Loving the Sinner - Part II
Last week I talked about loving the sinner enough to correctly diagnose what was ailing him. This week I would like to address the next issue – proceeding with the treatment. There are many a medical assistant to the Great Physician out there who are unerring in their diagnosis and courageous enough to confront those with spiritual ailments but falter when it comes to treatment and long term care of God’s patients. It is a truly skilled practitioner of spiritual medicine who is capable of treating what is ailing the sin-sick soul.
Whenever I find a soul infected by worldliness, bound by carnality, weakened by a lack of devotion, I rush to administer aid. Just like a paramedic responds instantly in the event of an emergency, I am not slack to curse the darkness whenever I see it. And once I have discovered the source of spiritual malady, I quickly administer the proper remedy or medical treatment to heal the infected soul. This is by far the most difficult part of my role as a medical assistant to the Great Physician. Many people are unwilling to take their medicine and rescue themselves from their fatal condition. And no wonder, for often it is a bitter pill to swallow, however necessary it may be.
Spiritual medicine has the curious effect of either curing or killing the intended recipient. For those who respond well to guilt, shame, browbeating and public calls for repentance, the medicine may taste awful going down but afterward yields the peaceable fruit of healing. Conversely, those who stop their ears at rebuke and refuse to listen to open condemnation of their sinful lifestyles regarding the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, the amusements they frequent and the non-church friends they insist on keeping find themselves with no ease for their predicament. Whether they admit it or not, their doom is sealed by their refusal to heed my advice. Fortunately, most of these fatally ill people (I dare not call them Christian because of their obvious affection for sin) leave the church and do so in a huff. Some members are grieved by their departure but I reassure my congregation that their continued presence would only serve to infect other susceptible souls with their carnality and worldliness.
Unfortunately, there are too few ministers of the gospel like me who are willing to diagnose and treat spiritual disease. Those who refuse to come to church every time the doors are open, who give less than 10% of their gross, who read their Bibles less than one hour every day, who never witness to the lost about their salvation fill those other churches. They serve as a source of contagion for the good people I pastor. The young people in my church have to struggle every week to refuse the invitations of their friends who attend worldly church to go to movies or “Youth Night” at non-scriptural churches where they play that godless contemporary Christian music. So the responsibility falls on me to protect my people from their corrupting influence.
My recourse is quarantine. Much as I would like to, I cannot quarantine the spiritually ill who fill the world from us godly Christians so I resort to the next best thing – I quarantine our church. Just like the “Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” I maintain a constant vigilance against any potential infectious agent by isolating my people from the outside world. I preach against television and many in my church have gotten rid of theirs. And those who still have sets, I forbid them to have cable TV. I also preach against VCR and DVD players because the only thing available on them are either worldly amusements or the presentations of heretical and damnable heresies like Veggie Tales and Adventures in Odyssey which promote liberal Christian values. I encourage them to have only Christian friends and avoid as much contact with the world as possible. We must be in the world but we should not be of the world. Indeed, the main thrust of my ministry is to constantly warn the congregation every Sunday about the evil that is out there in the world that goes under the guise of Christianity hoping to deceive if it were possible the very elect.
Regretfully, I can’t save all of my patients. To be honest, I haven’t saved very many. But God has never required that I be successful, only that I remain faithful. I may not be able to reach very many with the pure, unadulterated, Gospel but those I do reach can rest secure in their knowledge that they will make it to heaven. My job, however thankless and unappreciated it is by the mass of those who erroneously call themselves Christian, is to save the remnant that God has trusted into my hand. If I can succeed in preventing even a single soul from joining the wrong kind of church, from engaging in worldly pursuits, from listening to ungodly music, from worshipping in a style not in conformity with our tradition, then my work
Loving Sinners - Part I
I have been criticized by weak-willed "politically correct" compromisers of the Truth for not being "loving toward sinners." This is nothing new and I have been putting up with their whining for decades, but I thought I would devote a few columns to the topic of what it means to truly love the sinner. What they call lacking in love, I correctly point out as failing to take a stand for the truth and what I call ungodly compromise with the carnal culture of secular society, they call "tolerance." As everyone knows, tolerance is the virtue of those without convictions.
Let me begin by asking this – if you went to a doctor and he sees that you have cancer but decides not to tell you because he is afraid of hurting your feelings, is that the loving thing to do? Of course not. You expect the doctor to tell you the complete and honest truth, no matter how painful it may be in the short run. That is because in the long run, you know that he has your best interest at heart. My role as Medical Assistant to the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, is to provide you with the truth of your spiritual diagnosis. Just as you expect the painful truth from you physical doctor, I will provide you with the same level of painful truth in the spiritual treatment of your awful condition. You can have confidence that no matter how much it may hurt in the short run; ultimately I have your long-term best interest at heart. After all, I am looking out for the eternal destiny of your immortal soul.
Because this is such an important topic, I am going to have to break it up over two columns to cover it all. In this column, I will be dealing with diagnosis and in the next I will look at treatment for debilitating spiritual conditions. Some of you may question my qualifications to practice spiritual therapy but you may rest content in the knowledge that I am a Man of God, called by God to minister to those who lack the spiritual depth and dedication that I have. I am about the most spiritually healthy person I know of, living a life as free from known sin as possible. I am uncompromising in my stand for the Truth and I have no tolerance for spiritual error or emotional excess. Beyond that, I have a humble and contrite spirit, making me the ideal example of spiritual similitude.
Diagnosis of spiritual maladies is a tricky task. Many people are not up to it themselves because they are suffering symptoms of spiritual sickness that rob them of the discernment they need to accurately tell what is wrong with others. Many preachers are good at identifying symptoms during their Sunday morning sermons. They preach against dancing, movies, smoking, drinking and all the rest but they are often blind to the underlying root causes. Beyond their inability or unwillingness to identify and deal with sin at its root, there are a couple of areas where weak-willed preachers fall short of sound spiritual diagnosis.
The first area has to do with symptoms of things that they themselves suffer from. If you have a preacher who has run greedily after the error of Balaam for filthy lucre and has an avaricious heart he will do one of two things. He will either preach on money all the time or he will never mention it. The same is true of a pastor who has a problem with lust. Either every sermon will be about sexual sin or else the topic will never come up. You should never trust a pastor who either talks about one thing every time he gets in the pulpit or else has a topic that he never mentions.
Beyond the obvious weakness of such pastors is the fact that not all spiritual ailments have obvious symptoms. As a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, I keep a very close eye on my church members. I watch for the nervous twitch or the unconscious flinch when I am preaching so that I know what sins a person may be dealing with. Then, as they shake my hand on the way out the door, I call attention to their nervousness at the topic that pricked their sensitive conscience. If the person acts acutely embarrassed at having their secret sin revealed (as they usually do) I often follow up with next week's sermon topic covering the very sin that they are struggling with.
Most of the time, however, people are unaware that they are suffering from spiritual sickness and I have to awaken them to the fact that a particular message was meant for them. The difficulty for these people is that they usually don't respond to a subtle approach and I have to be fairly obvious in alerting them to their spiritual danger, even if it means mentioning their names from the pulpit. It is this approach that my critics find unloving when, in actuality, it is the most loving thing I could do. By alerting the entire church to their sinful condition and imminent danger, I can enlist the aid of the congregation in watching for the dear brother's or sister's soul. By drawing attention to their spiritual malady, I help keep the prayer list up to date and on everyone's mind. I even make sure that Bible Study topics are aimed at addressing their particular problems. It is a matter of marshalling all our resources toward lifting them out of the muck and mire of sin and bringing them into the glorious fellowship of God's people.
By far the most valuable service I perform in my role as diagnostician of debilitating devilishness in the lives of carnal Christians is informing them of the awful condition they are in. It does no one any good if we diagnose their difficulty and never tell them exactly what is wrong. Those who claim to be "loving" keep this news to themselves and abandon the spiritually ill to whatever fate awaits them. This is far more cruel and inhumane than telling them the honest, sometimes brutal truth they need to hear so they can seek treatment.
Or if they fail to heed the warnings, they find themselves so uncomfortable that they leave. My critics point this out as a bad thing when in reality the departure of the spiritually ailing protects the rest of us from getting infected.
Like any good clinician, I think it is important to warn people of the early onset of spiritual disease. Does the good doctor wait until a person is dying of cancer to warn them of the hazards of smoking? Certainly not. So why should I wait until a person is in terminal spiritual decline before warning them of the ultimate consequences of their actions? They should know that that "innocent" sip of beer is only the first step that will end up with them strung out on heroin. They should be warned that a Victoria's Secret catalog is merely the tiniest inch down a long road leading inevitably through pornography addiction, sexual temptation, and a life of debauchery and wantonness. My patients may consider me extreme but I think it is the only truly loving thing I can do.
"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
1 John 3:18 (NIV)