We've received several emails in recent weeks about the behavior of close Christian friends whom the writers find to be troublesome. I want to summarize the content and address them, because while they might seem like separate issues, I think they all share the same root problem.
One writes that the girl he is dating, who "follows the Lord," is dissatisfied with the low level of physical intimacy (holding hands and light kissing) in the relationship and wants more. The writer is frustrated because he really likes her but has strong convictions about sexual purity and doesn't want to "cross the line."
Another writes of a Christian buddy of his who, among other questionable behaviors, has made it a goal to meet and get the phone numbers of several girls per week, most of them non-Christian, and takes them out on dates. His friend who writes us asks, "How do I confront him as a brother in Christ?"
Another writes that his girlfriend's lack of conviction on cursing has caused enough friction that it might end the relationship. She has said that his use of words like "shoot" and "freaking" are really no different than the s-bombs and f-bombs used by her and others. He wonders, "Should I re-evaluate this relationship? Should we even be together?"
All writers have strong spiritual convictions about their own personal behavior regarding these issues and wonder what is the biblical response for each of their conundrums.
What defines "Christian" behavior is a topic of discussion that requires an enormous amount of grace. While the New Testament is packed full of behavioral commands, we need to remember that Jesus' most searing rebukes where reserved for those who "behaved" right on the outside but whose hearts were dark on the inside. White-washed tombs, He called them. Sons of Satan.
So here's our quick lesson on that beautiful experience called sanctification: The change is to come from the inside out. As the follower of Christ grows in deeper intimacy with Him, it should produce in the believer a moral purity that continues to increase until Jesus calls us home. It is a purity that is rooted in the heart, where the Holy Spirit has taken possession and begins to bring change.
As we grow in the grace and love of Christ and are transformed into His image, that inward transformation flows outward to influence attitudes and behaviors, where our mortal body becomes an instrument of righteousness. In other words, if we are authentically pursuing God, our thoughts, words and actions should be changing to match those of Christ, moment-by-moment, day after day, year after year.
It's easy to get bogged down in what specific behaviors Christians should or shouldn't do, and I think the issues that have our writers concerned are fairly black and white areas. Sexual impurity, dating non-Christians and crass language are pretty open-and-shut cases from a biblical standpoint. But I find that most of those issues are symptoms of a much more serious problem of the lack of passionate pursuit of God, resulting in a sort of chronic worldliness. It isn't so much the behavior that concerns me, but the heart that produces it.
Now, we need grace for everyone who is trying to make progress, especially for new believers. Sanctification isn't instant, and maturity takes time. But when there is little to no change over long periods of time, then I think it's fair to ask questions about the heart behind the behavior and whether close fellowship is advised.
If you decide that you both are authentically, passionately pursuing Christ, but at different places on the journey, then give much grace, avoid debates that bear no fruit, and pray for each other as Paul did for God to "fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding," that the both of you "may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God...."
Focus on where there is unity and pray where there is disunity (assuming the disunity is not over non-negotiable foundational truths, e.g., the nature of God, the deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, etc.).
If, on the other hand, the behavior you observe in your friend is really a symptom of a deeper problem, such as rebellion or just down-right worldliness, then we enter the area of being unequally yoked in close friendship. Remember that in close friendship, one will almost always influence the other.
In this case I advise a combination of two things. First, spend little casual time together so that their behavior doesn't influence yours. By "casual time" I mean time just hanging out together or playing or being entertained. Second, spend more of the time that you are together in pursuit of God. That means praying earnestly together, walking through a transformative Bible study together, and passionately worshipping in corporate gatherings together.
In fact, the next time the controversial subject comes up, why not just say, "You know, maybe we should just talk to God about this. You wanna pray about it? God knows what the right answer is, so let's ask Him." After you pray, say, "Wow. That was awesome. You know, we should do that more." And see where the conversation goes.
Dear writers, I think all three of you will get a better picture of what the next step is once you move the conversation from the troublesome behaviors to the pursuit of Christ. If your friend isn't interested in passionately pursuing God together, then you know what you need to do. Put some space between the two of you and pursue relationships with those who authentically want to "walk in the light as He is in the light."
Copyright 2009 John Thomas. All rights reserved.