“And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.”
2 Peter 2:2
I. The Sins of the Church
The first issue for us is in regards to the sins of the church being used as a reason to cast the church aside. This issue is complex. Firstly, there is a split between that of real sins having been committed by those who profess religion and that of the mere perceived or imagined sins of the church. Further, there is the distinction between those who are truly Christian, belonging to true religion, and those who are mere professors of religion. And finally, there is that which man sees as evil that is truly evil, and there are many things that are evil in man’s eyes that are right in God’s (such as judgement, rebuke, commandments, law, etc). And what is often good in man’s eyes is nothing more than abomination to God, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)
This situation is complex and yet at the center of everything we must realize that the command of God is this: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15b) All of us are in great need of navigating these complexities, and yet, regardless of the issue of man’s sin, however great it may be, our greatest need is to follow the Gospel of Christ within our own lives. So many people today believe that they are overcoming these “hateful religious types”, when in reality, they have allowed the sin of others to keep them back from God Himself and true religion—either turning aside from it altogether, or turning to a perverse version of doctrine that opposes Christ. We must realize that in the midst of this issue, our need of faith and repentance within the Gospel is always at the center of each of our lives.
Man today allows the sins of others to take the Gospel from them. Not only that, they allow the sins of others to be a perverse cover up for permitting continued sin in their own lives. We are all in great need of understanding that we must cling to the Gospel in spite of all opposition. We must confess such sinful hearts that seek to deny the obedience that is due to God simply because of others’ sinfulness.
In reality, we must see that we condemn ourselves by such claims, for if we condemn sin so greatly, how do we not also condemn our own sin? In truth, it is only those who actually turn to God in repentance and obedience that walk contrary to sin, and even such sins as these people commit. For it is only in walking in true godliness that one condemns false godliness. Those who abandon godliness altogether actually make no judgement upon the sins done against them, but are rather, are overcome by evil for evil. To abandon God, for any reason, is to lose the great fight and be overcome.
The sins we see in others, even those who are religious, are those who walk outside of the things of God. To hate the sin of a person who is hypocritical in religion is something we should hate, and yet we fail to realize why we hate it—because those who profess godliness should actually walk in godliness. This, then, is not a judgement upon godliness, but the failure to walk in it! The sin that is evil is not religion but those who abandon it for something else: pleasure, man’s praise, wealth, or the mere appearance of self righteousness… And these are the exact reasons the worldly person abandons religion as well—to go after their sinful desires. Therefore they judge themselves to be in sin by not walking in godliness themselves. Without repentance to God and walking in obedience to Him, we actually condemn ourselves by the very thing we profess to hate. We should hate their sin, but we should also hate our own.
One great tragedy of our day is how prominent the belief is that God and true religion are proved to be harmful because of the sins committed by those who have professed religion. There is a growing mentality in the world that sees religion as oppressive, and indeed many abuses have been committed in the name of religion. Yet the terrible tragedy is that people see this as a reason to abandon religion all together, rather than to abandon false religion. Worse, a great many truly believe that the sins of these people is a permission or an excuse to put off their own repentance and belief in the truth of the Gospel (Acts 17:30-31). A great many today are running headlong into such ideas blissfully unaware of the great danger therein.
When we look at this issue of the sins of the church we must be careful to distinguish between that which is true sin and that which is merely perceived sin. Real sin is when a person commits wrongs against others and God, doing that which they shouldn’t. Perceived sin is where we see something as being evil and wrong, but evil and wrong has not actually been done. For us this is either being told that evil has been done when it hasn’t, or it is that we view something as evil which is not. We are outraged and yet evil has not been committed.
This is especially important for us to address because there is a lot of imagery today that represents the church of God as evil and twisted which is nothing more than the mere stories of television, movies, and other media. These false representations are having a three-fold effect on all people: 1) They are causing people to reject the truth and right religion, seeing it as evil. 2) These things are giving a false permission in people’s minds to walk in their own sins and will. 3) The church of God is made overly busy with this false misrepresentation, believing too much in the accusations of the world.
In the midst of all of these things, we would do well to recognize that there is often a reason people are seeking out this story for the church: because in the world’s eyes it permits them to walk in unbelief and justify it.
The world seeks to diminish that which is of God’s authority either in denying Him or denying His people. In their eyes, if they can do this they have a permission to put off obeying God. Man knows that if the God of the Bible is truly God then they must obey Him, therefore they try to deny His existence and/or seek out the church's failures in order to discredit God’s authority.
If you pay close attention, you will see the “story” of the church being represented as wicked or naive in a great many movies today. It may be a small reference or it may be the “point” of the whole film, but quite often it is there. There is an undertone showing this idea of the church being naive, twisted, foolish, or pathetic, while equally representing a world that exists just fine without God and glorifies the “power/wisdom” of man.
The reason we must recognize this “script” is because so many of us often believe this is the truth about God and the church, accepting it at face value (both Christians and non-Christians alike). We don’t even stop to realize it is a narrative that comes from fallen man’s mind! And it is exactly this that so many people operate from. They believe this script to be a product of the truth about God and His people rather than a product of man’s fallen thinking and perverse heart. This is not a matter of the sins of the church being exposed, but rather, the sins of man’s evil imaginations being exposed. God is not to blame for these things, man is. The world displays the church as evil because of their own evil desires and thoughts.
Now, this is not said in order to “sum up” all sins of the church as being merely imaginary. To say such would be quite wrong and unjust in itself. Rather, the point here is where we must distinguish between those which are the real sins of Christians and that which is a product of the world’s narrative.
Many people have been wounded by the sins of those who call themselves Christians—the church does have her failures and weaknesses. The trouble for us is that we often mix these real things with the “script” from the world, and use our own hurt for wickedness—to deny God, His Word, and the authority of the Gospel.
If we were to see the sins of the church against us rightly, we would see them for what they are, and yet they would not become a means by which we denied God but a means by which we became deeply devoted to Him. We would be convinced by them of our need of Him, of utter hatred of sin, and of our utterly sinful state as mankind. The fact that other’s sins drive us from God rather than to Him is not the fault of those who have sinned, nor God’s fault, it is the fault of our own sinfulness. THIS lies with us. The sin in us corrupts even the wrongs done to us, and uses them to incite us to evil rather than to good (Rom 12:21). And the state of man today is that he seeks out precisely these things for evil, going so far as even seeking his own hurt as an excuse against his own repentance and faith in Christ.
This type of thinking would be the same as saying one stops drinking water altogether because at one time someone poisoned their cup. Religious abuse is the most evil; this should never be denied. And every person has a right to defend against such things. But to confuse poison with water is a very great mistake; to blame water for the poison is foolish.
We should never deny how great religious abuse is. Because true religion is the greatest thing in this whole world, the sins done falsely in the name of Christ is equally great evil. Yet we should recognize that it is greatest evil because right religion is greatest good. We should recognize both of these things and dismiss neither.
The terrible truth for so many today is that they escape one ditch only to fall into a deeper and greater one. And they do not understand that this is the mind of the devil. It is certainly one thing to escape religious abuse, and yet it is in fact a far worse state to have “escaped” these things only to turn against God in hate and lose religion altogether. Yet how common is this? Is this not man’s boast today, and what he thinks is the great freedom he has won?
This is the tactic of the devil: to have us so focused upon what we are convinced we are “winning” against, that we are completely blind to where we are being captured to do the enemy’s will, thinking it to be our own. Is this ditch not far deeper and more great? It is, for we are entirely blind to its capturing of us, no longer even aware that we are enslaved and being harmed. We only escape such a state by obedience to Christ, and we will only see the true state of such a ditch when we’ve obeyed Him.
The world is very much biased against the sins of the church, and the world is biased for an evil purpose: to deny the Truth, permit unbelief, and continue in rebellion against God. Whatever “reason” we have, even if we have suffered most severely from those professing to be Christians, we must realize that the desire to hold these things in order to deny God comes from an evil heart and never from something “right” or “good” within us. People failing in their responsibility never permits us to fail in our own! While one ditch is entirely the fault of these people using religion as a shield for their sins—they are certainly at fault for their sins. Yet we are entirely at fault for our own—putting off obedience to the Gospel of God: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) This sin is always our own regardless of what anyone else does.
II. Perceived Sin
God Sees the Church’s Sins
Many people who have borne the name of Christian have walked in sin, but, contrary to what man thinks, God knows exactly what is going on. Where man imagines that God denies these things, God speaks openly about them and what it all means. In reality, His entire Word is proven most true exactly because He doesn’t deny the state of fallen man, even that of His own people’s sinfulness.
We have David, for one, who was the greatest king of Israel. He was devout and obedient to God, and yet he committed great sins: adultery, murder, and injustice against his own children. He was an imperfect man, yet the Bible records all of this. God never claims that His people are perfect, He claims that He is perfect. Nor does He ever condone these sins or that those who do commit sin ever “get away with it”. Rather, He justly disciplines them for such sins, as David was justly punished for his (2 Sam 12:10).
Or in another case, within the New Testament—the account of a man in Corinth who was committing great sexual sin in taking his own father’s wife (1 Cor 5:1). The church as well was failing to judge such sins, committing sins themselves by this (v2). But God judged such sins and rebuked this church for their error, calling them to remove such a person from their fellowship as judgement upon his sins (1 Cor 5:11-13) until he came to repentance for them.
We see from all of this that God absolutely accounts for people within the church walking in even the most perverse sin, and we see that God judges such sins. God never hides the fact of the matter, but rather, He speaks plainly about it. And most importantly, He never acts as if any of these things are permissible nor belittles the sufferings caused by them (Psalm 22:24). It absolutely is a tragedy when those who profess the name of Christ are the ones who walk in such great sins. The true church mourns for this, exactly because of how such people profane the name of Christ Jesus by such sins (Lev 19:12).
Man Sees What Is Good as Being Evil
The last area of perceived sins is where we see as evil that which God sees as good, and we see as good that which God sees as evil: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Is 5:20) “And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’” (Luke 16:15)
We often perceive as evil that which belongs to God and His ways. There are many things that are evil in man’s sight that are right in God’s: His judgement, rebuke, law, commandments, hell, and His absolute authority over mankind. Many of the things that man is busy thinking evil and offensive are only evil in his sight and not evil in reality. It is important for us to mention this because quite often man perceives as evil that which is no true evil against him. And in reality, it is his own sins that are evil.
Man thinks it is evil to say there is one God, one path to heaven, and that all are called to repent of their sins and walk in submission to God and His ways. This is evil in man’s eyes, and it is often this that he views as sin committed against him, though it is nothing more than truth spoken and God’s authority ruling over him.
At the heart of this is that which Christ has told us from the beginning: “The world … hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7) The world hates the truth of God because it testifies to the truth about us and it commands (not suggests) that we repent, and it rules over us completely in telling us what righteousness is and is not, leaving no say in the matter of good and evil to us. It is this that man often sees as evil, when in reality, this is God’s right as God and is not sin or evil done against us. In truth, it is our hearts rebelling against Him in this that is evil.
III. The Pride of Rejecting God
People think it is their victory to abandon religion. Fallen man is so content to allow the sins of others to rob them of an eternity with God, holiness, obedience, and knowing the Truth. This is the reality of such a response. And it is the hand of the devil that is behind such things.
The harder point to press here is how people secretly enjoy the pride of being victim to such things, and how they trade all of the things of God and religion for this sense of heroism. They glory in who they imagine themselves to be for having suffered at the hands of Christians, and they fail to comprehend just how ruthless and evil they are to turn against God in such ways. To scorn all that He has given to them, and to slander the perfectly good, loving, and just God as evil and cruel. And to trade the great God for such a title as these.
Yet it is precisely this that is popular today. It is this identity that many wear like a badge and think so highly of themselves by it. Imagining they have escaped the “bonds” of God (Psalm 2:2-3), they boast against Him and His church, failing to comprehend just how wicked they are for doing so.
Man sees God as cruel, reaping what he did not sow (Luke 19:21-22), and they are content with such views because they believe it secretly permits them to live how they wish and have no obligation to know God, worship Him, or seek Him. However, while many people are truly victims of religious abuse, at the same time, they are not innocent. As we discussed before, no one is innocent in hardening their hearts against God regardless of their reasons. We in truth reveal just how wicked we truly are by such things. And we prove just how utterly lost, foolish, and deceived we are to think this is freedom, much less goodness.
Yet this is exactly the work that is going on within the world. This is the intent of people within their accusations against God and His church. Man tries to kick God off of His throne and set himself up instead. This proves man is evil and perverse, and it in no way proves the world is being as good and as just as she claims. Her claims of “goodness” and “justice” are founded upon the perceived failures of God and the real failures of His people. It is there that she thinks to set herself up instead. For she claims to be the shelter from God and His ways. She sets herself up in direct opposition to God. Her goodness is founded upon God’s goodness being a lie or perverse, and it depends entirely upon this being “true”. There is nothing then good in her efforts, but she is most evil and perverse. Her goodness is not for goodness but is entirely for opposition to God.
IV. False Religions
Another difficulty in navigating this issue is the common mentality of all religions being oppressive and that therefore all religions should be abandoned. But the reality here is that false religion absolutely is oppressive and most wicked, and yet, true religion is still good and right. In reality, neither of these have any relationship to each other, other than for the sheer contrast of false religion pointing to the absolute value and necessity of true religion.
Many evils have been committed in the name of religion, but is it really rational to compare light with darkness, goodness with evil? Even within the name of Christianity many people have done evil, but was this true Christianity? And this speaks even more broadly against all the other religions of the world that are nothing more than the commandments of men rather than the commandments of God.
Of course, to say this is a great offense. Our world at once is ready to condemn all religions as evil and at the same time demand that all “gods” be accepted and validated. So which one is it? We cannot have both. How are we to at one time speak vehemently against the evils and oppressiveness of what it means to serve false gods, to live without the Gospel, and yet at the same time still call these things “good” or even “gods”? The great offense of the Gospel is that it says plainly that these gods are not gods (Jer 16:20, Isaiah 37:19) and that there is only One true God (John 17:3). And that the way to Him is only through Christ. The only distinction to this are the Jews, who, having followed the One True God up until 2,000 years ago, rejected the Messiah and live in a state without the Spirit of God because they fail to acknowledge Him. All other religion is a product of man’s mind and the influence of spiritual wickedness.
This is the true state of the world, but to say the truth is the greatest offense to the world. And rather than see that her state is because she is without the One True God, she turns instead to blame God and true religion for her state (Prov 19:3). If anything, the great harm of religious oppression, whether it’s extreme “law” such as Islam or Orthodox Judaism, or it is a perverse cult that merely calls itself Christian, points to the need of true religion, not the removal of all religion. Man is shown as evil because he tries to corrupt and use all things for evil… And yes, this includes religion. But what does this evil have at all to do with good? What does false religion have to do with true religion? Absolutely nothing.
People see the horrible state of such false religions and yet they do not acknowledge the singular error that has brought their own people and themselves there: rejection of Christ. Instead, they turn to the world as if she is the true freedom they seek. Tragically, the world’s “freedom” is only an intense permission to pursue our lusts and willful hearts, and her embrace will be the ruin of all who are devoted to her.
People are prone to put off all religion because of these abuses, but could the simple truth be that the state of such failure in all false religions points to the absolute truth of the Gospel? People see the answer to be to shun all religion, when in reality it is only exposing the absolute harm of false religion and the desperate need of true religion in its place.
V. Rejecting Evil, Preserving Good
To make one last important point on this topic—we absolutely should hate what is evil; the problem for us is that we hate what is good and we don’t keep what is good when we seek to hate what is evil.
It has to be said and bears repeating that we are absolutely in need today of hating what is evil. And we are continually also in need of not being opposed for doing so. There are many ideas around “love” and “positivity” that do nothing more than remove this right acknowledgement of evil and the harm that it does. That said, we absolutely should hate religious abuse. Evil is done here and it should never be minimized or belittled. Those who deny the harm done by these things are a hindrance and not a help.
The problem for us is that we often confuse that which is good with these things that are evil. Case and point, we sum up all religion as evil rather than false religion as evil. Or, we call all judgement evil rather than seeing that misplaced or conceited judgement is evil—and we miss that God’s judgement is a very good thing.
The trouble for us is still ourselves, for when we hate one thing we are easily misled to hate what is actually good. Our hatred is not sacred and neither is that which we think is good. We easily believe that what we love is simply good. But we easily hate that which is good and we easily love that which we should hate.
So the problem for us is that we should hate religious abuse, we should hate the harm that is caused by the sins of others, but we should also see the full picture of what matters in this life, and we don’t. We don’t see that what is essential in this life is faith in Christ, nor the need for our own repentance of sins. Nor do we see the spiritual warfare that is going on in this world, always working to blind us to the Gospel and turn us away from the One true God precisely by twisting what we should hate.
Hatred of evil is often the path the devil chooses to use to turn us from God. He does this by holding up something in our eyes that is truly evil and abominable, and yet he projects this as something other than what it is. For example, he gives us a picture of some perverse priest who abuses children. This is most wicked and we can all acknowledge this. The problem is that he says, “This is Christianity, what the Bible does, and what God winks at.” That is itself abominable and yet we all too easily agree with such abominations. We hate one evil but we do not hate the other. We are shown as sinners precisely because we do not hate all evil.
We can see this today with how so many people are protesting against the police force. While on the one hand we absolutely should ensure that justice is done against any cop who murders a person, we show ourselves to be perverse because we use this as a case to turn against all cops. We do not cut out the cancer inside of a person but cast the person wholly out. We do not judge evil where it is evil but judge the whole of something as evil. And this is no less true with Christianity.
So the problem for us is that in hating evil we also hate what is good, and we fail to keep what is good. This is the problem for us today. We hate religious abuse but do not also love true religion. We see all religions as the same. This is our great deception and it is a judgement upon us, revealing us to be dead to God and full of sin—precisely because we do not know what is good nor what is evil. While we can trust that we should hate evil and love what is good, we cannot trust our own hearts to tell us what these things are—we depend entirely upon God for these things. Being a sinner means your hate and your love are not pure. Rather we are foolish and blind, not seeing what is true, seeing good as evil and thinking evil is good (Isaiah 5:20).
VI. Questions to Consider
It’s important for the person who is considering these things to understand that the wrongs that many have experienced from those who bear the name of Christ may be very real. There is certainly much abuse, oppression, confusion, legalism, and downright lies done or placed upon people. This is not denied. Such things are great harm done to those who suffer from them.
The point here is this: The world is fallen, man is sinful, and even God’s people are imperfect. Yet GOD is holy, and good. And He is worthy of our repentance and worship. And this is all of our duty, individually. Even in the face of such sin and evil being done we must realize that this also is true.
Let us ask one important question here: as much as we look upon those who profess Christianity and see where some have failed, do we equally look upon those who did not fail, who did great good? Have we looked too upon Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, Hudson Taylor, George Muller, Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, or Gladys Aylward and then judge Christianity? If we fail to look upon these people as well, then sadly this exposes the sinful bias within our hearts, one that secretly searches for any evidence that might deny God but for none which affirms Him.
We are all in need of realizing that at the center of our hearts, all of our motivations, desires, thoughts, and feelings is a sin nature. This nature in us means we are dead to God, we are at enmity with God, and we disbelieve God. In all areas of our life this is actually what we are in need of overcoming. This is still the sin of disbelief within us when we are facing such hard issues from the abuse and cruelty of others, because we seek to use the evil of man to deny the goodness of God. This is not rational nor logical. What does light have to do with darkness? In truth, it is the sin within us that makes this conclusion, not truth itself.
The trial for us is that we would forsake sin. In all areas, even in the midst of great suffering or oppression, the greatest need in our life is still that we would forsake sin. This is the great truth that God knows and this is what He seeks to lead us to again and again. It is not that God doesn’t care about these circumstances, nor that He somehow justifies them, but it is that His eyes are fixed upon what is our truest need—our repentance and faith in the Gospel.
This means that, regardless of what others do, we are still in need of dealing with our own sins, and this doesn’t go away simply because of someone else’s sins. The command on us is still the same, “repent and believe the Gospel”. God calls all people everywhere to repent and to turn to Christ (Acts 17:30)
As hard as it might be for us, we must realize that what is at the center of even these attempts to hold up the failures within the church comes from nothing more than a sinful heart that seeks to deny God and be justified in turning away from Him. This exposes us for our own sins, it does not justify us. How wicked to turn from God (holy) because of man (evil). By this, you actually only accuse yourself, for the problem is man, not God. And your persistence in a trust for man (yourself), rather than turning to God, condemns you; it doesn’t justify you. We say “man is so evil and can’t be trusted” and yet we trust in man (ourselves)—so as to deny God! This reveals us as sinners, and that the real nature in us is opposed to God, taking anything it wants for our sinful desires. We take whatever will give legitimacy to our unbelief. Whether pleasure or pain, truth or lies, we seek to use all things for unbelief and this is the true issue of our souls. This is what Luke 7:31-34 speaks to—that we’ll take all things for that purpose, therefore the true issue for us is unbelief.
We keep trying to demand that Christ would “prove Himself”, yet we fail to understand that it is the sin of unbelief within ourselves that is the problem. Christ said to the Pharisees who denied Him, “If I tell you that I am the Christ you will not believe me” (Luke 22:67). He said this because the true issue for all of those who deny Christ, for whatever reason, is the sin in us, not anything to do with God or His Word. We will deny Christ no matter what He does. This is the problem of the sin within us.
The question we must ask ourselves is how evil are we to seek to deny God by trying to abuse the truth of the sins of others for our own evil purposes? We seek to deny God’s existence (so as to deny His authority) and we take the sins of the “religious” as a means to deny God and permit ourselves to walk away from Him. How evil are we? We receive evil, and rather than reduce it, we add our own sins on top of it.
After all the judgement of these people, those who yes, truly have committed their own sins, what are we left with? We are left still with our own sins. We are left with a heart that hates God, His Word, and His ways; we hate holiness, godly people, true religion, truth itself, the right judgement of evil, and we hate good. How do we know this? Because these things belong to God alone, and if we truly did love them then we would come to God: “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:20-21)
The last thing to ask ourselves is this: Who is worse, a person who attends to the Truth of the Gospel and sins and fails, or a person who does nothing to walk in these things, who continues in their sins, who rebels against God, casts holiness, goodness, truth, and love behind their backs, and joins with all that opposes God? The sin of the first is very real, but the sin of the second one is far greater. We are without excuse; we are all called to repentance and obedience to the Gospel of God (Acts 17:30-31).
The warning for us in seeing where Christians have failed is to be warned of sin, not to be warned of God. That is the great lie of the devil and it has a hold upon many people. But it is truly a lie and kills those who believe it. The one thing to take away from the sins of people within the church is the great evil of sin and our great need of a Holy God to save us and cleanse all of us from all the evil within.
Having addressed this issue at hand, we will continue in Part 2 with a few of the ways the Christian is called to respond to such things.