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Relationship Primer for the Christian – Taking a step out of The Book of Ruth

Last week this blog dealt with a 5-step process to help you take the very next step in your life and find your path according to God’s will.  But what happens when a difficult person puts a road block in your way and leaves you with no idea what the right action is?  Every decision seems wrong or you are frozen with too many doable directions.  As Christians, we want to make the right choice but what is that?

My pastor, Steve Wilson, was recently asked a variation of questions dealing with difficult people in difficult situations.  What follows was his faithful consideration and guidance.

It All Starts With a Question

All appropriate counsel and relationship determinations begin by asking the simplest question: “Who am I talking to?”  Not, is it my friend, my mother, etc … but what is their relationship to God?  Now, careful here, you cannot ever know the integrity or lack of that relationship – not completely – – but you must affirm what they affirm [what they say about themselves]; with some qualifiers.  I don’t get to decide to act contrary to what they claim, but I must, instead, act in accord with what they claim.  Each different relationship has different constraints, in Scripture, regarding how I must act toward them.

  1. “I am a Christian.” “I believe.”

The church must accept those who express such a faith.  But not without some examination.  We cannot examine faith as a thing.  What we can examine is the object of their faith.  I like to say it this way – – “I won’t question whether you believe in Jesus or not, at least not yet, but I will question the Jesus you say you believe in.”

With that test passed – we must accept their testimony and now relate to them as Christians.

Example:  The Christian in pursuit of obedience – living the sanctified life.  Here relationship is full and free and blessed.  There are no constraints other than God’s limiting circumstance (location, etc.). This is koinonia – nothing else like it.  And the gospel is still our ongoing hope.

  1. “I am not a Christian.” “I don’t believe.”

The church must never accept anyone as a believer who doesn’t claim to be a believer.  [Never just assume they are a Christian.  Ask.  It’s a starting place.]

I must now relate to them as unbelievers.

Example:  The unbeliever is, of course, fit for the gospel – I can share the gospel with them, with the hope of its effect.  I can enjoy fellowship with them, but not full until/if they become brothers or sisters in Christ.  There are points of separation around the gospel (worship/communion, ministry, etc.) but there are many points of vital relationship.

  1. “I was a Christian, but now I am not.” “I did believe, but now I don’t.”

This is far too simplistic – but assuming it is manifestly their declaration, they are not Christians, they are apostate.

I must now relate to them as apostates.

Example:  The apostate is not fit for the gospel – there is no hope of effect.  Again, this denial of Christ, after affirming faith, is their declaration, not mine to make.  But if they have made it, the Bible is clear – I can have no fellowship with them – – AT ALL – – not even to wish them ‘God’s speed’.

2 John 9–11
9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,
11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

If you question the veracity of his/their testimony – that can only be done by examining (if possible) the object of their former faith: the Christ they claimed and the grace they trusted.  At this point, without a magic window into their soul, you must take their rejection at face value, it seems to me.  And the consequent action is determined clearly by Scripture.  Apostasy is the most dreaded and extreme of all imagined courses a life can take – but it is also clearly defined and outlined in Scripture and thereby, expected to occur.

Should God grant repentance – and a saving faith – in such a situation – we could then only determine our delineation of them as apostate was wrong, though rightly discerned and applied given our limited understanding.  We can’t know what we can’t know, but we must act on what we can discern and, in cases such as this, what the person demands by their own testimony.

  1. I don’t understand what it means to be a Christian.”

I use this only to describe children or the simple.  They simply don’t have the ability, yet, to accept the truths of the gospel that alone can save.  They are, I think, kept by God until they mature to a willful rejection of His truth – and are then unbelievers.  I don’t mean they are innocent – and this really isn’t our point.  I only mean to establish this as one ‘type’ of person.

I must now relate to them as children or simple.

Example: The child is fit for the gospel – I can share the gospel with them, with the hope of its effect.  I can enjoy fellowship with them, but it is not full until/if they become brothers or sisters in Christ.

  1. “I am a Christian, but I can’t stop this behavior.” “I do believe, but I don’t believe this is ever going to change.”

This is the stubbornly disobedient Christian.

I must now relate to them as a disobedient Christian.  [This means any conflict must filter through Matthew 18 and all caring of one another (provision & protection) is done in context of the church; until such time as they refuse to repent of their sin.  This is known as Biblical restoration or church discipline]

Example: Then comes the Christian living in stubborn disobedience.  And here again we are given biblical constraints regarding our relationship.  Other than the apostate, it is the most limited.  We cannot enjoy koinonia – we cannot share in worship (though we might with an unbeliever who is visiting our worship, we must see to it that we don’t with these) – we cannot share in communion – we cannot, even, share in ordinary fellowship outside the church.  But – – they are still fit for the effect of the gospel that would lead them to repentance.  We can, and indeed must, pursue them toward repentance.  We must not treat them like an enemy – – but long to be joined together again in full fellowship; like a brother.

Relationships are always difficult at one time or another but at least we, as Christians, know where God wants us to start.  Even if establishing the boundaries for a relationship brings us to our knees in tears; we know God will do what he knows to be best for all parties involved.  Trust and obey.  That is the Christian life.

* Scripture Regarding Apostasy: Hebrews 3:1-18, Hebrews 6:4-8, Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 3:14-16, Matthew 10:33, 2 Timothy 2:12, 2 Timothy 3:5, 2 Peter 2:1-10, Jude 10-23