Why We Cannot Ignore Unfaithfulness To The Lord
A man who was intent on being unfaithful to the Lord once told me, "I'm not hurting anyone but myself. Leave me alone, and quit bothering me about attending the church services," he said.
The Devil has really convinced many irresponsible brethren that they have a right to go to Hell "unbothered" by others who wish to rescue them. Never mind the admonition of Scripture to the faithful that "if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of gentleness" (Gal. 6:1). The easy course for the faithful is to ignore the unfaithful. Some churches do this as a matter of policy, in fact. Some brethren want to be a part of "fellowship" which quickly looks the other way if sin and unfaith-fulness is the path a brother or sister is taking. But both brethren and churches who operate in such a fashion have completely missed what a church is all about.
Discipline, both instructive and corrective, is almost defunct in many places. The unfaithful brother walks away into obscurity, wishing to be ignored, forgotten, and left "unbothered." Some churches are all too eager to accommodate his unrighteous desire. You see, it is much easier to remove his name from our directory than it is to roll up our sleeves, go to work on his problem, shed tears over his unfaithfulness, and save his soul from Hell. The sad fact is that if we ignore the erring brother and give him the quiet exit he wants, we are no better off than he is. It is a serious thing to ignore our brother's sin. We enable him to be unfaithful by turning our heads. We fail to do what we are expected to do by our Father. In short, we fail to be our "brother's keeper" (Gen. 4:9).
Cain made the mistake of thinking that he was not responsible for the welfare and whereabouts of his brother. The very nature of brotherhood suggests responsibility for those who have come from the same womb. When a child is born into God's family he has mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers who must now take responsibility for his care. No earthly family would ignore a member walking away from the circle of love which binds a family together. Why then, does it happen so frequently in the family of God?
Let us be reminded that Gal. 6:1 was not just addressed to the elders of the church. Certainly, as shepherds of the flock, they have a responsibility to keep the sheep together and in the fold. Shepherds who are asleep and allow the sheep to be scattered receive scathing rebukes for doing so in Ezk. 34:1-10. Indeed, they do have a special responsibility to "watch for souls" (Heb. 13:17). But all members who are "spiritual" are charged with the same responsibility of restoring the erring. "Brethren if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." (Jas. 5:19,20).
When you became a part of this local church, you were asking for love, acceptance, care and discipline. It's what makes us a family. Please understand that if you choose to walk away from our fellowship that we cannot ignore your behavior. Our love for you, for your soul, and our concern for your eternal welfare will not allow us to look the other way if you fall headlong into sin.
So often people develop he attitude that if one doesn't know about his sins, he is OK; or if we sin in ignorance, we are OK. This subtle doctrine seeks to destroy the importance of sin, and causes us to become careless in teaching others the importance of sin.
First and foremost, if one could be saved in ignorance, then the worst thing we could do would be to teach them the truth! They might learn and reject it, and then they would be lost. This makes the gospel a means of condemnation and not the "good news" of salvation. The message of the gospel is what we can do to be saved from our sins, not to condemn us (Jn. 3:17). But there are conditions attached to the gospel that we are to obey (Heb. 5:9).
In Leviticus chapters 4 and 5, God shows His attitude toward sin, including sins done in ignorance. He points out if a person, or even a priest, sins in ignorance or unintentionally, he is still guilty of sin, regardless of his sincerity, and when he learns of his sin, he must offer up the proper sacrifice for that sin (Lev. 4:2,3). If the whole congregation sins unintentionally, they still have sinned, and must offer up a sacrifice for that when it becomes known to them (4:13,14). If a ruler sins unintentionally, and learns of the sin he committed, he too must offer up the appropriate sacrifice (4:22,23), as well as any of the common people (4:27,28). In (5:1,2), he points out if a vow is taken which causes one to sin, he is guilty of sin; or if one unknowingly touched the carcass of a dead animal. If he utters something unaware it is a sin, he is guilty of that sin, and upon learning of it, he must make the appropriate sacrifice (5:4-6). In 5:17, God sums it all up by saying, "If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity." Thus, he must make the proper sacrifice of that sin when he learns of his sins. Certainly this is in full harmony with what we read about in the New Testament in such passages as Rom. 10:2; Acts 3:17; Eph. 4:18 and Heb. 9:7 (to mention just a few).
Since our sins can separate us from God (Isa. 59:1,2), then they are indeed important. Does God allow some time in there for us to learn (assuming we are desirous of learning)? Apparently so from the reading of Rev. 2:5, etc. But that is not a "resource" to be counted upon, as 1) we do not know how long we may have -- or when death might claim us before we are ready. 2) The wages of sin is still death (Rom. 6:23), and we do not want to take that chance. If you speed through a town at 80 mph, unaware of a sign that may haven gotten knocked down that said "45 mph," the cop is not going to excuse your ignorance just because "you didn't see the sign."
So what must we do about the matter? We must study the Word of God, that we might learn what our sins are, and then obey His Word to get rid of them (Jn. 8:31,32). My friends, sin is still sin, and until we seek His forgiveness, we have sin in our souls when we have done that which is wrong. Learn the Word of God, find out if what you are doing is wrong (even if you were very sincere when doing it -- Acts 23:1; 26:9), then take the steps God requires to get rid of those sins before it is eternally too late (Acts 22:26; Jas. 1:21; 1 Jno. 1:5-10).
---Donald P. Ames