Dear Pastor Lawyer,
Over the last 2 or 3 years I have been very troubled with what is a true Christian. My brother sat under some of the best Bible teachers and graduated from Bible School. However, over the last 15 years, I have seen little change in his life. He has been involved in ministries in the church and has helped others. But, he has also had numerous marital affairs, been abusive to his children, and is very unforgiving. Is my brother saved? Is there such thing as a lukewarm Christian or a backslidden Christian? How long are you backslidden before you are no longer considered a Christian? Help!
It is interesting that you should ask that question at this time. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us what kingdom dwellers are like. He said that people who are citizens of his kingdom are people whose righteousness exceeds the religious leaders of the day. He goes on to say that that righteousness is not something that a man can create in himself. It comes from the inside, where the Holy Spirit (who is a gift from God) resides. He goes on to say that some will come to him on the Last day calling him “Lord, Lord” and listing all the wonderful “religious” things they did, though they lived their lives for themselves with only the name ‘Christian’ to cling to.
The Bible does not allow for, nor does it condone what we have come to call “lukewarm” or “backslidden” Christians. A Christian who is in sin does not lose his salvation, but as long as he is in sin, he has no reason to believe that he is truly saved. A Christian, who is in sin and is confronted by someone about that sin, will repent and stop doing the sin. If they don’t, they have no reason to believe that they are a Christian. The idea that a Christian is, after all, human and prone to sin, is no excuse at all. It is from the pit of Hell and will condemn more people than we can ever imagine.
The church your brother attends should apply Matthew 18 to him and should go through the prescribed stages so that he will come back into fellowship. Allowing him to continue in his sin is not a loving thing, nor is it honoring to God. While church discipline is very difficult, it is the obedient thing to do. It is also the Christian thing to do. If the church does not obey God, she is also in sin and needs to repent (Cf. Revelation 2:12–3:6).
One of the things our modern church seems to have forgotten is that Christianity is not primarily about believing certain propositions about God (though that is certainly important). It is not about walking down an aisle or feeling sorry for ourselves, or thinking we need help to live and be good people. Christianity is about having a relationship with the living God, based on the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter that we went to Bible college, have a brilliant mind, or use all the best Christian cliches. If we don’t know God, we are to be pitied rather than exalted. Living with God is the standard and goal of the true Christian. Sin has no place in that scheme. To say that a Christian may sin, or that Christians are supposed to sin is to be Spiritually schizophrenic.
Given what you say about your brother, I have no reason to believe that he is saved. He may have walked the aisle, gone to Bible school and sang in the choir, but his life shows that he really doesn’t have a relationship with God. He is only going through the motions. My advice is to tell him the truth, and love him into the Kingdom…for the first time. I hope that helps.