Subtitle: Spiritual Leprosy
It is a sad thing to note that, as the "age of grace" lengthens, God’s people seem more determined than ever to adopt the attitudes and actions of the world. Fads and fancies come and go, but one thing remains constant—each one manages to leave its indelible mark upon certain segments of professing Christendom. For those of us who have accumulated a little "mileage", we view this phenomenon from the perspective of having lived through a great deal of it. I truly wish I could put into adequate words an explanation for young people about how much society has changed in the last forty or fifty years. One can only wonder how much further the Lord will allow it to go before He returns for His church.
As we might expect, the Word of God has much to say about the subjects of worldliness and separation. Lord willing, we would like to explore them both in depth. We will begin by trying to define the word "worldliness". It is the noun form of the word "worldly" and Webster defines it thusly: "Of, relating to, or devoted to the temporal world: not religious or spiritual." (emphasis mine). From this definition we see that the word is not at all a flattering one with which to describe a Christian. To be worldly is to adhere to and follow that which characterizes the attitudes and actions of the masses; the unregenerate—those who are lost. Additionally, we must understand that it is an extremely easy thing for us to do. All that is necessary is for us to
"roll with the flow" and take the path of least resistance. Human nature predisposes us toward worldliness. Before we were saved, worldliness was a way of life. After salvation, we gain a new nature, but the old sinful nature is not eradicated. Because of this, we are trapped in a situation that absolutely guarantees a life of continual conflict!
Perhaps you have heard the story about the old Indian chief who came to know the Lord. Two of his "pale face" brethren came to visit and one asked him about how his spiritual life was going. The old chief replied that it was as if he had two dogs living within himself—one white and one black and they fought constantly! After they talked on for a little while, the man asked him: "Which one wins?" The chief’s reply is classic: "The one I feed the most!" While this is a simple illustration, it gives us a vivid picture of the battle we face on a daily basis. If we feed our new nature by studying the Word of God and praying, we will grow "in grace and knowledge of the Lord." However, if we continue to feast on the "husks that the pigs eat", we shouldn’t expect much progress in the spiritual life.
The apostle Paul refers to this struggle in Romans 7:15-25. What he has to say is vital to our understanding of the problem, so we will quote it in its entirety:
"For I do not understand my own actions—I am baffled, bewildered. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [which my moral instinct condemns]. Now if I do [habitually] what is contrary to my desire, [that means I acknowledge and agree that the Law is good (morally excellent) and that I take sides with it. However, it is no longer I who do the deed, but the sin [principle] which is at home in me and has possession of me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but no power to carry it out; For I fail to practice the good deeds I desire to do, but the evil deeds that I do not desire to do are what I am [ever] doing. Now if I do what I do not desire to do, it is no longer I doing it—it is not myself that acts—but the sin [principle] which dwells within me [fixed and operating in my soul]. So I find it to be a law [of my being] that when I want to do what is right and good, evil is ever present with me and I am subject to its insistent demands. For I endorse and delight in the Law of God in my inmost self—with my new nature. But I discern in my bodily members—in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh—a different law (rule of action) at war against the law of my mind (my reason) and making me a prisoner to the law of sin that dwells in my bodily organs—in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh. O unhappy and pitiable and wretched man that I am! Who will release and deliver me from [the shackles of]
this body of death? O thank God—He will! Through Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, our Lord! So then indeed I of myself with the mind and heart serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
This inner struggle which Paul so ably describes, should strike a chord within each of us as being characteristic of our own experience. We know better, but we do not always do better! Right? Well, I must hasten to say that just because it is a common affliction, we must never attempt to excuse our actions. To allow sinful, worldly attitudes and actions to remain unchallenged in our lives is to invite bigger problems. The apostle John admonishes us in 1 John 2:15-17:
"Do not love or cherish the world or the things that are in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh [craving for sensual gratification], and the lust of the eyes [greedy longings of the mind] and the pride of life [assurance in one’s own resources or in the stability of earthly things]—these do not come from the Father but are from the world [itself]. And the world passes away and disappears, and with it the forbidden cravings (the passionate desires, the lust) of it; but he who does the will of God and carries out His purposes in life, abides (remains) forever" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
I trust that each of us can see from these verses that loving the world is a very real danger for the Christian. Our fallen nature—with us from birth—is naturally inclined and attuned to the allurements around us. Never before in all of human history has this been more of a problem than it is today, and it just keeps getting worse! It is said that one of the main reasons the Roman Empire fell was because the populace developed an insatiable appetite for pleasure and entertainment. Do you know the definition of the word "amusement"? To "muse" means to think. The privative "a" prefix is a negative and renders the meaning as "no thinking"! Those who love the amusements and entertainment of this world put their brain in neutral and coast through life, oblivious to what is really important. This type of behavior is a form of escape and they can not, or will not, cope with the daily realities of life. Since Christians are not immune to the malady of worldliness, we must recognize it as being spiritual leprosy and avoid it. (The disease of leprosy, so often mentioned in the Word of God, is always pictured as being typical of sin.)
Throughout the Bible Christians are constantly exhorted to seek wisdom—to think, to act in a responsible manner at all times—for our own good and the good of others. One of the genuine tragedies of the Christian life is to see those who name the name of Christ wallow in the filth of this world and then attempt to "witness" for Him! Actions speak much louder than words and each of us must realize that we are "on stage" 100% of the time. We live in the proverbial goldfish bowl and our actions are being watched. Once we take that first step of identifying with Christ (baptism), we become marked men and women, boys and girls—because the world is just holding its breath and waiting for the opportunity to call us hypocrites! Satan is the god of this world and he tries to make sure that we are seen when we go astray, in order that it might be exploited. Loving the attitudes and philosophies so prevalent in our culture is guaranteed to ruin your testimony as a child of God.
What do I mean by the term "testimony"? There was a time when the terminology of the faith was so widely understood it was taken for granted that everyone understood it, but such is not the case today. That is why I usually try to define certain terms. Your Christian testimony is similar to your personality in that it is "you"—what you really are—how you appear to others in relation to your profession. Do you practice what you preach? If you do, it can be said that you maintain a good testimony for Christ. Next to salvation itself, it is the most precious possession you have. So keep it clean and do not allow the filth of this world to rub off on it.
The best witness for Christ is a life that is filled with, and controlled by, the Holy Spirit. Too many Christians today have the mistaken idea that witnessing consists solely of "giving them the gospel". While we understand and agree that the supernatural aspect of salvation definitely involves the gospel message, our witness is in no way limited to just that. Whether we realize it or not, most people pay far more attention to what we do and how we act, than to what we say. As the old adage goes, "Talk is cheap!" Some people "talk a good game" and wind up being embarrassed after a challenge of "put up or shut up". The attitude that most of us have is, "Don’t just talk about it, show me!" Actions speak much louder than words. When we "walk the walk and talk the talk", our words will carry much more weight when we do speak. If people see that we are genuine and that our lives bear out the reality of what we profess, they will be much more open to the message that we give them. Hypocrites are universally despised and no wonder! Worldliness and Godliness are totally incompatible—like oil and water, they just do not mix. But in spite of the Bible’s admonitions about worldliness and its consequences, many Christians insist upon trying to "straddle the fence". (For you folk who have always lived in an urban environment, this expression may not mean much to you—but for those of us who have tried to climb over a barbed-wire fence—it sure does!) Trying to straddle the fence by keeping one foot in the world and the other foot in heaven will likely get you a torn pair of pants!
Another way of illustrating the point involves a story about the old days out West. A man with a freight-hauling business was interviewing prospective wagon drivers. The section of road that he selected for their test was on a mountain that had a sheer drop-off of several hundred feet on one side. His instructions were relatively simple: "See how close you can come to the drop-off side, without falling off!" First, one driver then another tested their nerve by urging the horses closer and closer to the edge. Finally, when one man stepped up and received his instructions, he answered, "Are you crazy? I will drive them just as close to the mountain side of the road as possible!" "You’re hired", the boss exclaimed! The risk was just too great and that is precisely the point that we want to make about dabbling around with worldliness. If you look like the world, act like the world, and smell like the world—how in the world is the world going to know the difference? Why should we think that they would be attracted to Christ by means of our testimony when we appear virtually the same as everybody else? As some of the young kids would say, "Duh"!
Another very important aspect of our testimony involves the biblical doctrine of separation. I believe with all of my heart that this is one of the least understood and least taught doctrines in the Word of God today. When it is mentioned at all, it is usually with generalities and platitudes, but the Bible is both explicit and implicit regarding the teaching. Explicit in that it is clearly stated and implicit in that it is contained in principle throughout. Let’s jump right in the middle of this subject and see if we touch any raw nerves!
Please turn to 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, where we read:
"Do not be unequally yoked up with unbelievers—do not make mis-mated alliances with them, or come under a different yoke with them [inconsistent with your faith]. For what partnership have right living and right standing with God with iniquity and lawlessness? Or how can light fellowship with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and Belial [the devil]? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement [can there be between] a temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in and with and among them and will walk in and with and among them, and I will be their God and they shall be My people. So, come out from among (unbelievers), and separate (sever) yourselves from them, says the Lord, and touch not [any] unclean thing; then I will receive you kindly and treat you with favor. And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Paul, writing under the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that we must separate ourselves from unbelievers and not engage in any alliances or partnerships with them. The word "yoke" refers to a wooden implement used to hitch and harness together the pulling power of two oxen. If one were so foolish as to try to yoke an ox together with a mule, the result would be disastrous because they would not work well together. Two oxen or two mules would be fine, but the dissimilarity between temperaments and relative sizes will not allow mixing of the two. The point being made is that believers must carefully avoid any and all situations in which a "yoke" might be made with an unbeliever. This would include (but not be limited to) such examples as marriage, partnerships in business, voluntary associations (club memberships, etc.) through which undue pressure can be brought to bear by those who do not have the same spiritual values, plus close friendships with the wrong people should be avoided.
I approach this topic "with fear and trembling" because I know from painful past experience that many believers just get all bent out of shape over this and react in an emotional manner to what they try to characterize as "legalism". In the first place it is not legalism, because this is not trying to enforce Old Testament Law upon Christians. It is a very sane and sensible prohibition intended to help maintain the purity of our walk with Christ. You cannot play in a coal pile without getting dirty. It’s really just that simple. "Don’t trouble trouble and trouble won’t trouble you." Of course, those who are already married to unbelievers, or already engaged in relationships that are unavoidable, should not make a bad situation worse! This teaching is primarily aimed at prevention, but in some cases the unbeliever(s) in question are ruining the spiritual lives of Christians and for that reason the relationship should be broken. If you think that this is drastic, just check out Ezra, chapter ten, and see what God required of the priests and Levites that married foreign women. We serve the very same God today! Separation is taught from Genesis to Revelation, but it is not a popular subject.
Not only are we supposed to maintain personal separation, we are also taught to maintain "Ecclesiastical" separation. This is an implicit teaching and requires spiritual maturity in order to grasp the full implication of it. The Greek word "ekklesia", often translated "church", is the root word for "ecclesiastical"—referring to churches and/or congregations. What does it mean to maintain ecclesiastical separation? I hate to be overly blunt, but it means to stay clear of any and all who claim to be Christian, but who obviously do not adhere to the teachings of Christ! Beloved, there is a vast difference between "professors" and "possessors". We are strongly admonished in the Word not to judge others—to condemn them unjustly and in effect pass sentence upon them in a manner of a judge—but we are also exhorted to "prove (test) all things". God expects us to keep our spiritual guard up and not to take everything at face value. Surely you know that "all that glitters is not gold". Churches and members who misrepresent the teachings of Christ and deny the essential doctrines of the faith are to be avoided. Just because they claim to be Christians by virtue of Church membership is about as valid as claiming to be a car by standing in a garage.
Surely we are living in "the last days" and it is my honest belief that the tares greatly outnumber the wheat. Many, if not all, of the most respected and world-renowned preachers and evangelists today are playing "footsie" with the Roman Catholic Church and its ecumenical one-world agenda. Demonic deception is rampant and they are out to get you! My job is to tell you the truth, whether it makes you angry or not. This concept of separation is a big subject and I have only scratched the surface, so to speak. It is vitally important that God’s people know and understand the principles and precepts of His Word, so we will—Lord willing—continue to hammer away at "sacred cows" to help you mature in the faith.
Finally, there is a separation issue that still rages in some circles. It involves whether or not the Bible teaches separation from genuine believers. This continually proves to be an emotional issue with some, but we must determine first and foremost if it is Scriptural—and if so, what must we do to conform our lives to its teachings. Again, I want to remind you of the awesome view that God has of our sin. He hates sin with all of His being and it cost Him the life of His only begotten Son to redeem us from its clutches. There is no such thing as "a little sin"—a concept of purely human origin and our flesh has a definite tendency to believe it. God wants us to stay away from sin in all of its myriad forms and any teaching which stresses this principle is to be heeded whether we particularly like it or not. Such is the case before us. Is there ever a time when we should distance ourselves from fellow believers? Frankly, the majority of conservative, fundamental preachers are likely to shout, "never"! I believe they are mistaken and hope to be able to point out why they are mistaken. Unity among brethren is something that must be maintained, if at all possible—but there are times when sinful attitudes and actions on the part of individuals require swift and decisive action by the body of Christ.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 5, we have a situation in which one of the brethren was living in blatant immorality with his stepmother. Apparently this man was wealthy and influential in the community and because of his social status, the church was "looking the other way". When Paul found out about it, he wrote this epistle in order to correct the problem. In verse 13 he commands that they put the man out of the church—excommunicate him! "But brother Ron, isn’t that pretty harsh?" Sometimes strong measures are required to correct that which is perceived to be minor. Immorality among the brethren is not to be tolerated. Period! When an individual has been dealt with as the Lord Himself specified in Matthew 18:15-17, and he will not listen to the teachings and admonitions of the church, he must be put out of the fellowship. Notice that verse 17 says (in part): "…if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a pagan and as a tax collector" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
The three steps for dealing with blatant sin are as follows: (1) Private admonition—one brother to another, (2) Admonition that is witnessed by one or more, and (3) Admonition by the assembled church. If the guilty party will not listen to the admonition of the church, then he/she is to be excommunicated and treated as if they are unregenerate (still lost and in their sins). It is to be hoped that this severe step will never have to be taken, but if it becomes necessary we must pray that the individual (if truly saved) will be so ashamed of themselves that they will repent and seek forgiveness and restoration. Praise the Lord, the man at Corinth did eventually repent and was restored to the fellowship of the church.
To emphasize the point that separation is required in this type of situation, look again at verses 9, and following, of First Corinthians, chapter 5:
"I wrote to you in my [previous letter] not to associate (closely and habitually) with unchaste (impure) people; Not [meaning of course that you must] altogether shun the immoral people of this world, or the greedy graspers and cheats and thieves or idolaters, since otherwise you would need to get out of the world and human society altogether! But now I write to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of [Christian] brother (emphasis mine), if he is known to be guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater—that is, whose soul is devoted to any object that usurps the place of God—or [is] a person with a foul tongue (railing, abusing, reviling, slandering), or is a drunkard, or a swindler or a robber. [No] you must not so much as eat with such a person" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
This should make it clear that we are to avoid professing brethren under certain conditions. The "why" of this avoidance is made even clearer in the Book of 2 Thessalonians. In chapter 3, verses 6, 14, and 15 we read as follows: (Verse 6) "Now we charge you, brethren, in the name and on the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, that you withdraw and keep away from every brother (fellow believer) (emphasis mine), who is slack in the performance of duty and is disorderly, living as a shirker and not walking in accord with the traditions and instructions that you have received from us."
(Verses 14 and 15) "But if anyone [in the church] refuses to obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and do not associate with him, that he may be ashamed (emphasis mine). Do not regard him as an enemy, but simply admonish and warn him as [being still] a brother" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Those who disagree with this teaching—insisting that unity must be maintained at all costs—do so, I believe, in spite of the clarity of the text. Most who hold this position insist that the teaching (Second Thessalonians 3) is pertinent to that particular situation only. In other words, Paul is admonishing certain of these people because they thought that the rapture was going to take place at any moment and had quit their jobs, sold their possessions, and were lounging around waiting on it! They refused to do any work to help to support their number and had become quite a burden to their church. While it is true that Paul is speaking about a particular situation, his teaching in 1 Corinthians should make it clear that the principle is the same. The specific sins are entirely different, but they are sin nevertheless! It would seem that common sense should dictate that God hates sin and is commanding that we separate from it—even if it means avoiding brethren. Please note that the reason for the avoidance—the separation—is that the offending brother might be ashamed. The idea is to try to get him to repent and get back on the right path. If we are not careful, we can jump to the conclusion that the one practicing separation is exhibiting a "holier than thou" attitude. While this is always a possibility, just because it can be viewed as such does not mean that we should totally disregard the teaching. That would be like throwing the baby out with the wash water!
The next logical step of separation is also highly controversial. What about the brethren who refuse to heed this teaching and continue to closely associate with those who should be avoided? I call our attention back to verse 14 of our latest text: "But if any one (emphasis mine) [in the church] refuses to obey what we say in this letter…." Surely we ought to be able to see that the effectiveness of the teaching will only be to the degree that it is practiced. If "any one" in the church ignores Paul’s admonition, the desired effect of shaming offending brethren is diminished. To avoid those who do ignore this teaching—those who continue to associate and fellowship with individuals that, by their attitudes and actions, deserve to be shamed—is decried as "second-degree separation". Their argument is: "Where do you draw the line?" "Do we fall back to ‘third-degree’ and ‘fourth-degree’, etc.?" This type of reasoning is childish, in that it clouds the issue by resorting to ridiculous extremes. Obviously there will always come a point of "diminishing returns"—beyond which it would be useless to continue the separation. However, in order to be faithful to the original intent of Paul’s instructions we must force ourselves to face the fact that brethren can, and do, go astray. It is the duty of mature Christians to recognize the importance of maintaining a purity of walk; a separation from any and all known sin and obedience to biblical teaching.
I mentioned earlier a desire to be able to communicate to younger Christians the vast changes in society that have occurred during the last forty or fifty years. These changes, with the resultant degradation of spiritual values, have been heart breaking.
To make it even worse the values of those earlier days were nothing to brag about! Personal holiness and godliness are terms that have become almost extinct—archaic remnants of a bygone age. History has almost come full cycle back to a condition described in the Old Testament Books of Deuteronomy (12:8) and Judges (17:6 and 21:25): "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes." The Bible—the literal Word of God—is largely being ignored by most of those for whom it was given, as the absolute standard of faith and practice. As a direct result the church has lost its "saltiness" and society is in the last stages of moral rot. What can we do about it? Unless the Lord decides to effect a miracle of no small magnitude, the situation is not going to be turned around. However, as the old gospel song says, "Brighten the corner where you are!" It makes no difference that the rest of the world is determined to go the wrong way; each of us ought to do the very best we can to walk in the light of God’s Word and strive for holiness. We will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ as individuals to give an account for the "deeds done in the body". Our eternal reward will be determined by how obedient we have been to the Lord’s commandments.
If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you
need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the
Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, but have come to realize His reality and the approaching End of the Age,
and want to accept His FREE Gift of Eternal Life, you can also do so now, in the privacy of your home. Once you accept Him
as Savior, you are spiritually Born Again, and are as assured of Heaven as if you were already there. Then, you can rest
assured that the Kingdom of Antichrist will not touch you spiritually. If you would like to become Born Again, turn to our
Salvation Page now.
We hope you have been blessed by this ministry, which seeks to educate and warn people, so that they can see the coming
New World Order—Kingdom of Antichrist—in their daily news.
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Finally, we would love to hear from you.
You can contact us by mail or email.
Cutting Edge Ministries, C/O Pastor Ron Riffe
P.O. Box 26
Gordo, AL 35466-0026
You can also E-Mail Pastor Ronald Riffe’s regarding questions or comments about this article.
God bless you.
If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, but have come to realize His reality and the approaching End of the Age, and want to accept His FREE Gift of Eternal Life, you can also do so now, in the privacy of your home. Once you accept Him as Savior, you are spiritually Born Again, and are as assured of Heaven as if you were already there. Then, you can rest assured that the Kingdom of Antichrist will not touch you spiritually. If you would like to become Born Again, turn to our Salvation Page now.
We hope you have been blessed by this ministry, which seeks to educate and warn people, so that they can see the coming New World Order -- Kingdom of Antichrist -- in their daily news.
Return to Pastoral Articles index
Finally, we would love to hear from you. You can write us at:
Gordo, AL 35466
You can also E-Mail Pastor Ronald Riffe's regarding questions or comments about this article.
God bless you.