A good question was raised in my Men’s Challenge group this morning. If a person is living a life that from the outside seems carnal, but isn’t openly rebellious, how do we pray for the person? Do we pray for them as if they are unconverted? Or do we pray as if they are “backslidden” Christians? Should there be a difference?
When I say “openly rebellious,” I mean is one who knowingly lives against God’s law with no remorse or conviction. The example given this morning was of a person who has posters of secular bands covering her walls, the latest editions of the Rolling Stones laying on the floor and great enthusiasm about the latest fashion and cultural trends. I, of couse, am not saying that listening to a secular band, reading a secular magazine or having some knowledge or interest in the culture of your greater community is sin. In fact, I might say that it is sin to completely ignorant of these things, but neither is the point today.
Let me go back to the poster girl. I’ll call her Jane. Jane also professes to be a converted soul. Jane even leads a Bible study or two throughout the year. The concern raised this morning was that from the outsider’s point of view, Jane’s treasure seems to be in this world. Not in Christ. I don’t know if Jane is in the Word. I don’t know if Jane is struggling with secret sin. But I can’t see any real signs of personal devotion other than participation in outward collective gatherings like group Bible studies.
Do I need to be praying for Jane? If so, how?
As I write this, I fear I am treading on a touchy subject. Some might say quickly that I shouldn’t judge Jane. But the Bible clearly calls for me, as a member of the New Testament Church, to make discernments, i.e. judgments, about others at certain times so that I may speak and act with wisdom, love or rebuke to one another. For example, in II Thessalonians 3:6, Paul says, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” Then, in the same chapter, he says in verse 14, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” So I must be able to make judgments of Jane in order to see if she is obeying the commands of scripture or I cannot be obedient.
So I am back to Jane. (Full disclosure would have me tell you that I know that my “Jane” is a real person, but I have never met her nor have I spoken with her. All observations are via third person) Her life, her walls, her reading, her conversation smells of the secular world. Given these observations, I see three possibilities. First, Jane may be unconverted. Second, Jane may be spiritually immature. Thirdly, she may be backslidden.
I will not address the first as the Scripture sets forth clearly our response to and prayer for such a person.
The second possibility is that Jane is converted but spiritually immature. She still craves milk. She has not strove for sanctification for long, if at all. She knows the power but has yet to live in it.
The third possibility is that Jane is backslidden. What does that mean? I use it here to describe persons similar to the Galatians whom Paul described in the following verses:
Galations 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–
Galatians 4:9-11 (9) But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? (10) You observe days and months and seasons and years! (11) I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.
Galatians 5:7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
Notice how Paul described members of the Church in Galatia: “deserting him,” “turning to a different gospel,” “you turn back again” and not “obeying the truth.”
Paul here recognized that some of the Galatians whom God called in the grace of Christ were living so as to desert Christ. We have to recognize that some converted souls will become weak. They will need encouragement. They will need prayer.
So back to the morning’s question. How do we tell the difference between an unconverted Jane and an immature or backslidden Jane? Scripture seems to impliedly answer: Time. In either case, we are commanded to love them. In either case, we are commanded to pray for them. In either case, we are commanded to encourage them. However, in the case of the supposed backslider, we are to follow Paul’s example and instruct and rebuke the wayward soul. If after one and two words of confrontation, they still pursue their carnal path, then we are commanded to cut them off — i.e. treat them as if they are unconverted.
May God give me the wisdom to make wise judgments and the grace to respond always in love and prayer.