Why fighting fire with fire is stupid…

Posted: August 3, 2011 in Church, Perspective, Uncategorized, Worship

“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.

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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.

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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.
And the one thing I’ve seen in virtually ALL of these circumstances is that things always get worse for the people involved.  Fighting sin with sin never ends well.  I’ve seen it divide churches, destroy leaders, wreck marriages, tarnish reputations, and tear apart friendships previously believed to be able to withstand anything.
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Let me be clear about why this troubles me so much.  Basically, it comes down to this:  When we attempt to “fix” sin through our own means – a means OTHER than repentance (the confession and turning away from our sin) – we actually deny ourselves the very real power of restoration that God’s grace provides.  Don’t miss how important this is:  In our attempt to AVOID the consequences of our sins, we are – in reality – DENYING ourselves the very power which could heal us.  Instead, we inexplicably place our faith in our own “ability” to cover and hide and justify our sin, rather than put our faith in a God who promises to forgive us if we confess our sins to him:
 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.
You fight sin with repentance.  You’re going one direction (sin), then you choose to turn around and go in another (not sin).  There is no other way, because only the grace that comes with repentance heals the damage sin has done in our lives.  Bam!  That’s it.  Don’t be deceived by our Enemy into believing that another sin is ever the answer.  We have to hate sin as much as God hates it.  We have to confess from it, turn from it.
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.
Worldly sorrow gets us nowhere.  A lack of repentance leads to spiritual death.  You cannot sin, remain unrepentant, and then go around talking about how great your walk with God is, thinking you’re just basking in his love and his “overlooking” of your sin.  That is nothing short of being delusional.  Yes, God loves you (absolutely!) – BUT have no doubt that God is weeping over unrepentant sin (after all his own Son died for it).  He wants us broken, on our knees, desperate to purge ourselves of the sin in our lives:
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.   –  Psalm 51:17
I believe He is desperate to see His people quit putting our faith in ourselves and religious platitudes and truly get on our knees and repent, so HE can restore us.  Why would we deny ourselves that kind of a restoration?!  Why would we trade the power of God that can transform us for the idol of our own power?
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One more thing:  If we want to see repentance, then we – as Christians, as leaders, as churches – need to get better at making this easier for people to do.  Throughout history, we have perverted this call for people to repent into a license to abuse them spiritually over everything from homosexuality to the consumption of alcohol to whether it’s appropriate to wear jeans to church.  No, we need to be the first people in line rejoicing when people truly repent and the first people to pick them up when they fall to help them get going again:
  “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive.”      – Luke 17:3
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Repentance is not an optional component of our faith.  It is the water with which we douse the fire of sin in our lives.  It is not the act of saving ourselves.  Rather, it is the means by which we allow the saving power of God’s grace and the transforming power of His Spirit to transform us into the kinds of people he wants us to be.  Why would we settle for anything else?

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