If someone accepts Christ but their lifestyle shows no change, what does that mean and what can we do?
- That we knew this person before and after conversion well enough to have seen whether their life changes. If this is someone we only see at church, it is nearly impossible to judge their actual life. If this is someone we have known only after they have claimed to be Christian for 10 years, we may have no idea what they were like before.
- That this person is in need of a drastic lifestyle change. Someone who was raised in church, never developed bad habits or speech, and talked frequently of God and Jesus – just had not made the commitment – would be difficult to assess as being in need of guidance.
- We are in a position where this person knows and trusts us enough to listen if we try to help them. And we ourselves must be living a surrendered life so we can’t be shown hypocritical by accusing another of hypocrisy.
What Does it Mean?
If someone who we know had lived a disobedient life accepts Jesus and makes no change to that disobedient, rebellious lifestyle; we need to ask ourselves:
- How and why did they accept Christ?
- Do we know they are living disobediently, or are we judging them on the opinions of others?
- Do they know they are living disobediently?
- Do they have access to the knowledge and role-models for surrendered, obedient living?
When someone whose only personal contact with the Gospel is a fiery tent revival meeting focusing on the horrors of eternal damnation, they may have been bullied into a profession of faith and acceptance of Jesus as their only means of escaping that awful fate. If no one has then stepped up to teach them what a surrendered life is, they may well be thinking, “OK, I’ve performed the ritual, I’m golden.”
Is such a profession genuine – are they really saved? We have no way of knowing. Only Jesus is in a position to see into their heart, so we must proceed on the assumption that the profession was genuine.
Assessing the lives of those who accept in a more “normal” manner requires us to honestly examine what personally observable facts we know of them and their circumstances and to determine the depth of their knowledge of The Word. It is possible they have not made the expected changes because they don’t know it’s expected of them or because they don’t know how to pursue such change. Perhaps they are trying, but are becoming discouraged because they cannot effect change through their own strength alone.
What Can We Do?
If we have determined that change has not come as it should we must ask ourselves if we are in a position to help. Are we someone this person trusts or respects enough to accept corrective training, or will our attempt be seen as meddling in a life that does not concern us? If we feel we are in a position of trust, we need to approach that person in an attitude of humility and love.
Do not burst into their life like a bull in a china shop shouting, “You may not do this and that, you may not own that thing, you may not say those words, and you must abandon this relationship because it is inappropriate.” Coming at them with a Holy jawbone will only make them defensive and resistant.
If we approach in the spirit of love and remind them that they are now “in Christ”: a part of the body of Jesus, and show them in the Scriptures where a certain behavior is unseemly (a blemish on or injury to the body of Christ), they are more likely to accept our guidance. Pick one point; perhaps one we feel will be easiest for them to change, and pursue that. If successful, move to the next point. By then we may not need to make them aware: they will now be feeling (and recognizing) the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Once they have begun to read the Bible for themselves, God will speak to them through that. They will need support and encouragement. Offer to be there for them: a mentor or sponsor, a confidant. But be on guard that, being so close to their problem, you are not drawn in also.
The first reaction of those who find themselves under such attention – and the first excuse used by those who do not wish to pursue such attention – is to cite Matthew 7, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” If our own lives do not measure up to the standard we are attempting to impose on someone else, we are not in a position to pursue this action. If our own life is above reproach (which does not mean we are perfect; but that we are actively pursuing a surrendered life, and where sin is found we readily confess it and repent of it) then we may proceed in confidence.
In John 7:24 Jesus is rebuffing some Pharisees for accusing Him of breaking the Law by healing a man on the Sabbath. He responds with, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” By this He is saying that if we take it upon ourselves to judge the actions of another, we must do so by taking into account all the factors and come to an impartial assessment.
The Bible was not written as a rulebook for the entire world. The Bible is an operator’s manual for the people of God. The New Testament is directed at those of us who follow Jesus. We cannot use the directives given to us to judge the worldly. Jesus will do that in His own time. The church is, however, directed to offer guidance and nurturing to its own. To do that, those who are mature in Christ must lead those who are not. That will involve corrective action which may be perceived by some as being judgmental.
2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
Clearly we are being told to reproof, correct, and instruct.
Isn’t this directed only at pastors? Show me where it says that only pastors are responsible for seeing to the needs of the congregation.
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
Some will take this literally as a command to fight hunger, but it also carries a message of nurturing the young-in-spirit. Just as a parent will see to the needs of their child, we must see to the needs of those who are less mature in Christ.
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
This is often used to justify intervention on the behalf of a mature Christian who has fallen into on-going sin, but can also be used as instruction to guide a less knowledgeable Christian onto the path of righteousness.
The Bible instructs the followers of Christ to guide and correct one another in a spirit of love and gentleness. We do not have to be a Mighty Man (or Woman) of God before engaging others, but we must be righteous enough to make sound judgments about the position and needs of others and we must be in good standing with God before reproofing someone else.
Just as in a large family of days gone by where the older children help with the teaching and supervision of the younger children, so the family of God works together to make sure all are safe from our enemy and growing in wisdom.