Make the Break

Christians have coined the phrase, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” I’m not sure, however, that we truly understand the full implications of this statement.

2 Corinthians 6:17 says, “Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you” (NLT).  

Wow! The apostle Paul cuts to the chase, doesn’t he? His comment sounds a little extreme, almost harsh, and inhospitable. Let’s talk about it.

One thing I’ve noticed in all five of my pastorates was the propensity of many new converts to tenaciously hold on to their past in terms of old friends. They struggled with the balance between separation from sin and at the same time being salt and light. Sadly, too many were pulled back into a sinful lifestyle, while others tried to live in both worlds – the church and their former ways. They were totally frustrated! These on-going dilemma date back to the Early Church.

Surely, we are called to be salt and light. How will the lost ever come to saving faith if we never interact with them? Let’s explore the word “interact.” The gospels tell us that Jesus ate with Publicans and sinners. Yes, He did. However, we must ask ourselves, “What was His purpose? Jesus came to “seek and to save.” The gospel is both transformational and affirmational in terms of our worth to God. 

Our mission is to “walk in the light.” Light always outshines the darkness! Our prayer is that “men see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.” None of us effect life change when we lower ourselves to the level of sinful behavior of those we attempt to influence for Jesus. I’ve listened and watched as believers drank alcohol and became tipsy; told dirty jokes, dropped “F-Bombs,” etc. around unbelievers, thinking they were relating. However, “salt was trampled underfoot.”

We will never reach others for Christ by emulating their behavior, and this is where the breakdown happens. Jesus did not condemn sinners. Only the self-righteous, unrepentant Pharisees were the exception! Mostly, He affirmed their personhood! Everyone is unique, special and in need of saving grace. However, we cannot lift anyone up to a higher level if we ourselves remain on their level. 

People will be drawn by an acceptance of “who they are,” not by “what they do.” Their personhood must be elevated above their conduct. Jesus knew the tax collector, Zacchaeus, was a scoundrel, but He went beyond his reputation and spoke to his need – desperate loneliness and brokenness. He spoke to the matters of the tax collector’s heart. He, in essence, separated the sinner from his sin! Conversely, the little man became convicted and repented. Life change was the result!

We must ask the Lord to help us understand this dichotomy. This is not compromise but love in action. To hit others over the head with your Bible, or to impose your convictions and opinions on lost people is to usually drive them away. To display the love and beauty of Jesus in your words, attitudes and unconditional love is to capture their attention. In this respect, more things are caught than taught.

Is there ever a time to make a clean break away from our former friends and associates? Before I answer this question, let me remind you of the difference between lifestyle changes and compromise. Compromise always ends in failure. When the time comes and we see that our friends and even loved ones attempt to pull us back into sin and compromise, there comes a time to say, “Enough!” When that time comes, God’s wisdom will show you how to separate yourself without becoming purposely offensive or coming across “better than.”

What are your thoughts?

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