yes, we should deal mercilessly with ourselves when it comes to sin and disobedience, and be gracious – when appropriate – to others as they struggle.
But Paul seems to point us in a somewhat different direction: he was certainly hard on himself (“I am the chief of sinners” – 1 Timothy 1:15), but he could also be very hard on those who were sinning in the congregation (“I have handed such a one over to Satan…” – 1 Corinthians 5:5).
We should not talk about sin – just grace and forgiveness
Um, the simple truth is this: grace and forgiveness make absolutely no sense if we do not first talk about sin. One simply has to look at how the prophets talked, how Jesus talked, and how the disciples talked. They talked about sin all the time, and the need for forgiveness.
Sure, they all extolled the wonderful grace of God, but they knew that receiving it is dependent on repentance. Returning to the particular politician in question in my previous article, some folks pointed out that he said it was a mistake and he felt bad about it. Great, but that is NOT biblical repentance. Let me make this as clear as I can:
-If a murderer says his many murders were a mistake and he feels bad about them, but he continues to keep murdering people, is that biblical repentance?
-If a thief says his many burglaries and robberies were a mistake and he feels bad about them, but he continues to keep stealing from people, is that biblical repentance?
-If an adulterer says his adultery is a mistake and he feels bad about it, but he continues in the adulterous relationship with his young lover, is that biblical repentance?
As far as I know, this politician is separated from, but still married to, his first wife. So in this case real repentance would mean immediately breaking off this adulterous affair, and seeking to make things right with his wife and children – and his God! It seems to me that this would be the bare minimum of true repentance.
To be honest, it bothers and baffles me greatly that so many Christians effectively seem to be defending sin and sinners. That is not how biblical Christians should be operating. Yes, we are all sinners and we all need God’s grace daily. I get that – big time. But trying to excuse sin or minimise it is not how we move forward.
People might change, so we should just cut them some slack
Of course people can change. But it is not our job to speculate about what might be happening in a person’s life twenty years in the future. Our job is to discern where folks are at now, especially when they are running for, or involved in, public office. We are to inspect fruit now, not guess about what a person might possibly become one day in the future.
If we took this train of thought to its logical conclusion, we would:
-not have fought Hitler. After all, people could have said back in 1940, ‘one day he might become a terrific chap, so we better leave him alone now’.
-not seek to work against the abortionists and fight for the unborn, because maybe the abortionists one day will turn a new leaf.
-not speak out against any corruption in politics – or elsewhere. These folks might change in the future, so we need to relax and just hope for the best.
The fact that people can and do change – by God’s grace – is NOT the issue here. The issue is that real evil exists now, and we as believers need to continue to insist that character counts – always. Thus if a person cannot be trusted to stay true to his wedding vows, why should we expect him to stay true to his political vows? For the believer, principle should always trump mere pragmatism.
While we can always hope for better outcomes for folks in the future, we can only deal with where people are at now, especially when it comes to things like leadership. It would do absolutely no good to appoint a hardcore thief to the church treasury job now in the hopes that maybe in twenty years’ time he will get saved, change his ways, and stop pilfering from the church coffers!
There are plenty more such examples of confused thinking that keep arising when someone points out blatant public – and private – sin. It is disturbing that so many Christians seem to be so much in the dark about certain basic biblical truths.
As such, it seems that this particular series of articles may have to continue for some time to come!