There are times when you interact with individuals who do not share or understand Christlikeness to its fullest depths. When they sin, do you rebuke them on the spot, or do you overlook it because you have a redemptive objective in view? There may be wisdom in overlooking some sins.
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One of my college professors uses bad language all the time, and it bothers me. Should I say something to him?
That’s a good question, and I hear some variation of it often. I can relate to the dilemma.
For as that righteous man (Lot) lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard. – 2 Peter 2:8
As we continue to live in this sin-cursed world, we believers long for the day when we will be completely free from the presence and effects of sin. This desire is holy and God-given.
When I think about the Son of God, it floors me that He, in all His perfection, chose to leave the worship of angels in heaven to dwell among us (Philippians 2:6-8). Sin is an infinite offense against a holy God; to say that He is more offended by sin than I am is so gross an understatement as to be ridiculous. Yet dwell among us He did, and endured all manner of sin in doing so.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:45
When the Lord saved us, He could have immediately taken us home to live with Himself in sinless perfection, but He didn’t. He left us here to bear His image in a lost and dying world.
So, back to your college professor.
I won’t say that it’s never right to ask someone to stop doing something that offends you. Not at all. But sometimes believers go through life with the expectation that everyone around them should accommodate their desire to be treated a certain way. In contrast to Jesus, we tend to, in a sense, subtly demand to be served instead of seeking to serve others. Can you see how anti-gospel this is? I’m sure it wasn’t your intended purpose, but please give this some thought.
I’m assuming your professor is unsaved.
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. – Romans 8:7
What would you be trying to accomplish by talking to your professor about his foul language? Is your goal to serve him? In your eyes, is he an image bearer of the living God or an obstacle to your comfort?
Am I saying we should ignore sin? No. I’m saying that our motive for engaging with others about their sin should never be so that they’ll stop doing that thing that annoys us. Our motives must be other-centered and redemptive.
It’s important that we don’t encourage the people around us to be whitewashed tombs; the gospel of “don’t cuss, don’t smoke, don’t chew” can’t save anyone.
My friend Rebekah is a baby Christian who has both legalism and hedonism in her young past. As a result, she is habituated in her sins, and self-condemning when she falls. She reads her Bible voraciously and indiscriminately and doesn’t yet know how some of its parts fit into the whole.
I was reading Isaiah last night, and all I could think was, ‘I’m toast! I. Am. Toast!”
Only she didn’t say “toast.” In her distress, she uttered the word that has more power to elicit shock and loathing in godly people than any other.
The word was jolting to me, to be sure, but I knew that if I would have reacted with a mortified “that’s not how church folk talk” vibe, I may have circumvented what God was doing in her at that moment.
By God’s grace and heartbroken by her fear, I drew her into a hug and explained again what it means to be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. I watched the tension drain from her shoulders as her eyes filled with tears and gratitude toward her Lord.
I’m sorry I cursed. I shouldn’t have done that.
You’re good. It will get easier with time.
Although I have a desire to live apart from the sin and messiness of this life, I know that I cannot fulfill that desire this side of heaven. For now, I don’t want to do anything to discourage my friend from the humble self-disclosure she will need if she is to grow into a mature, godly woman. If our conversation would have gone differently, she may have put a fresh coat of lipstick on her church mask and retreated into hypocrisy.
How are you this Lord’s Day, Rebekah? – Loving and Inquiring Church Member
I am blessed! How are you? – Mask Wearing Church Member
As it is, she has a church family who will stand on either side of her as she learns to walk for the very first time. We will help her put off sin and put on righteousness for as long as she’s with us, and Lord willing, she will help us do the same as she grows.
I’ve gotten this wrong a lot more times than I’ve gotten it right. I am the chief of the condescending sinners. I’m not really a lot different from Rebekah when I think about it; I’m just a few steps further down the road in my sanctification, with a different sin set than she has.
And we walk with the same God who finishes what He starts (Philippians 1:6).
Also published on Medium.