An Important Question

It’s Monday Grace!

“But can a person(s) be truly born again when their actions are SO incompatible over SO long-decades and decades-with having a regenerate heart?”

Wow!  That’s a great question!  So relevant for most of our lives. This is the central question in “Z’s” recent comment. I thought it was worth answering in a post because many of us have wondered the same thing. Especially those who have been abused by people claiming to be part of the Church.

It is possible for a believer to commit any sin, I think.  Once we look back to the flesh, with all its temptations and compromises, we find ourselves back to many of the same feelings we had before.  When those feelings come on us, and we fail to look to the Spirit, we may fall as we would have before.  I think we have the story of Peter’s denial to show us this.  He truly loved Jesus and was dedicated to Him, yet Peter denied Jesus with crude oaths. 

So, is it possible for someone to be a real believer while continuing to be cruel and abusive?  I suppose.  But I think that believer would be under constant and serious conviction from the Spirit.  (That may explain the continual anger, of course, but I can’t imagine that it would last decades. Abusers are usually angry people.)

It is far more likely that the person has never been a believer and has been acting consistently with his or her true heart.  For so long, the church has allowed, even taught, such cheap grace that the unbeliever can be welcomed without a relationship with the Savior and without any significant change in behavior.  Performance spirituality welcomes those who are willing to “pay the price” the church suggests.  Give money and time, don’t rock the boat too much, and you can stay in the local church without ever joining the heavenly Church. 

Churches every Sunday are attended by unbelievers who do not seek the gospel or the Lord because they think they already have their “deal” with Him.  When I was first in the ministry, I met a man who told me that he “and the man upstairs” had “an understanding.”  That understanding, according to him, was that he would do his part and the Lord would do His part.  They would leave each other alone otherwise.  While I have never heard it put quite like that since, I have certainly met many people who trusted in their “understanding” with the Lord. 

But there is still this thing called “repentance.”  While I do not think repentance comes because of changed behavior, I do think that repentance causes changed behavior.  It is a new way of thinking, and that new way of thinking should result in a new way of behaving.  A Christian might forget or disobey, but the new ways will grow dominant over time.

Someone who continues to act in the same way as they did without Christ probably doesn’t have Christ, especially if that old way continues over a long period of time.  Just because he or she goes to church and claims to be a Christian doesn’t mean Christ has become his or her life. 

Interestingly, the way to handle these people is given to us in Scripture as being the same for unbelievers and pretend believers.  I don’t think Scripture has any real concept of what we have come to call “backslidden” or “carnal” Christians.  There are Christians who might slip back to carnal ways until the Spirit reminds them of who they are.  There are also phonies in the church who use the same vocabulary and claim the same position as real believers.  I don’t see any in-between group.

How does the Scripture tell us to treat unbelievers?  With love and hope.  We are to share the good news about Jesus.  We are not to entrust ourselves to them or listen to their views on Christian life and doctrine.  Pray for them to come to Jesus.  Present the hope and love you have in Jesus but remember that they are not your real family. 

And how should we treat unrepentant and hurtful pretend believers?  By considering them as unbelievers.  Matthew 18 has become unpopular in the church today because people have misused it in so many ways, but it broaches this subject.  When someone sins against you and is unrepentant even in the face of third-party admonition, then you are supposed to treat that person as an unbeliever.

 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
Matthew 18:17

The Jews listening to Jesus that day would have understood this to be the separation they experienced from the “heathen and tax collector.”  It meant that person was not of the faith, not of the family.  It did not mean to shun the person or to do evil to him.  In fact, just the opposite.  Jesus constantly taught the people to reach out to the lost and outcast. 

A similar perspective is found in 1 Timothy 5:8:

 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8

This man is acting even worse than an unbeliever.  How should he be treated?  As a lost sinner!  He needs Jesus.  Pray for him, call him to repentance, share the gospel. 

Again, we are to love unbelievers, but not to trust them.  We are to pray for them, but not to look to them for spiritual guidance.  We are to welcome them into discussion, but not as brothers and sisters.  We are not to look to them as examples or follow their ideas. 

And what if, by some strange set of compromises and compulsions, this cruel person is a real believer?  Then what?  Treat that person as an unbeliever anyway. 

Now, this might seem strange and challenging.  If someone is acting like an unbeliever, satisfying the flesh and doing evil, then that person needs Jesus.  Maybe he or she is saved, but at that moment Jesus is not the focus of the heart.  Instead, the old way is trying to pull them back, and you can help by reminding them of the consequences of sin.  Believers might not lose heaven or salvation by sinning, but they can certainly suffer earthly consequences. 

Paul often had to remind his readers of the pain and suffering they left behind when they came to Jesus.

21  What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22  But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:21-23

The answer is always Jesus.  He is the strength and victory of the believer.  He is the hope of the lost.  He is the redemption of those who try to do it themselves. 

Summary:  While it is possible that such cruel people might be believers, it is unlikely, and the Scripture encourages us to treat them as unbelievers in either case.  Let God worry about whether these people will be saved.  You should neither trust them nor consider them as part of your Christian family.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “An Important Question

  1. Z

    Pastor Dave,
    I’m still confused. Scripture clearly DIFFERENTIATES between how we are to treat unbelievers and those who pretend to be believers but are habitual, unrepentant sinners. In 1 Cor. 5, Paul addresses this clearly. I can’t find anywhere in Scripture where we are told to treat ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing (which DO EXIST! Habitual, vicious abusers who call themselves “Christians” all the while they are abusing God’s children would fit this category) the SAME as “lost sheep”-the unsaved-who DON’T PRETEND to be born again while arrogantly and unrepentantly sinning for years and years.
    Paul tells us to EXPOSE, EXPEL, HAVE NO ASSOCIATION WITH, DO NOT EVEN EAT WITH SUCH COUNTERFEITS.
    He says to leave judgment of “unbelievers” to God. But he says that WE BELIEVERS ARE TO JUDGE COUNTERFEITS WHO UNREPENTANTLY SIN OVER AND OVER who pose as “brothers and sisters”. And that judgment is to expose their hypocrisy, expel them from among us and Jesus’ church to protect Jesus’ flock from them. And Paul adds “Have nothing to do with” and “Do not even eat with such people”!
    I won’t beat myself up for ending all contact with my lifelong abusers/family. They have shown themselves to be shameless violent criminals and dangerous to me! So burdening their VICTIM with ”loving them to Jesus” and trying to “bring them to repentance and to Jesus for REAL” is not safe. Plus, that IS something I DID wrongly try for decades with these wolves. It got me MORE abuse! And I was nearly killed by them.
    There ARE some people even God turns His back on-giving them over to their chosen depravity. His Word says so. It’s in the Bible for a reason. He sees their hearts. He sees the damage they do to His people and to His Name and His church. He decides when they’ve crossed that line. He decides when they pose enough of a poisonous danger of infecting His church by their hypocrisy.
    But I think it is very dangerous to advise a lifelong violently, criminally, physically abused (along with many other types of abuses) VICTIM to stay in relationship with her abusers who mean to destroy her so that THE VICTIM can lead them to Jesus. I’m not God. I’m not the Holy Spirit. I can’t change an evil person’s hardened heart and seared conscience. And lifelong abuse IS habitual, arrogant, unrepentant evil and shows evidence/actions of a depraved sinner. And God doesn’t expect me to carry that burden. He loves me and wants me safe and protected from evil people who mock God by falsely calling themselves “Christians” but have used their free will to choose to follow satan instead of Jesus.
    We can agree to disagree about the wisdom of continuing to associate with life-threatening, dangerous, continually sinning people for the purpose of “leading them to stop living a lie, stop mocking God, stop posing as Christians falsely and to truly follow Jesus”. That’s God’s job. Not my job as their victim.

    • Hi Z!

      I apologize for not being clear! When I say that I would treat these pretend believers as unbelievers, I mean that I would treat them as cruel and abusive unbelievers. No one expects us to welcome abusers into our homes and hearts, whether they claim to be believers or not. Nor are we wrong to end even long-term relationships with abusive family members or friends.

      You have read here a long time. You know that I have always advocated “love from a distance.” Jesus told us to pray even for our enemies and abusers, but He never told us that we had to submit ourselves to their abuse—especially if they call themselves believers.

      I very much agree that such people should be confronted by the church. For most of us, that will never happen. Most of these cruel people have found churches that support them and believe their lies. Nor can we do this on our own. We are not able to discipline them, and trying to do so will only give them more opportunity for abuse.

      If my words sound like any suggestion to continue a relationship with abusers (again, whether they are pretend believers or outright pagans), I am very sorry. That is not at all what I meant to communicate.

      Here’s an example of my own practice. Just this past week, I found myself twice in the presence of people who betrayed and attacked me from my former church. One was outwardly abusive. The other worked hard behind the scenes with gossip and criticisms. Both had claimed to be my friend, and both claimed to be committed believers. Their actions and their accusations against me were harsh and false, but both of them thought themselves to be holy in their efforts.

      So, what did I do? I avoided them. I made a point of not meeting their eyes and not making an awkward opportunity for their false words. I have met them before and know that they still think just as they did. They still think themselves right and spiritually superior. Since I have no intention of exchanging phony pleasantries, I simply avoid them. Every pastor has to deal with people like this, especially if he remains in the area after the struggle. This is my normal practice.

      At the same time, I have a close friend who was just the same as these two men at one time. He also spoke and worked against me. But we have come together as Christian brothers. We still disagree on some things (and we still remember some things differently), but Jesus has healed that relationship. That is good, in my opinion.

      Now, these people are not in my family, nor am I equating this with the very personal and intense struggle you and so many others have suffered. My point is simply to show that I actually practice what you preach. What you describe in your comment is just what I do.

      Please forgive me for not communicating well. My hope was to give release to anyone who thinks they have to be more welcoming and connected to abusers who call themselves believers. That is a particularly mean technique abusers use in almost every relationship to control those who want to walk with Jesus. I have heard of husbands who will slap their wives and then say that she has to forgive him because Jesus said to turn the other cheek. I know of many people who have used the “faith card” to blame their victims.
      Certainly, it is common for church leaders to use this as a way of controlling their victims.
      Thank you for boldly and strongly confronting me on this! I do appreciate your heart. This gives me the opportunity to try to make things more clear and more kind. In fact, I would guess that others were triggered in the same way by what I failed to say. So, if you have anything more to add, please feel free to do so.

      And you are always welcome to disagree with me!

      • Z

        Thank you Pastor Dave for understanding my “triggering” and my confusion. And thank you for your clarification. I understand what you were trying to say better now. It’s comforting to me that you, as a Pastor and shepherd, do validate my horrific experiences with such relentlessly evil “pretend Christians” that my former family have always been and continue to be, as well as my decision to have no association with them, as 1 Cor. 5 commands.

        I agree with you that no church or even other Christians will obey 1 Cor. 5 and expose my former family nor put them out of the church to protect Jesus’ flock. Same with most churches and Christians when abuse is reported. Abusers almost always have safe harbor in “Christian” churches and among “Christians” who KNOW they are abusers. And the victims are left shunned and isolated and damaged with their many deep scars and no Christian community to walk alongside them.

        God’s Word commands: “Mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.” Yet “Christian Abuse Enablers” and most Christian teachers and pastors and many professing Christians ignore much of what the Bible has to say about evil people. They stick to what itching ears want to hear-only about God’s love and forgiveness. Prosperity and an easy life. Cheap grace. They suppress what God has to say about His Holiness and His Wrath upon those who choose to be unrepentantly evil. About God’s Throne’s very foundation being Righteousness and Justice. TRUE REPENTANCE! Empty pews if those messages are taught regularly!

        Obeying God’s Word about evil people is too inconvenient for many professing Christians. It might COST them something in this world! No longer being “in” with the larger, more popular abusers’ clan/group, maybe being targeted for abuse themselves if they stand up for what is right and true, discontinuation of the gifts, bribes, flattery, acceptance…the abusers “polish up” their allies with to keep them on their side. Not to mention the KNOWN UNTRUE smear campaigns the abusers and enablers spread about victims who expose them to try to discredit them. The Christian Abuse Enablers KNOW the lies are lies but CHOOSE to shun the victim anyway. So they CHOOSE to be willfully blind and disobedient to God. That’s idolatry! They live for THIS world’s pleasures and conveniences instead of storing up their treasures in heaven by choosing to serve God and not man. Choosing the approval of “man” over the approval of God. Jesus said His true followers WOULD suffer and be hated for doing right and for following HIM and not man. But FEW if any “Christians” are willing to suffer even a little for righteousness, justice and to choose to be obedient to God. Not “works”. Fruits of the Spirit. That’s why the road to “life” (heaven) is NARROW and FEW find it. Too MANY professing Christians choose the easy, BROAD, CROWDED road that leads to “destruction” (hell).

        And that SPIRITUAL abuse towards abuse victims just adds more layers of damage to the victims. Little chance of real shepherds who will welcome and protect the sheep instead of embracing the wolves! Too many cowardly, self-preserving, self-serving, greedy for bribery/gain/popularity/acceptance…”Christian Abuse Enablers” who willingly allow themselves to be stealthily groomed and bribed by the abusers as allies in their evil. There’s something in it FOR THEM.
        Truly, I’m exhausted by how this evil of abuse within the Christian community is so pervasive and just doesn’t seem to change, ever. Being a victim who stood up to abuse and exposed it is a lonely, lonely road to walk. I’m getting more used to it though. I’m blessed to have the support of a godly husband who witnessed and even experienced my former family’s violent abuses. Some victims have not one human to stand with them and my heart aches so much for them.I know how hard it is to only have my husband. All others-extended family and friends-all professing Christians- scattered and ran away from me and towards my abusers to embrace them. That mass betrayal HURTS deeply. But I also have the promise of Jesus walking alongside me 24/7 until He returns or calls me home.
        🎶“Take this whole world,
        just give me Jesus…”🎶
        Know that I appreciate your heart as well, Pastor!

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