“Fight fire with fire!”
I’ve always thought that was such a stupid statement. Adding fire to fire only creates an inferno that’s even harder to put out. No, you fight fire with water. You fight with fire’s opposite. You find fire’s neutralizer. Water douses the flame.
Several years ago, back in my college days, I had several friends who attended a campus ministry at a local church where it was discovered that the college/high school minister had been sleeping with students in his college ministry. Seriously. He would lead these vulnerable girls to Christ, then have sex with them. As certain key leaders in the ministries of other organizations (myself included) found out about this, they went to the pastor of the church to inform him of his staffer’s sin and plead with him to take action.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the pastor said he already knew. His college minister had already “confessed” the whole thing to him, and pledged to stop. What was even more surprising is that the college minister would remain on the staff, as if the whole thing had never happened. “We need to show him grace,” the pastor said. Then he scolded those confronting him that they were Pharisees merely intent on spreading gossip and that even the girls involved had been instructed to remain silent and not become “divisive.”
Now, I am all for forgiveness of sins. I’m all for the restoration of fallen leaders, whenever it’s possible. The way that many “Christians” treat people caught in sin sickens me more often than not. I say that to make it clear that I’m not approaching this from a point of legalism, nor do I find any solace in seeing people face the consequences of their sins. But to see this pastor treat his college minister’s sin like it was…nothing – I was floored. There was no discipline, no counseling, no meetings with the church’s committees or deacons, no counseling to help these now spiritually-wounded young girls. This pastor simply allowed the guy to remain in staff position, where he would still be leading girls he had had sex with. In short, it was a cover-up – a scandal this pastor and this minister tried to keep out of the view of their congregation, too afraid that knowledge of it would destroy their church. The pastor continued preaching. The college minister continued teaching/leading crowds of students – as if nothing had ever happened.
This is the point that you might be tempted to argue, “What’s the problem? He confessed to his pastor, and he was forgiven. Now you really ARE being a Pharisee.” Honestly, I’d love to be able to say everything worked out, in spite of our fears. But the truth is, there was no repentance. There was no discipline. The college minister committed a sin – maybe even a crime – and had to face ZERO consequences. So what do you think happened next?
Sadly, the college minister did not cease his sin, but continued to pursue girls in his group sexually, eventually sleeping with several more. Once more the pastor and his minister were confronted, only this time the pastor become angry enough that he practically began screaming at these community “Pharisees” to get out of his office. “You Pharisees don’t know how to forgive people!”
Eventually – as is normally the case with any scandal – these girls whom the minister had been sleeping with (and then told to keep quiet) broke their silence and started talking about what had happened to them. The church found out about the scandal, and overnight, a thriving community of about 300+ people dwindled to a small church of less than 20. The reputations and future hopes of two ministers lay in ruins. And girls who had been led to Christ – then led into a bedroom – ran away from this whole “Christianity” thing, bitterly wounded and doubting anything that had ever been told to them about Christ and what it means to be a Christ-follower.
You can’t fight fire with fire, and you cannot fight sin with sin. But too often I see people try. People sin, and rather than fall on their knees in repentance, they run straight into more sin. In the above-mentioned church, they tried to fight sin with cover-ups and angry accusations of legalism, as if by doing so the problem would eventually just disappear. Instead, the very thing they were trying to avoid happened, and the church and their careers lay in ruins.
People who fight sin with more sin often fall into a sickening spiral, usually becoming either (1) isolated or (2) accompanied by a bunch of “yes-people” who validate their position. There is a lesser chance of repentance. There is often more and more cover-up and denial of wrongdoing. Hearts become increasingly hardened.
And the scariest part? I think it’s epidemic:
- I’ve seen many people lie to help keep a previous lie from being exposed?
- I’ve seen pastors and other church leaders living in adultery who, rather than face their sin, attempt the impossible task of trying to live two lives – one open, and one secret.
- I’ve seen people privately (and publicly) bash their friends or family members (or even their church leaders) then go to an open forum like Facebook or blogs like this one and talk about how great their walk with God is that day.
- I’ve seen people in leadership fail to be good stewards of their ministry, then blame everyone around them for their failure.
- I’ve seen more “Christian” marriages than I can even count at this point spiral towards divorce wrapped around weird justifications like “God wants me to be with another man” or “this is the only way I can be closer to God.”
- I’ve seen more and more Christian young people run into pre-marital sex, but instead of repenting, justify their behavior behind countless excuses like “it’s normal in today’s culture” or “but we love each other.”
- Scariest of all: I’ve seen Christians get so wrapped up in the web of their sin, that they begin to question – or even re-write – their entire belief system about God and scripture just so they can find a way to keep their sin a justifiable part of their lives.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10.
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:17
“If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive.” - Luke 17:3