“Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and has not stood in the way of sinners, and has not sat in the seat of the scornful”, Ps.1:1

The real walk of a genuine carrier of the true gospel of Jesus is a wise walk. Its wisdom cannot be missed out or avoided. It must be wise or it would not be a walk of the genuine gospel.

We read from Paul and John that if someone calls himself a brother in the faith and doesn’t walk accordingly, we should not even sit around with him or greet him in the street. This is a mighty tool in many ways. The man that can do it properly is effective and very wise. He is able to win souls because he is wise indeed. One must be wise to be able to win souls over to Jesus. “He that winneth souls is wise”, Prov.11:30.

One might think of many reasons never to get involved with sin in a friendly way, besides of not participating in other’s sins. However, the Bible advises us to distinguish between a so-called brother who walks disorderly and someone who doesn’t know the Gospel and, consequently, lives according to what he believes is the best way. A so-called brother walks according to what he knows is the worst way.

The worldly ones fall into the category of whom God says, “Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes”, Dt.12:8. That is what people in the world do: they stir themselves to walk to where their own eyes see pleasure calling. Any other way, for them, is a reason to doubt and be troubled. The vision of own eyes is destructive and induces to error and a sure death. And it doesn’t matter much how minor the error seems to be.

Today, many separate themselves because of minor doctrinal issues rather than because of a life conduct. It is a shameful thing that the church has taken such a course lately. Such separations are not worked by God and are a smoke in God’s nostrils because it is a direct consequence of sin – of other sins. His disappointment about it will be revealed soon.

I felt in my heart to pen down some thoughts about this issue of separating oneself from those who sin. The main reason is to have some of this lighted up in order to avoid either self-righteousness from those who avoid the seat of the ungodly; and to have people in the seat of evildoers repulse the true gospel because of that excluding conduct, which is doctrinally correct.

We have many examples in the Bible where we easily realize that a walk of refusing to sit around with ungodliness is a walk of wisdom towards the ungodly and the nearer the ungodly are found to the gospel, the stronger should be refusal of light to sit down and greet or converse with ungodliness, especially when the theme and spirit of the conversation is worldly and ungodly. We have the holy apostles say we must not even greet a person who calls himself a brother and walks disorderly. On the other hand, Jesus allowed Himself to be touched by a prostitute, even though it happened after or because she had been converted and started to love much. It remained repulsive to the Pharisees, though.

We can, also, see there are no rules defined to a wise walk because it is a walk that seeks the best way to reach its goal. A wise walk achieves more than a thousand words. And the walk has something in mind to achieve, a holy goal. And unless that goal is achieve, the walk doesn’t cease to seek a best, to the point way to reach it through God. Wisdom is the shortest way to get to a point without missing the mark of holiness along the way. And holiness is never what other people say it is, but only what God approves it to be and what He takes delight from.

Let us start off with a few facts:

  • People are empty without God and they seek comfort driven by their loss; but they do not seek it in God. (This might be the reason why Jesus mentioned the fact that the Holy Spirit is the Comforter).  

  • Usually, comfort-seeking prevails in the sinner’s heart above seeking to repent fully. Sinners seek a harvest but refuse to prepare the ground and plant true seeds.

  • Sinners seek support from others when they sin because their own conscience doesn’t defend them. The support of others makes up for the lack of assurance resulting from a condemning conscience. They seek support to be able to carry on as always. Even if you do not support their sin, yet, support them, they feel supported by you. Supporting people must be a work of wisdom and not an undetermined, undefined passion. Everything must work for the salvation of a soul and nothing should work for its downfall.

  • The emptiness of backsliders is far greater than the one found in people that never heard the gospel because they have known peace before and can easily compare the before with the after. They seek more support than hard sinners who never knew peace. They become harder and their usual attitude is harsher than the world’s. Therefore, backsliders tend to seek more comfort for worse motives than the world does. And if that comfort is found in/from true Christians, they hide sin more hypocritically and become harder. Their hypocrisy grows more and wiser by trying to involve holy Christians in their sinfulness, and they move further and further from repentance. That sort of comfort is a hideout for them. In that sense, we cannot participate in others’ sins by comforting them or giving them any hopes until they repent.

  • It should be believed that the impenitent shall change the penitent and not the other way round.

  • Sinners please people because they seek sympathy in return. And sympathy is not always love.

These are facts and must be familiar with them before attempting to stay away from the ungodly.

Usually, the theory that one may not sit around with the ungodly for own holiness’ sake prevails among those who seek holiness. However, I am sure that if I still need to be apart from ungodly people to remain holy, I am not one with the Lord yet. My heart is not holy and my senses are still affected by sin. Jesus remained one with the Father even when He spent three whole days in the darkness of hell. He did not diminish in holiness by having descended into the darkest places of the earth. It is not the place or the people around that cause us to be unholy. If it were so, Paul would have never said that “nothing can separate us from God”, meaning that nothing can cause us to sin since sin separates from God.

I agree that it is far better to cut off one’s own hand permanently than to stumble into sin and transgression by keeping it in the arm. In other words, if a place or a sort of ‘fellowship’ has the power to entice me into sin or cause me to stumble in words or attitude, I must stay away from it. However, it should never cause me to think that my heart changes by staying away from ungodliness. If I need to stay away to remain holy, it also means I need a heart change. I cannot, therefore, be content or feel accomplished with staying away from the seat of the ungodly. That conduct avoids transgression only and doesn’t have the power to change deeply. It causes an apparent change, but not a real one. It is a change in conduct, but doesn’t work a change of heart. My heart is changed from within and not from without. If I need to stay away from sinful environments to remain ‘holy’, if my conscience troubles me under such circumstances, I must know I still need to change from within or, at least, need to be fully consolidated in the new life Christ grants. Something needs to be achieved when I am left somewhere to be tried through circumstances or people around and it is neither the people nor the circumstances that need to change for my sake. There are many reasons why “trials must come”. Perhaps, I just need to see sin is not able to touch my heart anymore. Perhaps, I just need to live with the fact of having changed as a fact and praise God for it with real thankfulness in the heart and having assumed a new life to the full. Perhaps, I still need a new heart and need to stop believing I have one already. There are many reasons why God’s providence sets our lives to face trials head-on.

When Paul commanded the Corinthians to exclude a sinful man from their fellowship, he had mainly in mind he conversion of that man. Handing him over to Satan could cause the flesh to be destroyed. That man’s conscience would be called from sleep, to trouble him far from Christian fellowship and under the might of Satan. Perhaps, it could work the right kind of sadness in him. By remaining in the fellowship of those he still considered as brothers would bring in him reconciliation with sin and guilt and not with God. We cannot afford to be satisfied with acceptance of sin and guilt as if it is love at work to do so. It would only help to conceal sin and, consequently, hinder true forgiveness and the subsequent genuine conversion of the soul.

In order to achieve the proper fruit from our separating actions, we must have some things in mind.

  • One must have the authority of a holy life backing him up along with the Lord. (So let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall, 1Cor.10:12)

  • One must have meekness alive and at work without feigning it when a resolution is taken to stay away from a so-called brother whose flesh needs to be handed over to destruction. If meekness is alive and real, that resolution must be taken at once and without further hesitations.

  • The idea that such a person cannot come back to God must be fully extinguished. In the mind of the excluded one, the idea that he must and can repent needs to prevail through our actions and attitude; the duty to repent must stand out; also, that forgiveness can be granted only by having fully repented and not otherwise.

  • The fact that the glory of God is chosen above the company of the so-called brother must prevail as well. That way, no one shall give the idea of being better than others or that it is by own merits that one is saved or kept alive. One must reveal clearly that one stays away from sin’s company to remain in the Lord. That idea must prevail convincingly. When God is chosen preferably, the idea passes through that the so-called brother and God are found in different poles and one is choosing between them because they are on opposing sides. A side must be chosen. It may cause fallen people to believe they are opposed to God instead of believing God is their friend, especially if the testimony of God is alive and visible in our own lives.

A worldly spirit tries to survive at any cost. To have it dead at the Cross and crucified to a permanent death, one must be able or willing to realize sin is deadly and that one has committed it - if the transgression has indeed been committed. Besides, any lost one avoids feeling that he is lost. He cannot stand the idea of being lost and rejected. Consequently, the easy way out is to try to jump over the wall into the sheepfold, avoiding getting in through the door. The sinful man tries hard to be accepted while remaining in that state of deception. Deception is an easier way out and it is more appealing to his heart than repentance is.

But, what Christ says is that he shall never be rejected by coming to Him in a sincere, repentant state of heart. Christ never said He accepts people as they are, but rather if they come and that He won’t reject them if they come to repent. A convicted soul feels rejected. However, it doesn’t mean he is feeling a lie. Conviction worked through the Holy Spirit doesn’t lie. We are indeed rejected while in sin and accepted by repenting and abandoning all of it through God. To see and believe that is part of true conviction. The first thought of one who feels rejected is to stay away and to seek comfort elsewhere. Coming to Christ must mean one is repenting from all sins. “Therefore come out from among them and be separated, says the Lord, and do not touch the unclean thing. And I will receive you”, 2Cor.6:17. We may never believe we are received any other way and unless His conditions are fully and unconditionally met.

It is a huge misconception to believe that our own heart is stained by other people’s sins, influences or sinfulness. We are enticed by the kind of heart we have and not by others’ attitudes or sins. “But each one is tempted by his (own) lusts, being drawn away and seduced by them”, James 1:14. The devil tempts with whatever he is able find in the heart. He is not that foolish to tempt with whatever cannot take hold of my heart or actions. “The ruler of this world comes, and he has (found) nothing in Me”, John 14:30. In other words, avoiding so-called brothers in an ostensive, clear and head-on way must mean one wishes them to repent from sin. It is not for personal reasons that we are moved to let people know and feel that they are rejected, I mean, that they feel separated but not despised.

If we are to apply such a walk, the reasons must be clear as to why such actions must be taken. There is no optional conduct for us if we wish to be pleasing God.  Besides, if one gives the (wrong) idea that one needs to stay away from people not to fall into sin ourselves, one might be putting forth the idea that grace is unable to save or keep to the uttermost under any circumstances. If grace is enough to save indeed, the reason to avoid certain places, certain people or even certain circumstances must be soaked with a loud and clear message of repentance directed to the ones who are avoided. The true reason for our actions must be loud and clear. We cannot lead people astray by letting them believe that grace is not enough or not effective enough to keep a heart clean anywhere. When Jesus told Paul His grace was sufficient for him, He meant circumstances don’t need to be avoided unless God Himself changes the course of the storm away from us. It is clear that, in a windy day, a lady must hold her dress rather than try to fight the wind off her. If we need to carry our paper work somewhere and it is windy outside, we shall hold all the sheets of paper strongly together and face the wind instead of leaving work undone.

Some other people say, on the other hand, they cannot afford such a walk because they feel they are judging others. However, any person who feels deeply the loss of a soul needs to exercise a good judgment of any situation. A good judgment is holiness. “For I, the Lord, love judgment”, Is.61:8. Saving is not judging, but it is a sincere attempt to annihilate sin to save a soul from total destruction. Besides, by trying to save someone that way is a last resource and will show that we believe Scriptures by assuming that sin kills and that no one can find true comfort outside a Holy God who is the only one able to fill to the full. Will you ever allow your brother to sleep with a poisonous snake because you cannot judge the situation? Will you not wake him up if you see the snake in his bed? Or, will you rather lay down with him and the snake in the same bed or bedroom? Will you preferably participate in his sins?

This kind of separating conduct should be used if the message is loud and clear. We do not need to separate ourselves from people for other reasons. By staying away from the seat of evildoers, one must be able to show along that a fearful judgment is coming against whoever has sin as companion. Besides, if we remain in the Lord and if we are found in Him the way we ought to be, the world will separate itself from us by itself. We won’t be pleasing to them and they shall rather set out to find what pleases or suits them. They will be judgmental towards us and not the other way round. The world, and not we, shall say, “Do not come near me; for I am holier than you”, Is.65:5. It pays to hold on to what we have and to remain true to the Lord all the way everywhere. Many embarrassing situations can be missed out by holding on to what we have – if we have it indeed the way we should. Our conduct may redeem time for many and cut short on many compromising situations. Let us, then, “walk in wisdom toward those on the outside, redeeming the time”, Col.4:5. Amen.

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José Mateus