What is the appropriate level of fellowship with a childhood friend, who grew up in the church and responded to the gospel, but is now living in a sexually immoral lifestyle? The individual and their partner now parent a young child while going to a different church. They desire a deeper relationship with me and my family, but also want acceptance of their family and lifestyle. Where are the areas of love, grace, and truth?
I believe the first thing to address as an important piece to this question is what is meant by the expressions – love, grace, and truth.
Truth is the divine standard that God has set whereby things are measured. When the Lord Jesus was here, He declared Himself as the Truth (Jn. 14:6). Truth is in contrast to a lie, so God and His Word stand in opposition to any concept and any behavior that is contrary to the truth. As a result, truth must be maintained at all cost.
Then there is love, which the scriptures declare “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8), and that, above all, we are to have fervent love among the saints (the christian company). Love, that tender affectionate response to the one who is its object and subject, is not intended to displace what truth or righteousness stands for. We do not sacrifice truth on the altar of love hoping to win people by doing so, because that incurs compromise which alters the truth as the standard. Yet, there is that which Paul declares to the Ephesians – holding the truth in love, we grow up to Him in all things (Eph. 4:15). This shows us that we do not just set truth forward as a dogma in a legalistic way, but it must be couched in the affections of love towards one another.
Grace sets out the thought of favor which meets man at his greatest need. That’s how God has moved towards man, and it is incumbent on us to display this quality of grace.
Having an understanding of those three qualities—truth, love and grace—we can now respond more appropriately to the questioner.
Certainly, we love to do all that is in our power to maintain formed connections and relations even from childhood. As one who has responded to the gospel and hopefully made a commitment to Christ, His word shows us that any sexual immorality is incongruent with the divine standards and must be held as such. Paul wrote to the Corinthians reminding them of a character of behavior that was once theirs away from Christ, but they were now washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor. 6:9–11, 17–20).
Wanting a relationship requires having things in common which we can enjoy and share together equally. If this is not present it will be difficult to continue in such a relationship because compromise has become the governing value. A believer will not feel at home with someone who, in practice, violates the principles of God’s word.
“Parenting a young child” – This brings into question the matter of influence which is an essential commodity in raising a child. We do this via our words, our lives, and the things we practice. As a result, if the gravity of sinful practices become part of the child’s upbringing, it will only perpetuate dysfunctional patterns in the life of that child to his or her detriment.
We should linger prayerfully, patiently with those ensnared in sexual immorality, trusting the Lord to work in the heart and recover them for His glory.
I agree with the presentation, but feel the question went unanswered. The lack of detail about the relationship might be a reason. When the friend “responded to the gospel,” did they claim Christ as Lord? Do they still claim Him now? If so, will they talk about their current lifestyle and the sin it involves, and consider the harm they are doing to God, each other, their child, and outside relationships? If so, the questioner may have a path forward. If not, then 1 Corinthians 5 is very clear about the next step: the awful separating effect of willful, unconfessed sin requires a practical illustration of lost fellowship (vv.9-11), with the goal of gaining genuine repentance (2 Cor.2:1-9). I believe there is a right way to obey that command and several wrong ways, but avoiding the issue will harm everyone in the long run!
I really appreciate your saying that this question didn’t really seem answered, Aaron, because
I thought it was just me not fully getting it.
I know the Bible answers every question, but I regularly find when I read a post on topics like this one that the situation is only sort of explained, and then there are verses given to apply and ponder–but no clear/definitive/practical example or answer is given. My main concern then is that we as believers staunchly stand by our statement that the Bible answers every question. Yet, when posed with one like the one in the post, we have the danger of not really answering or being vague, which can frustrate and add complexity to things that can be very simple. This can also lead to us finding sources that are much more emphatic and clear in their answer and accepting them regardless of their being solidly based on Scripture because, “Finally, someone answers and they answer confidently!”
The way the Lord dealt with the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-12) is a good illustration of how to demonstrate love, grace, and truth in such situations. There were a number of wrong things in that situation: the woman was guilty, the accusers only brought the woman to be stoned, and their real intention was to test the Lord (not a real concern for righteousness or the law). This is a reminder that wrong things often come in clusters.
After an initial silence, the Lord said “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Then silence again. Nevertheless, His words worked on their conscience and convicted them. When dealing with the sin of others we do well to remember we are no better even if we are not guilty of the same sins. Much care and watchfulness is required because sin always corrupts. We can however rely on God’s Word which has the power to work on the conscience. No need for much discussion: God’s Word and the silence of man work very well together (not to forget fervent prayer).
The Lord went on to tell the woman “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” The unrepentant sinner might want to emphasize the first clause at the expense of the second. But the Lord Jesus further said “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Not walking in darkness entails turning away from practicing sin that He disapproves of. So, the questioner could first help his friend see that a restored relationship with the Lord must precede the restoration of their friendship.