I stood in line in an office store behind three people in lively conversation. It was obvious from their speech that they were Christians and, upon listening closer, one of the two men there was a new Christian. I heard the woman convincingly tell this gentleman, “That’s the Lord’s way of keeping you saved.” What that meant I didn’t have a clue, but I was now interested to know. It became apparent that this man was trying to quit smoking. Then, the other man there, evidently a veteran Christian, advised his friend, amidst much that he said, “Well I always tell folk to smoke, drink, cuss…till you stop. You’ll get tired of it.”
The scenario was not unlike another a friend of mine related to me. He had a friend earlier in his life that was a philanderer. This young man had sought spiritual help during a church service when at some point an old church mother said to the gentleman, “Oh, you’re just being a man, baby.” May God have mercy upon these men and all like them just beginning the Christian life and even greater mercy upon the sincere ones who counsel them with error!
Let me offer some scriptural context for what I am about to say. It would be proper to claim that the holiness of God and his righteous standards are in judgment against all ungodliness. And to the extent that we side with righteousness, we judge indeed (1 Cor. 2:15). As Christians, however, we do not judge other people in a way that presumes our own innocence of sin or immunity from their sort of sin. This is Christ’s injunction in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1-6).
The good that I find in these two accounts is persons who have clearly perceived an antagonizing trait working negatively in their lives and, to some degree, impeding their full fellowship with God. Their humility makes them ready to receive the grace of God for strength to overcome their struggle. But the great misfortune for souls like these is to become enjoined to well-meaning Christians and their counsel that is not only unscriptural, but is also simply not thought out.
What could these two young men possibly hear in the advice that was given to them? Perhaps, “Continue to have all the uncommitted sex you want. You’re a man and men are highly sexed creatures. You’re only doing what is natural to you and for your body. God doesn’t condemn you yet, baby.” And perhaps, “Smoking is a vice you must rid yourself of. But you’re a new Christian, so it’s understandable that it might not be so easy at first. Don’t worry too much about it. When the time comes you’ll get tired of it, and it’ll stop.”
I consider this advice godless and (unintentionally) deceptive. It is godless because it does not rely on the spiritual grace God provides to overcome sin and so effectually undermines the work of Christ. “You’re only doing what’s natural to you”—yet if it’s natural I should continue with it, but why am I conflicted and in turmoil about it? “When the time comes…”—you mean I can’t expect God’s active help in quitting this habit, but it will rid itself sometime in my future? What if that’s ten years down the road? The men would be justified responding this way.
Moreover, the advice is deceptive because the New Testament scriptures constantly explain the flesh, the lower, carnal nature and strong coercion in humans in constant battle against the Spirit of God, something the advisors surely understood. The reason why these men were calling on God is because they had become enslaved to their deeds; after a while people grow to hate the addictions that enslave them.
Now consider the ones who frolic in sin and enjoy it and haven’t yet discovered sin to be a hard taskmaster. How would they respond to this advice? “Cool! I can be a Christian and continue to score with every girl I want. God wouldn’t give me my sexual nature just to condemn me for it. It’s a wild buck right now, so I’m going to enjoy the ride while I can.” He will say, “Whew! I really didn’t want to give up my cigs. Quitting would be hell itself. Really, what does it hurt?” (And this indubitably raises the question about whether smoking is a sin or not, but this is not the topic. It is a sin for this man because his conscience tells him so, 1 Cor. 8:4-13.)
The advice given to this kind would send them back into a possibly worse form of their wrongdoing. And how do we defend these admonitions when the conduct becomes strong vice, broadly defined as inordinate sex, substance abuse, or no respect for life?
I need not go on. These two men were on a path to freedom (and hopefully still are) until meeting up with damnably bad advice. What God requires of us in our struggles is that we are always swimming against the current of sin, as tough as it may be. Where sin may be at work in our lives, he requires our utmost efforts to rid ourselves of it as we rely on his strong, supporting grace.