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Tolerance Toward Sin?

An article entitled "Zero Tolerance" deals with a biblical understanding of tolerance as opposed to a modern social understanding. It deals with the Christian's attitude of tolerance toward evil. After reading this article a Questioner asked the following:

Question: "What should the Christians response be toward sin? Do we have an obligation to oppose sin and evil, or do we simply tolerate it as part of the fallen world around us? If we remain silent are we passively saying that these things are OK? I understand that there is only "so much" we can do... but does that mean we should do nothing? And if we do something, to what extent?"

Answer: That is a great question. I will attempt to answer it from at least my perspective on what I believe to be the root of the question: Should Christians have an attitude of tolerance toward sin?

First, I would suggest that you (the reader) click on the above link and read the article in question.

Then, think about the different definitions for "tolerance" that are given both from the dictionary (which I disagree with the author of the article in the sense that this is not a purely "worldly" definition, but rather one from a source that started out Christian in perspective and that's why "some biblical principles" can be found there) and from the authors source, the Louw, Greek-English Lexicon.

Read the Scriptures
Read the scripture references that are given. See if you agree that the essence of tolerance from a biblical perspective is "patience, endurance, and perseverance."

I don't totally disagree that the longer we are exposed to sin and evil in an attitude of tolerance, that it could lead to compromise if we are not careful to endure and persevere in the faith. This is why Christians are called to live holy and sanctified lives.

I also agree that we should hate evil and sin. Primarily because God hates evil and sin!

Deuteronomy 12:31 - "You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods."

Psalm 11:5 - The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates."

Proverbs 6:16-19 - There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers."

Psalm 97:10 - Hate evil, you who love the LORD, Who preserves the souls of His godly ones; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked."

Proverbs 13:5 - A righteous man hates falsehood, But a wicked man acts disgustingly and shamefully."

Proverbs 28:16 - A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding, But he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days."

And there are many more verses we could look at concerning our attitude toward sin. However, I live in a world that is presently still corrupted by sin and under the influence of the Evil One (Satan).

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 - And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."

So, what is my personal responsibility when it comes to an attitude of tolerance (endurance, perseverance, resistance, or allowance) toward sin? Can I make a difference? If I should do something... what?

I want to answer this by looking at 3 separate areas of tolerance toward sin and how I believe I should respond in each.

#1 - What about sin or evil in my personal life (individual or self)?

Zero Tolerance!
Zero Tolerance

Jesus made it very clear that anything in a believers life that causes or could cause them to sin MUST be removed. Even if radical surgery is called for!

Matthew 5:29-30 - "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 "If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell."

I love what Paul was inspired to say in 1 Corinthians 15:34 - "Become sober minded... and STOP SINNING!" (caps added for emphasis.)

I believe that Scripture is clear. We must make every effort in our personal lives to put to death sin and evil by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us and our diligent effort to submit to Him and die to self. Don't put up with sin in your life! Look at some of the language used:

Romans 6:6-7 - "Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin."

Put to Death
When something is crucified, it is put to death!

Galatians 2:20 - "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."

Galatians 5:24 - "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."

Galatians 6:14 - "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

Romans 8:13 - "For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

I (as a Christian) need to flee from immorality, idolatry, and sinful behaviors. Not tolerate them. I need to pursue righteousness!

1 Corinthians 6:18 - "Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body."

1 Corinthians 10:14 - "Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry."

1 Timothy 6:11 - "But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness."

2 Timothy 2:19, 22 - "Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness." ... 22Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart."

1 Peter 2:11 - "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul."

What, if anything, can I do to make sure I don't tolerate sin or evil in my life? Here are a couple of suggestions:

James 4:7 - "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

Every day, put on the full armor of God. And remember that it isn't people that I struggle against (Ephesians 6:10-18)!

#2 - What about tolerance for sin or evil in the "Church" -- the corporate body of Christ?

Zero Tolerance!
Zero Tolerance

Everything above about the individual is just as true for the corporate body of Christ. It is made up of individual believers. But is there ever a time when sin or evil should be tolerated (endured or allowed) in the church?

I don't believe so. It would be like a cancer that would infect the whole body and eventually take its life! In the Old Testament, there was a responsibility for the assembly or congregation to put to death those who sinned or did evil among them. This responsibility to not tolerate sin and evil in the New Testament church didn't change.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is inspired to write to a church that is tolerating sin within its members. He harshly rebukes them and demands correction!

1 Corinthians 5:1-6 - "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?"

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 - "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES."

Notice that we are not prohibited from associating with sinners in the "world." We are responsible to be Christ's ambassadors and witnesses to them. This, in part, helps answer the question of whether we should tolerate or put up with sin in the world. We may have to endure it so that we can spread the Gospel. But we don't have to allow it to infect us!

2 Peter 2:20 - "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first."

James 1:27 - Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

We need to stay focused on the mission of the Church and guard against the corruption of the world. We need to tolerate one another in love (in the church) according to Ephesians 4:2 but not when it comes to unrepentant sin or evil actions.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 - "...abstain from every form of evil."(Written to a group of believers!)

Titus 3:10 - "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him."

1 Timothy 1:20 - "Among these [who have damaged or rejected their faith] are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme."

1 Timothy 5:20 - "Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning." (Speaking of those in the church, particularly leaders!)

2 John 1:9-11 - "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds."

Luke 17:3 - "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him."

#3 - What about the world? What do we do about this sinful world, society, and people we live amongst?

I believe our tolerance of sin and evil in the world is Conditional. We must live individual and corporate (church) lives with a zero tolerance for sin. We cannot allow the corruption of the world to "re-stain" us once we have been washed clean.

However, we also must be connected to the people who need to hear the Gospel. We cannot fulfill the Great Commission if we seal ourselves up in a cave or behind the forbiddingly secure walls of our local church building.

Two Ways to Go
This is the dilemma. And, I believe, the answer!

We are to live holy and sanctified lives. Both individually and corporately. While we live amongst the lost, sinful, and evil of this world. Because, that's where the lost sheep are grazing! I believe that it is those very lives of holiness that we live, as lights in the darkness, that will make the difference for the lost. This my friend, is part of what it means to suffer for Christ. We must endure (tolerate) the sin around us while all the time not becoming infected by it!

We are not to fellowship with or join in with those in the world...

2 Corinthians 6:14 - "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?"

We cannot ignore the evil or sinful deeds they do either...

Ephesians 5:11-13 - "Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light."

Lights in the Darkness
I don't think this is a call to protest, or revolt, or even condemn... I believe that we can expose the deeds of darkness by being the light that contrasts them in what we do, and speaking of the Truth that overcomes the things done in secret!

Isn't this what Paul, and the Apostles, and early church martyrs did? They went into the darkness of the world and changed whole cities and societies by spreading the Gospel and living in holiness! You want to do something about sin? DO THAT!

William Wilberforce didn't ignore the evil of the slave trade but he endured it (tolerated it) until he could use the world's system and the truth to overcome it! He didn't give in, or give up, but remained consistent in his witness.

We need to have zero tolerance for sin in our lives and churches and live differently (holy) from the rest of the world. This is our witness against sin and evil. Clean up our own houses first!

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 - "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES."

Freedom in Christ
I think too many Christians live in frustration over what they cannot do instead of doing what they are supposed to do. We must hate sin. But also remember that our enemy isn't the people who are prisoners of it!

Ephesians 6:12 - "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."

Why do we who have been set free feel like we need to execute those who are prisoners of war so we won't feel like we are tolerating sin or evil? We need to give them the truth and be living examples of the power of the truth instead of trying to regulate or legislate behavior in hearts and spirits that are dead!

1 John 5:19 - "We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one."

So, what can I do while I am forced to endure (or tolerate) the evil and sin of this world? I can make sure there is zero tolerance for sin in my life!

Philippians 2:14-15 - "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world"

1 Peter 2:12 - "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."

1 Peter 3:13-17 - "Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong."

2 Timothy 2:23-26 - "But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. 24 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."

Romans 12:21 - "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

I need to remember who it is that has purchased me and who I serve. The One who truly is being tolerant of sin and who it is that can actually overcome the evil and sin all around me!

John 16:33 - "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."

Romans 2:4 - "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?"

1 John 2:2 - "And He Himself [Christ Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."

So... in light of all this, what about your original questions?

What should the Christians response be toward sin?

  • Zero tolerance in our lives and in our church.
  • Conditional tolerance in the world, since they don't know better and we are the ones who need to bring them the truth: both in what we say and in how we live.
Do we have an obligation to oppose sin and evil, or do we simply tolerate it as part of the fallen world around us?
  • We are obligated to oppose it with the truth of the Gospel of Christ and holy lives that reflect that truth and its power to transform.
If we remain silent are we passively saying that these things are OK?
  • Yes, if we remain silent with the truth of the Gospel that we have received and been made "heralds" of!

I understand that there is only "so much" we can do... but does that mean we should do nothing? And if we do something, to what extent?
  • We should pray... and pray some more. Especially intercessory prayer for the lost. They won't and can't pray. So if we don't, who will?
  • We should firmly and gently resist sin and evil and not take part in it, or compromise with it, or avoid explaining why we don't agree with it or participate in it. Others can be set free when you explain the truth and actually live in light of it.
  • We should make sure that our lives and our church are accurate reflections of Jesus that look different from the world, with zero tolerance for sin but open arms for sin's prisoners!
  • We should remember that we are here for His purpose and not our comfort... and that He has already won the victory. We should turn to Him when it gets too tough and draw on His strength.
  • We cannot ignore sin. But sometimes we must tolerate the heat to get to those lost in the desert!
I hope this has helped you in some way. Tolerance isn't easy but it takes much more courage than running away and makes more of a difference than alienation of the very ones we are sent to preach to. Make sense?

You are welcome to disagree... that's what blogs are for. I love you either way! P. Scott


Anonymous said…
I think you're spot on P. Scott!

This is one part that really spoke to the heart of the question, I think:
"I think too many Christians live in frustration over what they cannot do instead of doing what they are supposed to do. We must hate sin, but also remember that our enemy isn't the people who are prisoners of it!"
That statement (of course, along with the extensive awesome scripture) really shifted MY personal focus as to how I view this topic.
Rita T.
P. Scott said…
Thank you Rita, that particular statement speaks from my heart. I find it all to easy to "attack" those who are prisoners of sin, rather than remember that I am part of the "rescue plan" to set them free, just as I was set free. Your comments are very kind and appreciated.
BeeBloggin said…
Pastor Scott -

Interesting approach :) I never thought about how to approach sin in these 3 different settings... self, the Church, and the world.

All this being said... what I will ask now is just a minor part of my personal struggle with - specifically "knowing to do right" and not doing it. I know this is just a small piece of this entire discussion - but is a big thing for me.

My 40-hour a week job significantly affects (?) a LOT of people who are trusting in the care of the people I work with. I, fortunately and unfortunately, am one of those people they are trusting. If I do something very minor wrong - like use something unclean on a person who is or could be very sick - the treatment we do for them could potentially be in vain and make things worse for them...

So what is right for me to do is to not, myself, do something knowingly wrong to the people I serve. However, I feel it is also my responsibility to the people I am helping to not knowingly let anyone else cause them unneccessary harm.

This bring said, it happens every single day. Possibly multiple times. So while I am to not in any way tolerate myself doing something wrong... if I don't say something when I see my coworker
doing something wrong (affecting a third person) then technically am I tolerating their sin or mine...since I know what is right - whether I choose to say something or not?

I do my best to address it lovingly, but honestly most people just dont take it that way. Sometimes people just do not care. I have been told that if I speak up and it is still done, then maybe thats all im required to do - then it is their problem. But I still need to watch it happen and it is hard to be okay with that.

I agree it would be the most beneficial to attack the base of the problem with the Gospel! I have yet to figure out how to give the gospel in a few second manner from a correction transition :)

This is deffinately a good answer over all. I really appreciate the time and prayer you put into this! I had never thought of it like this... I only think about - I know this is wrong, is it okay for me to just let it happen?

Thanks again!!!
P. Scott said…
It sounds like you have more of a "conviction" than a dilema. You need to pray and ask if in fact, you are being lead by the Spirit to speak out or to "rebuke" the sinful actions of others. You are in a specific place and position to see a wrong, and have an opportunity to try and offer correction. The difficulty comes in the fact that you may have to go "above" the people who are not listening to your loving rebuke. Its easy to say... but sometimes costly to do. It may cause broken relationships or perhaps your job, but if the Spirit is telling you to speak up, I dont see any other choice. Remember, as you alluded to in your response, "to the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin." - James 4:17.
You will need to seek wisdom in this as it affects you personaly. Ask the Lord for wisdom... He gives it without finding fault in the one who asks. I read that in James as well. Hope this helps, even if it hurts a little.

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