Saturday, February 28, 2015

How to Deal with Far-from-God Friends: Part 1

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Having grown up in the church, I’ve seen many young people seemingly drift from our Lord.  At one point, it seemed like they were close to Him, but now it seems as if they’ve forgotten Him.

This is a saddening thing.  But even more saddening is the realization that this is not at all uncommon.  In fact, it’s become the norm in the Church today.  Left and right, youth are packing up and leaving the church in hordes.

As I see this happening, I’m forced to ask the question, “How do I deal with friends who are distant from God?”  It’s a touchy situation.  However, unless I’m going to allow them to walk away from the faith entirely, there are a number of things I must understand.

I’m not all that close to God either.

When I look to the wondrous perfection of the Lord, seeing His holiness, love, purity, and grace, I cannot help but come face-to-face with my own imperfection, sinfulness, filthiness, and incapability.  As I stare out across the chasm between God’s flawlessness and my own pitiful unworthiness, “close” doesn’t seem to be a fitting description.

In comparison with the distance between my character and my Savior’s, the difference between my “closeness” and that of anyone else is fractional at best.

Yet if I thought it were only a matter of who’s “closer” than whom, I would be missing the point.  Our position on the journey of sanctification is not really as important as our direction.  My job is to point people to my Savior; the rest is up to Him.

Are they truly a Christian?

If I am to ever try to bring people back to a right relationship with God, I must determine where they stand with Him.  My response to a brother or sister who is drifting away from the path of righteousness is different from my response to someone who is not a Christian at all.

Ultimately, the lifestyle of a non-Christian’s life is not my highest priority.  While it’s easy to focus on others’ behavior, my job is to spread the gospel and let the Lord take care of the rest.  So if my friend is not displaying evidence of a regenerated heart, there’s not much of a point in my trying to “fix” their lifestyle.

However, if I know that this friend is indeed a Christian, I have another responsibility.  As passages such as James 5:19-20, Galatians 6:1-5, and Luke 17:3 explain, I am accountable to my brothers and sisters as a member of the Body of Christ, and they are accountable to me.

(I won’t expound in this post how to tell whether a person is a Christian, but you’re welcome to discuss that in the comments!)

Is it my place to confront this person?

After realizing my own weakness and evaluating the relationship a friend has with the Lord, it’s important that I know when to confront a brother or sister and when to only pray for them.  After all, I can’t confront everyone, even though we all have areas of sin in our lives.

Fortunately, Matthew 18:15 gives a key condition to confronting sin: “If your brother sins against you …” (emphasis added).  Thus, if another Christian wrongs me personally, it’s my responsibility to resolve it.

But what if a friend is committing a sin that doesn’t involve me?  Am I to leave it alone?  Since there are many specific situations, this is largely something I must determine myself.  Each circumstance requires careful prayer and consideration.  (I will also leave this for further discussion in the comment section, since it is such a broad issue.)

I can’t change anybody

Ultimately, no matter how much I try, no matter how sincere my intentions, I will never be able to change anyone.

But really, why would I want to?  From my experience, just about everything I try to change of my own power fails.  Miserably. 

I can’t change anybody.  But that is just the way I want it.  I can rejoice, knowing that the very One Who has the power to change my hard heart can use me as His instrument to do His work in the hearts of those around me!  What an incredible thought.

So before I can hope to help any wayward friend, I need to ensure that my attitude is right.  I must understand that I’m not as close to my Savior as I may think.  I must ascertain where my friend is with the Lord.  I must know when it is right to confront them.  And finally, I must realize that I cannot change anyone of my own effort.

With this understanding, if God is prompting me to confront a brother or sister, how do I go about doing so?  How do I talk to someone about my concerns without turning them away?  Be sure to come back Wednesday, when we’ll discuss the “how” of dealing with far-from-God friends!