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Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. – Proverbs 13:20
Wow! Do you hang around fools? It sounds harsh for post-modern sensitivities, but it is a valid question. The fool is not a person who does not know the difference between right and wrong; he gets morality. His problem is that he does not care, and if you hang with a fool, you will be hurt by him, plain and simple.
The person who understands how God wants life to happen and is willing to follow the Lord’s plan is a wise man. The individual who knows better but chooses to go down the wrong path is contrary to God’s plans and will suffer harm. And anyone who hangs with a person like this will suffer too.
When I was a teenager, I chose to hang with people who consistently made terrible decisions. In time, I was making bad decisions too. I’m not blaming them for my wrong choices, but I am saying there is a biblical, formulaic pattern in play here: you hang with fools, you will become one.
Who speaks into your life? You’re not as independent as you might think. Assess the crowd you hang with, and you will notice how you’re like them. “Your vibe will determine your tribe,” as they say.
I’m not talking about contexts where you have no choice regarding your associates, like work, school, or a bad marriage. I am talking about settings where you can choose your friends. You can control what you do with those relationships.
Key Idea – Your friends will determine the direction and quality of your life. They have that kind of power over you. Do you believe this? Who are your friends?
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33
The way you choose friends is straightforward. You select friends who will accept and approve of you. It’s not possible for you to gravitate toward people who are disapproving and rejecting you. How many of your long-term and sustained relationships do you have that are rejecting, disapproving, and un-accepting? None. (I’m talking about your chosen friends, not forced relationships.)
For example, some of you cannot be friends with certain family members because you are a Christian, and they are not. Imagine trying to make friends with someone who consistently rejected you. You wouldn’t. You couldn’t. In time, you would walk away from them. It would be like oil and water.
But if you were with a person who accepted you, it is possible to sustain that relationship. We even base our relationship with God on His acceptance of us. That is the only way we can have a relationship with Him. He approves us through the finished work of His Son.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:36
Seeking relationships based on approval is not necessarily a bad thing. We want God’s approval, and Paul even told us to be approved by Him (2 Timothy 2:15). But sometimes the desire for approval can have sinful power over us. For example, caring too much about what others think will kill the God-centered possibilities of the group. When this kind of fear rears its ugly head, the group will be tempted to do life superficially, never wanting to talk deeply because of potential offenses.
But if the group purposely decides to pursue each other the way the Holy Spirit wants to lead, the group can become a gospel-shaped community. If this happens, the people in the group will mature into a more satisfying resemblance to Christ because the only opinion that matters is God’s view of them.
How you answer these questions will determine the spiritual quality of your relationships.
Sin is a great antagonist in our lives, and it can divide and decimate your biblical desires for your group of friends. You cannot ignore sin because it does not ignore you. You must engage your sin and the sin of others head-on.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10
Sin insults the spirit of grace. While God’s grace does not give us the freedom to sin, it does provide us with freedom from sin. The fool would say, “I know you saved me, and I don’t have to sin, but I’m gonna sin anyway.” This kind of attitude mocks God, His gospel, and His grace.
Grace does not minimize sin. It does not pretend it doesn’t exist. Neither does grace redefine what sin is. Grace allows us to talk about sin. Grace gives us the power to deal with the very thing that harms us, which is sin.
Sin is more pandemic than you might think. It is not compartmentalized cancer that attacks only one part of the body of Christ. It is pervasive. It will infect the entire body if you allow it.
For example, did you know that all “relationship sin” is a twofer? When you sin against your spouse, you are also sinning against Christ. Your sin against your spouse not only hurts her, but it is a personal insult to Christ because it was His blood that He shed for you. But the priceless glory of God’s grace is that it empowers you to remove sin from your life.
I realize you know this. But did you also know that one of the reasons you struggle with ongoing sin in your life and can’t quite gain victory over it is because you’re trying to overcome it with limited resources? I am talking about someone attempting to overcome the power of your sin alone.
One of the biggest neglects in the church today is a lack of understanding about how sanctification happens in the context of community. We all need the right companions in our fight against sin. You can do many things alone, but sanctification is not one of them.
While their lives may have had some sanctification success, it was more like a roller coaster with several starts and stops along the way. You’ll never humble yourself to the seriousness of sin on your own.
This truth is one of the biggest deceptions of sin: it pushes you farther into a corner of isolation.
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Hebrews 3:12-13
The Hebrew author is warning us just in case there is evil working in our hearts. An unbelieving heart in this verse is a morally confused heart. Is your heart morally confused? If so, you’re on a slow track to a hard conscience. The sinful progression of a morally confused heart leads to an increasing “case hardening effect” on a person’s conscience.
Your conscience is your highest level of moral reality. It is your “moral thermostat.” If your conscience becomes hardened, it will become increasingly difficult for you to discern good from evil.
I have counseled many men who were harsh, angry, and demanding to their wives. They are doing things now that they would never have dreamed of doing when they were dating or first married. The progression of sin has taken hold of their hearts. They are morally confused, and the hardening effect of sin is rolling over them.
When you minimize, ignore, justify, or blame your sin away, it will grow bigger. It does not disappear, though you may wish it so. It gets bigger! That is sin’s progression. Eventually, it will control you if you allow it (Galatians 6:1). Hebrews 3:12-13 is an appeal for believers (companions) to come alongside each other to do battle with the deceitfulness of sin.
Paul was aware that he was the foremost of all the sinners in his life (1 Timothy 1:15). It would stand to reason that from his perspective, he knew he needed someone to rescue himself from himself. According to Paul, he was his biggest problem.
Though I could make a case against the “mean people” in my life and probably convince some of you that if these mean people were different, I would be better. It would be a lie. The person who needs rescuing is me. Without question, I am my biggest problem. I am the biggest trouble-maker in my life. I desperately need people to come alongside me every day to speak into my life, so I can more effectively glorify God.
If not, you’re either too proud to speak the truth humbly or too proud to receive the truth humbly. If you are not positioning yourself in the lives of other companions to speak into their lives and for them to speak into your life, you are not taking the gospel seriously. The gospel says, “I don’t have anything to prove, and I don’t have anything to protect.”
Are you still trying to prove your worth? If so, you’ve missed the gospel. The gospel says you will never be worthy of God’s approval. Are you still trying to protect your reputation? The gospel says you put the Son of God on the cross. Golgotha’s hill is sounding an alarm: you are wicked; you did this!
The best thing you can do is get over yourself and fling yourself into a small group of companions who are serious about the war on sin for each other’s good and God’s glory.
If you are discipling someone, or if superficiality is choking the life out of your relationships, I urge you to give them this article. Help press the truths of what I’m saying into their hearts with the prayer that they will take their sin seriously. If they do take these things seriously, envision them to find a small likeminded group. Help them to seek out the right companions who are determined for every member to grow into Christlikeness.
Help them to re-examine their friends and the purpose of these relationships. Teach them how to humbly assess how their friends are serving them in their battle with sin. Show them how to make a difference in the lives of these friends.