I’m not often surprised by people. Every now and then, I will hear that someone I know who professes to be a Christian, is making choices to live in a way that is inconsistent with faith in Christ. Others will express their shock at the change, but usually, the “new” behavior is consistent with the “old” doctrine the person espoused. It isn’t that I “can see it coming,” but I am aware of the signs that someone doesn’t actually trust God. Trusting God leads to joyful obedience. People of faith understand that God’s way is for our good. Those who love God look to His Word for how best to live and please Him. On the other hand, the person who does not fully trust God looks outside of Scripture for answers about life and seeks to rationalize disobedience.
I suppose I analyze the people around me the same way that I analyze my own behavior and motivations. I know this can make me judgmental. It is sinful when it causes me to be unloving toward others. Yet, God does want us to use discernment. It is one thing to be among unbelievers as a light and a witness to them and another to be among those who claim to believe but do not live as followers of Christ. We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived by those who say that they follow Christ, when they are really more interested in satisfying worldly appetites. If we are not careful, we can be led astray.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
While we are to love one another with patience, and we are to spread the Gospel through the world, the New Testament has harsh words for those who masquerade as followers of Christ and lead others astray. It is important that those who seek to obey and to please God are discerning as we look for leadership, discipleship, and encouragement. A big piece of this is reading Scripture for ourselves, so we can identify wrong doctrine. We also must learn to listen to the Holy Spirit; having God within us is the ultimate tool for wisdom. And we are to recognize other believers by the fruit that they bear, most specifically by their love for others. (Woe to me – I fall so far short!)
I can’t claim to be a great listener, but being an opinionated talker gets me into interesting discussions. There are tell-tale signs in a person’s conversation about what he or she truly believes. Hearing someone share an opinion gives insight as to how he thinks. You learn where that person goes when seeking truth, and whether she is more interested in the wisdom of men than the Word of God. A person’s words can also indicate an emphasis on the practice of religion rather than a life of obedience. I know I too am guilty of being a Pharisee, sometimes. Jesus said, “But, what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. . .” (Matthew 15:18) That verse cuts me to the core. How I pray for God to help me guard my tongue! And therein lies the difference: I try to be attentive to Scripture, and I battle the sin in my life. I hope that this is evident to those around me. I think that by watching and listening we can discern in others whether they are fighting the sin in their lives or refusing to acknowledge their sin at all.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”
I know that I have a need to be more loving, but I also know Christians who are easily deceived. I am sure there is a balance to be found. To effectively reach the lost, we need to recognize who they are. We must understand that not all who profess to believe truly do. Our church is working through 2 Timothy, and last week’s sermon was from 2 Timothy 2:20-26. Paul admonished Timothy, “So flee youthful passion and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (v.22) We need to correctly discern who the pure-hearted are that we are to have along with us in our pursuit of a holy life. If we join ourselves to those who are calling on the Lord insincerely, we might follow them to their destruction.
Yet, there is also in the verses that follow admonishment for how we should treat those who oppose us. Paul instructs, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (v. 24-25a) So for me, the outspoken, opinionated one, I need to learn gentleness and kindness. As the Scripture goes on to say, “God may perhaps grant [my opponents] repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. . .” (2 Tim. 2:25b). At the same time, I don’t want to ‘turn off’ my discernment. It is not my place to condemn others, but I need to keep myself on the narrow path. We must not accept that the way to salvation is a broad road. The Bible tells us otherwise.