Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things’ sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience: wherein ye also once walked, when ye lived in these things; but now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth: lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:5-11).
Do we really despise sin anymore?
Notice what Paul says about it here in Colossians: we are to put sin and its tendencies to death. Because of it God’s wrath is coming. We are to make it clear that we have indeed “put off” the old man, and show that we now wear the “new man.”
Most of us realize this, no doubt. I would hope that we are doing what we can to remove sin from our lives. Most Christians recognize the problem of sin and the need we have to put it to death, to put on the new man and reflect Christ’s image (Romans 6:1-11).
But what about the sins of others with whom we associate? Yes, I know, it’s not easy to talk about it. After all, we have our sins too. We don’t want to come across as hypocritical or judgmental. We surely don’t want to be guilty like those of whom Jesus speaks in Matthew 7:1-5. We don’t want to be the guy with the beam in our eye.
Yet consider the following:
Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ: wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote unto you in my epistle to have no company with fornicators; not at all meaning with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world: but as it is, I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat. For what have I to do with judging them that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Put away the wicked man from among yourselves (1 Corinthians 5:6-13).
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).
While we should remember the principles of Matthew 7:1-5, we need to keep 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 in mind also. In local congregations We have the responsibility of judging those who are within and to put away the wicked man from among ourselves.
But haven’t we all sinned? Of course we all have. But when we repent, we can obtain forgiveness (1 John 1:9, the likely sin not leading to death in 1 John 5:16). But when we see people in the church sinning, their sin is brought up to them, and they keep sinning, their sin is leading to death (1 John 5:16). They’re spurning the Son of God, and crucifying Him afresh, leaving themselves nothing but terror and fear at the upcoming day of God (Hebrews 10:26-31).
Jesus Himself makes it clear that there comes a time when lines must be drawn, as difficult as that may be:
“And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican” (Matthew 18:15-17).
Is God being harsh? After all, we humans have a bad record when it comes to making judgments. Wouldn’t it be better to just leave it in the hands of God?
The problem, one that should make us more uncomfortable than it often does, is the nature of sin as leaven (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6, Galatians 5:9). It spreads. When it is allowed among brethren, and it is tolerated, it spreads like gangrene or cancer.
God has indicated that His Church will be holy and spotless. While we can never be the ultimate arbiters of such, we do have a twofold obligation to maintain that holiness and spotlessness: by keeping ourselves pure (James 1:27), and by rebuking, and if need be disciplining, those who persist in sin (1 Timothy 5:20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). If someone is guilty of sin without repentance, even within the church, be sure that they have already been cut out (Romans 11:21-25, Hebrews 10:26-31). Just as dead appendages to the human body provide no value and can lead to the destruction of the whole body, so it is with sinful Christians, and the expected results are the same: repentance or removal.
Can discipline/disassociation/rebuke be abused? Certainly. Can it be misapplied to the weak when it ought to be directed toward the errant? Absolutely. Must we always remember that we too have sinned and that by the grace of God so go we? Of course. But that doesn’t change our responsibility to edify the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16), and unfortunately, some times we have to decrease to increase: dead growth must be cut out to facilitate new growth. Just letting the dead stuff stay there, choking out life, is not edifying the Body!
Ethan R. Longhenry