The Issue of CondemnationBy Nathan Mates
Seeing a number of new and/or marginal Christians come through a church where the truths of the Bible are taught clearly, one thing that I've heard from some of them is this: "You're just trying to condemn me!" This is usually in response to a teaching pointing out that behavior XYZ is noted as being sin in the Bible. That simple message is treated as a personal attack, and they squeal.
This issue exists outside of the church as well-- as the Church happens to mention that certain behavior, such as any sex outside of marriage, is sinful, participants in that behavior tend to get rather annoyed. This is not just in response to in-your-face tactics designed to grab attention, but even simple messages delivered in a straightforward and nonthreatening manner.
If delivering a message that certain behaviors are wrong can blow back up at the messenger, what are we to do? As the most personal case, consider being on the receiving end of such a message. This can be either in a general public sense, as in being in an audience from a sermon, or in a more one-on-one situation, receiving such a message personally from another. In either case, the best thing to do is ask yourself two questions: (1) is this advice Biblical? (2) am I in the wrong?
As Christians, we should be increasing in our knowledge of the Bible as we mature, and knowing what's in it. Given an issue, we should either have a good idea of what the Bible says on that, but even if we don't, we need to know where to find out about that-- a Bible dictionary, a concordance, a trusted friend, or the like. Thus, even if you're initially unsure about an issue, you should be mature enough find out what the Bible says about it fairly quickly.
Once we know what the Bible says, the second question comes into play: am I wrong, and what am I going to do about it? Once again, maturity comes into play here; if we have offended a holy God, it makes sense to repent and change as quickly as possible. It doesn't matter who delivered the message, be it your pastor, a friend, or a really annoying co-worker. God can and will use any to all of them to deliver a message, and it helps to listen the first time.
How can we know we're following God's plans in this regard? God has given us all a conscience, and an example in Paul: "So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." [Acts 24:16] We will be bugged by a guilty conscience, and keeping it clear helps us have a right relationship with God. This is not to mean we should become neurotic about keeping it clean, but to resolve issues as they pop up.
Our attitude as Christians should be to accept gentle correction thankfully. That is not the attitude generally taken in the world, however, where sin distorts the picture to a 'might makes right' attitude. People figure that if they're getting away with something, it must be ok, and any challenge to those assumptions causes a violent reaction. We should not be like them.
Consider the alternate case, of being on the delivering side of such a message. While doing so, we need to make sure we're delivering God's word (not our own), in a spirit of love and grace (and not our own). It's very easy to become vindictive about pointing out another's faults, but as Paul notes, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." [1 Corinthians 13:1] We have been forgiven much, and received much grace, so we also need to be on the giving side of forgiveness and grace.
We are not to compromise or water down what the Bible clearly says on issues, and yet we're not to forget that our audience is human just as we are. If some get very annoyed at delivering a message delivered in a loving and gracious way, that is an issue between their conscience and God that may be out of our hands directly. We can still pray for them and seek to instruct them in God's word and how it affects and changes us.