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Mailbag – I have several acquaintances who say they are Christians, but their fruit does not reflect their profession. They seem more comfortable with the label of Christianity than following Jesus. I want to reach them in love. Do you have any experience with this?
You are asking something that every Christian has thought about regarding their sphere of influence. Thinking about others is a normal Spirit-motivated response for the Christian, which is a sign of loving God and others more than yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).
Your first response, which I’m sure you’re already doing, is to thank God for your compassion. To care about others is a God thing. There was a time when there was an alienation between you and the Lord. But now, He has put His love in your heart. It is a miracle of grace for Him to care so much about you to change you from being self-centered to other-centered (Philippians 2:3-4).
Questions like yours make me grateful. The transformative work of the gospel in your life is stunning. I imagine your acquaintances are not as appreciative, but maybe someday they will be grateful to God for your affection for them.
I worked with a man in the mid-eighties who told me about Christ. Who could have imagined how a few simple statements would have had such a radical effect on my life. But God knew, and because of his simple obedience, the Lord regenerated an arrogant, Christ-rejecting young man. So, thank you for your affection for these friends.
As for how to respond, here are nine thoughts for you to ponder and pray as you think practically about making the gospel authentic in their lives. I’ve listed these in no particular order except for the first two.
Let the gospel govern your attitude as you think about how to respond to your friends. This tip was the advice of Paul to the Galatians. He recognized how easy it is to sin against those who are stubborn, resistant, and blind to the potential of God’s work in their lives.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
Paul devotes the majority of this text to the ones who should be doing the restoring, not the individual caught in sin. You must practically embrace this simple truth. Paul was aware of the tendencies of self-righteousness, which is a person thinking they are better than someone else.
It is easy to fall prey to a “greater than attitude,” especially when other people are not meeting your expectations. It is even more tempting if they say they are Christians, but their lives are not conforming to the Christian message.
If you’re not careful, you will be tempted to sin against them. The antidote for this kind of temptation is to realign your heart to the gospel. Re-think how God showed His favor to you (Romans 5:8). It was His kindness that led to your repentance (Romans 2:4). Too many of us restorers are tempted to sin when the caught ones are not changing, or they are proudly flaunting their sin before us.
Do not yield to this temptation. You are a forgiven Christ-killer. It was your sin that put Christ on Adam’s tree. Don’t ever forget this (1 Timothy 1:15). Apart from God showing His favor on your life, you are no different from the wayward, mockers, and rejectors.
With your mind shaped and armed by gospel governance, you’re now ready to think about how to reach these people who are unworthy of God’s saving grace. This critical juncture is where you’re going to need some help.
Before you jump out there in the flesh, doing this or that, ask the Spirit to illuminate your mind for the work that He is asking you to perform. Your praying should be minimally about two things:
God has a better view of things than you do. You need to spend time asking the Spirit how to proceed. God can accomplish much more than you can, so don’t be timid about asking Him how to respond to your friends.
God knows the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12-13). Let the Spirit and His Word be your ever-present companions. Spend time on your knees, asking the Father to help you to think rightly about your friends and to provide you the wisdom to guide them to His Son.
If you continue to subject your mind to gospel governance and you’re bringing your requests before the Father, you’re ready to launch forward with the gospel message.
The first and maybe the most vital part of this is bridge-building. You need a “relational bridge” to carry truth over to them. Without a relational bridge, they may not receive the Words of life that you are carrying.
Our world is probably as cynical and defiant to God’s message as any time in history. Part of this has been the work of the spirit of this age. Part of it has been how we Christians have profaned the name of Christ.
Regardless of how they have become antagonistic to God, the truth is our world is hostile to the Lord’s truth. They don’t want God, His Word, or His children telling them about the Savior. It is either a joke or an insult to them. These problems make bridge-building essential.
They need to know your love for God and your love for them. They need to feel how they are not a project or a notch on your Christian belt or some other motive that comes across as relationally detached.
Genuine affection is how God broke down the barriers between Him and you. Your friends need to know that “you are for them” (Romans 8:31). As long as they are not asking you to sin, spend time with them. Interact with them.
There have been a few situations where the “enemies of God” have asked me to participate in their sin. Rarely did they take up an offense because I would not play with them according to their wishes. Those moments are exceptions, not the norm.
In almost all cases, they have respected my beliefs. The key was for me not to be a jerk about my Christianity. They typically respect regular Christians who choose not to do certain things that they do but aren’t preachy about their beliefs.
My point is that you can practically love them by spending time with them. And with a prayed up mind, you should be able to speak into their lives, as the opportunities avail themselves.
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself (Proverbs 26:4).
Be careful about getting pulled into the tempting nonsense of fools. There will be times when foolish people will want to jerk your chain by messing with or baiting you. You will have to discern your friends and not fall into this kind of snare.
This possibility is why you want to be regularly praying for the Spirit’s wisdom. If you’re not, you will trip and fall without warning. When this happens, expect a host of other temptations to follow, e.g., discouragement, despair, frustration, anger, and unkind words. Whenever you go toe-to-toe with a fool, sin may follow.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 26:5).
I love this Proverbial couplet. Solomon is not contradicting himself, but demonstrating his wisdom. Wisdom does not come from cookie-cutter applications. This pneumatic possibility is why prayer is essential. You need the Spirit’s illuminating help.
Pneumatic ministry is the only way you can operate biblically consistent because you are not smart enough or strong enough to pull it off by yourself. You need God’s power and guidance.
There will be times when you will have to debunk the arguments of fools so they won’t continue in their self-deception. This attitude of the mind must be grace-empowered. It will take courage to speak your mind without caving to the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25. It will take more grace to speak your mind from an attitude of love.
If the gospel grips your attitude, you will be appropriately sad for these people. You want to model the Lord here, as He never forgets our “frames.” He knows that we are from the dust (Psalm 103:14). My point is that He understands His audience, and you need to understand yours.
You must have the right perspective on your friends. Your friends are from the dirt, and the devil has ensnared them (Genesis 2:7, 3:7). They may even be children of the devil; you are not sure. And if they are Satan’s children, their behavior is according to how he functions, not the works of God the Father.
Don’t be confused by what they say. It doesn’t matter who they say they are; it’s their fruit that will reveal their authentic selves (Matthew 7:15-20). If they are living in deception by saying they are believers, but in reality, they are not, the only proper response is to mourn for them. Sin has captured and blinded their minds. They need your compassion as well as your corrective care.
There is no need to over-struggle with their hypocrisy. What I mean is that some folks become frustrated by the hypocrisy of others. They don’t take in full consideration of their own hypocrisy. Everybody is a hypocrite to a degree. Nobody is purely honest in all ways, with all people, at all times. It’s not possible.
And none of us have 100% pure motives all of the time. There is a little leaven in all of us, no matter how hard or how diligent we pursue God. We will not be entirely sanctified until Jesus returns. I’m “okay” with this, and you should be too.
The real issue is not the hypocrisy that is resident in any of us, but how are we addressing it. Are you pursuing God and others, asking them to help you mature in holiness? Or, are you more interested in hiding from God and others?
Your friends may be more interested in hiding. Be careful not to judge them too harshly. We are tempted to do the same thing, and it’s only because of the gospel that we are not regularly yielding to the temptations of half-truths and a lack of transparency.
One of the ways you’ll know if you are responding correctly to your friends will be the condition of your heart and the type of speech that comes from your mouth. If gratitude characterizes you rather than negativity, you’ll be okay.
These are important questions. They will reveal your “faith in the process” that you’re in with your friends. If you are in faith for this process, the primary condition of your heart will be gratitude. If not, there is something wrong with your thinking.
Because of God’s great grace in your life, you are permitted to share the story of His Son to others. Sharing, watering, and planting is the extent of your work for the Lord with your friends. God’s expectation is not for you to change them.
Any transformation or the lack of it is dependent on the Lord (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Your job is to be grateful for the opportunity to share His truth with a wayward soul. A lack of gratitude for these opportunities reveals something wrong with you.
It is always wise to position yourself in a community of friends, especially when it comes to evangelizing others. Your job is tough and tempting, and you don’t want to go at it alone. Soul care is burdensome work.
Find a friend or two and bring them into a circle of mutual burden-bearers. Let them help you carry the load. This need is part of the reason that I began this website. I want to be one of those who comes alongside God’s community.
Ask the Father for a few close brothers with whom you can share your burden regarding your friends. Ask them to pray for you in this work. Share with them your struggles and temptations. Let the body of Christ serve you.
I appreciate your honesty and transparency regarding those you care about, and your desire to see them come into a more productive experience in Christ. Thanks for asking for my advice. Here are a few questions for you.