Q: #51. I have a friend who is a Christian, but he is practicing a certain sin and doesn't care, or want to stop it. Should I continue to be friends with this person?
A: If a Christian brother or sister is sinning and isn’t willing to confess it and repent, the Bible makes it quite clear that we are to separate, or get away from this person.
(1 Cor 5:11-13)(NASB) But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler- not to even eat with such a one. (12) For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? (13) But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (caps emphasis mine)
(2 Th 3:6,14-15) Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. (14) And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. (15) Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
(Titus 3:10-11) A man that is a heretick after the first and second admonition, reject; (11) knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
(Rom 16:16-17) Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them. (18) For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
These verses are all pointing to fellow “Christians.” They are not referring to non-Christians (see: 1 Cor 5:9-10). We should not expect the non-Christian to want to live a life that is pleasing and acceptable in God’s eyes, nor should we expect them to be sorrowful and repentant for their sins. We are to witness to the non-Christian (the “world”), and prayerfully bring them to Christ. When they come to Christ, the Holy Spirit will dwell in them, convict them of their sin (Jn 16:8), lead them to truth (Jn 14:17)(Jn 15:26), and give them a new desire to please the Lord.
If a “Christian” is practicing a sin, and they are unrepentant, my first concern would be to make sure they ARE a Christian in the first place. We are told in the Bible that if a person PRACTICES sin, they don’t know the Lord at all (1 Jn 3:4-9)(1 Jn 5:18)(Titus 1:15-16).
However, since the Bible clearly tells us that we should separate from the Christian who refuses to turn from sin, we obviously know that some in this state are indeed Christians. These Christians are suppressing or completely rejecting the conviction of sin and the truth that the Holy Spirit is bringing. This is a VERY dangerous thing… As we discussed in an earlier study, if we continue to harden our hearts against the Lord, there may come a time when God will turn away and leave His people to follow the wrong course (Judg 10:10-13)(2 Chr 15:1)(2 Chr 24:20)(Ps 81:11-12)(Acts 14:16).
As loving and concerned brothers and sisters, we should do all that we can to help the practicing sinner forsake their sin and repent of it. Yes, we are to withdraw or break fellowship with this Christian eventually, but before we do so, we are to take several steps to try and bring them to a point of repentance. Jesus gives us these steps in (Mt 18:15-17).
1st: (Mt 18:15) We go to the brother face to face and warn him. In doing so, we try to restore him gently, and help carry his burdens (Gal 6:1-2). We also try to bring him back to the truth, turn him from the error of his ways, and save him from death (James 5:19-20). If he refuses to listen, we take a 2nd step.
2nd: (Mt 18:16) We take one or two more people with us to warn him to turn from his sin. If he still refuses to listen, a final step should be taken.
3rd: (Mt 18:17) We take the case before the whole church, and they should warn him as a body. (A big reason why we need a good local church to keep us accountable.) If he STILL refuses to listen, Jesus said to treat him as a heathen or a publican (tax collector). Both of these were despised people in those times.
After taking the final step, this is the point when we separate from the Christian who refuses to turn from his sin. This does NOT mean that we are no longer their friend (See: 2 Th 2:15), nor does it mean that we stop talking to them, loving them, or praying for them. But, it does mean that we no longer remain in close fellowship with them. Prayerfully, our separation will further convict them of the seriousness of their condition, and bring them to a point confessing, repenting, and turning away from their sin.
The Bible also uses the words “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor 5:5). (Also see: 1 Tim 1:18-10) This is a strongly worded term that is used in these two places to describe a form of breaking fellowship with a believer. By turning someone over to Satan, we are in essence giving them over to this “world,” and its sinful ways, which is Satan’s realm, so that they will stop their sin, and be saved from “destruction.”
If the Christian does indeed forsake and turn away from his sins, we are told in (2 Cor 2:7-8) “… ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. (8) Wherefore I beseech you that you would confirm your love towards him.” We should also immediately restore our relationship with him, and welcome him back into the joy of Christian fellowship.
I realize that these steps may seem a bit cruel and harsh, but they are actually, the most loving thing we can do. If we TRULY care about a Christian brother or sister, our greatest concern should ALWAYS be about their relationship with the Lord. God should ALWAYS be first. If they are in unrepentant sin, God clearly isn’t first, and they have made their sin an idol in their lives. These steps will prayerfully help them place the Lord first again.
(Prov 27:5-6) Open rebuke is better than secret love. (6) Faithful are the wounds of a friend; But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.