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Sin in the Church
by Carol Berubee

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Responding to the Holy Spirit

In the Corinthian case concerning divisions among them, Paul rebukes them and explains that Christ is the only Head. Those who plant seeds and those who water are nothing (3:7). Paul says that those who cling to men are carnal, at best, and do not heed the things of the spirit. Concerning the sexual immorality, Paul tells the Corinthians to not associate with the man known to be in sin. In so doing, the man will have to face himself in the cold world and make a decision (5:5). If he chooses to continue in sin, he proves that he never was a Christian (2 Corinthians 13:5; Matthew 13:18-23).

We are told to put sinful believers out of the fellowship (1 Corinthians 5). We are told to "flee from idolatry" (1 Corinthians 10:14). This would include fleeing from those who teach the toleration of idolatry. Paul says that he wishes those who teach false doctrines would "cut themselves off" (Galatians 5:12), but if they do not cease from their perverted ways, Christians are called to avoid such false teachers (Titus 3:9-11). Elders are not exempt from such scrutiny, whether the situation involves idolatry, sexual immorality, or false teaching, but only if there are two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19).

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul warns them in chapter 5 about those who are unclean. We are told to "walk in love" (v. 2), yet we are also told to not be "partakers" (v. 7) with those who are in the Church who are fornicators, unclean, or covetous (v. 3). We are also told not to be partakers with "filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting" (v. 4). In verse 5, Paul says that no "fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of God." We are warned to not let empty words deceive us.

Are there people in the churches who are fornicators? What about unclean or covetous? We are not to have any part of them. Fornication means adultery or incest, but can also mean idolatry. Uncleanness means impurity. Covetous means greedy, but it also means fraudulent or pertaining to extortion. Are there people in the churches who are guilty of these things but have not repented upon rebuke? We are not to have anything to do with them.

We are not to be partakers with those who are filthy. Filthiness means obscenity. What about foolish talk? It does not refer to levity unless such levity is filthy or impure. Foolish talk refers to the speech of a "moral blockhead," one who speaks without knowledge of the (moral) truth. Coarse jesting refers to vulgarity in either speech or action. Those who speak or partake of conversation that is filthy, foolish, or coarse are subject to judgment.

Paul warns us that no one in sexual immorality, impurity, greediness, extortion, or fraud will inherit the kingdom of God. We are not to be partakers with such immorality and idolatry. In verse 11, Paul says that the Christian, who is now -- by definition -- in the light, should have "no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness..." To fellowship means to share company with or communicate with. We should have no fellowship with idolaters in the Church (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). Instead, we are to "expose" the "unfruitful works of darkness" (Ephesians 5:11). We are to "walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. [We are to be wise], understand[ing] what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:15-17).

In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, Paul taught that we are to "withdraw" from those who do not work but sit idle, expecting to be fed by others. In verse 14, Paul says that those who do not "obey [his] word in this epistle" should be excluded from fellowship with the goal of seeing them repent. Furthermore, in verse 11, we find that Paul had "heard" that such men were in the Thessalonian church. This is yet another report that Paul received and to which he responded. He evidently believed this report because when he was there in Thessalonica he had taught them to work because idleness had been a problem. Yet, it would have been easy for Paul to dismiss the new report as hearsay from someone trying to stir up trouble in an area in which such problems were already known. How easy it would have been for someone to try to play on Paul's emotions, but Paul believes the report and tells the church how to respond to those who do not live according to his teachings.

2 Timothy 3:1-15 also give us some guidance. Here, Paul says that in the last days, men (in the Church) will be idolaters, "having a form of godliness but denying its power" (v. 5). He says in verse 13 that "impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." In verse 5, we are told to turn away from such people. We are to avoid or deflect such false teachers and their doctrines.

In Titus 3:9-11, we are told that we are to "reject" those who contend for the law. We warn such teachers twice, but if they continue to teach that we are to work for continued salvation or sanctification, or that sanctification is a work other than by the grace of God (1 Corinthians 1:2,30; 1 Corinthians 6:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 10:10; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 1; Romans 8:29-30; Philippians 1:6), or that the law (works) results in righteousness (Romans 3:28; Philippians 3:9; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; Titus 3:4-7) we are to reject them. (See the letter to the Galatians for a more complete treatment of sanctification by grace.)

In 1 John, we are warned about the anti-christs who have gone out into the world, those who oppose either the deity or humanity of Christ. We are warned in 5:21 to "keep [our]selves from idols." This means that we are to avoid false teachers or anything that presents a false image of God. In 2 John, we are told that we are not to "receive [false teachers who deny Christ's divine or human nature] into [our] house or greet [them]; for he who greets [them] shares in [their] evil deeds." Today, many teach that Christ died spiritually, which is the same as saying that He ceased to be of the Trinity. We know that His body died upon the cross, but if His spirit also died, then His very being ceased to exist, thus severing the Trinity. John warns that those who teach such things are false teachers and we are to avoid them lest we share in their evil deeds. In 3 John, we are given a picture of a Nicolaitan, Diotrephes, who has the "preeminence," who lords his position over people. John says that such men are evil and do not know God. We must turn away from those who claim to be Christians but do not love God and love people.

So far, we have not referred to the motives of the deceiver, idolater, or sexually immoral. We often hear that we are not to judge because we do not know the motive. In all of what we have studied so far, there is no test of motive. Motive is irrelevant in these cases. We are told to turn away from, to flee, and to not partake. We are not told that we must discern someone's motives; rather, we are to look at the behaviors, actions, words, and teachings. We are to discern truth from error. We are to discern ungodly behavior from godly behavior. Where there is error, false doctrine, immorality, or idolatry, we are to flee. Especially in John's warnings, we see that if we continue to have fellowship with false teachers, we are guilty by association, "sharing in their evil deeds." It is not a matter of anyone's motive, but of obeying the Lord.

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