I recently heard from a young woman who was bitterly disappointed in a young man she had allowed herself to get close to. She was well acquainted with God's commands in Scripture that tell us: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers...What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 'Therefore, come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.'" (2 Corinthians 6:14,15,17 NIV) And she was careful to make sure that her closest companions were Christians. But because she was so focused on this man's profession of faith, she failed to give serious attention to his un-Christlike behavior, and the relationship left her deeply hurt and disappointed.
As I prayed for this young woman and thought about her situation, the Lord impressed upon me a simple truth: a believer who ACTS like an unbeliever can do us just as much harm as someone who actually IS an unbeliever. That's why the Scriptures command us to avoid close relationships with carnal (worldly) Christians. The apostle Paul wrote: "You are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don't even eat with such people." (1 Corinthians 5:11 NLT) These sound like harsh guidelines for God's people, but they are necessary to prevent us from having a false sense of security around other Christians. I've seen many believers let their guard down around people they should have been more wary about, simply because these folks professed to be followers of Christ. Sadly, this casual attitude left these believers wide open to deception and destruction. Jesus said: "I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Be as wary as snakes and harmless as doves." (Matthew 10:16 NLT) The Lord wants us to find the perfect balance between having suspicious minds and being gullible. He expects us to use godly discernment in all of our dealings with others. We can do that by being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and by having a working knowledge of God's Word.
Jesus said, "By their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:16 NIV) The Savior knew that others would try to deceive us, and that's why He warned us to put people to the test by examining their actions. He told us not to just pay attention to their words, but to look at how they live. He said: "Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep, but are really wolves that will tear you apart. You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit." (Matthew 7:15-16 NLT) Though the Lord was referring to false prophets here, the principle is the same for others who would attempt to mislead God's people. Jesus goes on to say: "Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to Me as 'Lord,' but they still won't enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey My Father in heaven." (Matthew 7:21 NLT) If the young woman who wrote me had given more attention to this man's actions, and less to his words, she might have avoided being misled. But either because of ignorance or willfulness, she ignored the warning signs.
When we're faced with the possibility of forming a new relationship with someone, we shouldn't just ask ourselves, "Are they a Christian?" But the real question should be, "Would this relationship please and glorify God, and is it His will for me?" Scripture says: "Above all else, guard your affections. For they influence everything else in your life." (Proverbs 4:23 TLB) The kind of relationships we make and maintain will affect every aspect of our lives, either positively or negatively. The choice is ours, and we should choose wisely.
Prayer: Lord, teach me how to devote myself to prayer and the study of Your Word, so that I may develop the spiritual discernment I need to avoid the relationships that are out of Your will for me. When I'm inclined to get close to someone, remind me to examine their "fruit," and to look for the characteristics that Your Word says believers should exhibit--"love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23) Thank You that as I seek to please and glorify You with my relationships, You will bless me with godly, faithful, and loving companions!
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