I was recently behind a car that was covered in bumper stickers. You can tell a lot by a person based on the bumper stickers they put on their car—after all, that’s kind of the point isn’t it? The car was old and so were the stickers. I could read the name of Jesus and God on some of them, “blessed” on others, but right alongside them were bumper stickers with four letters words that won’t be retyped here. I was pretty confused, as this guy was sending out some mixed signals. Did he want people to know Jesus and God and how blessed he was, or did he want to curse everyone? It got me thinking about other mixed signals that we Christians, and even the church, can send out to the world.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul addresses something going on in the church that could send mixed signals.
“I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)
Paul would not stand for someone in the church living in sin like this! It’s similar to the mixed signals on the back of the car. I wonder how many people in churches today profess to be believers but are living in sexual sin while the church turns a blind eye, or worse, is aware of it and welcomes it. Let’s be clear, though: this isn’t an unbeliever Paul is talking about.
“When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.
“It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, ‘You must remove the evil person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
It’s not unbelievers living this way who Paul is telling us to avoid—it’s believers, those who profess to be Christ-followers but who still live in obedience to their sinful nature. Paul’s recommendation was to send him out so he could be “handed over to Satan so that his sinful nature would be destroyed and he would be saved on the day the Lord returns.” (1 Corinthians 5:5) Today, we’d say something like, “They need to hit rock bottom before they realize they need to stop living that way.” That’s what I needed: it was the only thing that woke me up to my need to confess and repent of my sin and actually follow Jesus, nailing my sinful desire to Christ’s cross.
If we don’t hold those inside the church who are sinning accountable, then we are going to have churches full of people who claim to follow Jesus but still live in obedience to their sinful desires. We’ll be sending mixed signals out to the world which will be bad for those who are lost and bad for us, if we are living like hypocrites or are not accurately representing Christ and the message of the Bible.
“Therefore, we are the Messiah's representatives, as though God were pleading through us. We plead on the Messiah's behalf: ‘Be reconciled to God!’" (2 Corinthians 5:20)
We can’t be Jesus’ representatives accurately and send a clear message of “be reconciled to God” to a lost world if we are living hypocritical lives. There are over 100 verses in the Bible that deal with hypocrisy and it was Jesus’ main issue with the Pharisees. So what are the contradictory bumper stickers in your life? Do you believe Paul’s call to flee from all sexual immorality, to have nothing to do with sexual immorality, but still watch the interesting streaming show even though it features sexual immorality in every episode? Do you sing praises in church and tell dirty jokes during the week? Do you look up Scripture verses on one app and search for porn on another?
If you are a follower of Jesus, you don’t keep on sinning. You have died to sin. Paul addressed this question in Romans 6, asking rhetorically:
“Should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.” (Galatians 5:24)
“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:6)
“Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God.” (1 John 3:9)
“Christian brothers, we ask you, because of the Lord Jesus, to keep on living in a way that will please God. I have already told you how to grow in the Christian life.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1)
If you want to follow Christ, you must die to your sin. If all of Christ’s followers lived this way, we won’t have an issue with mixed signals. Don’t claim to follow Jesus if you would rather continue living in your sin. You can’t do both. If you are ready to be a Christ follower or already consider yourself one, then you must be done with sin. You don’t keep on sinning and you don’t turn a blind eye to sin among fellow believers. Nail the passions and desires of your sinful nature to Christ’s cross, kill that old sinful self, live in a way that will please God, and send a clear message out into this dark world.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.