Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: When someone in your church is blatantly sinning and unrepentant, you can’t just let it go. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Sin in the body of Christ, in the family of God, like cancer, if you let it go untreated, it will spread and will destroy the whole body.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Surrender: The Heart God Controls, for Wednesday, September 6, 2017.

The book of Revelation begins with a series of letters to churches. Nancy’s been devoting one radio series to each of these letters this fall. This week we are focusing on the message to the church in Pergamum. 

Nancy: After the last session where we talked about how Jesus confronted the church in Pergamum for the issue of worldliness that was being tolerated in the church, people said different things to me after that session.

Somebody said, “That was so convicting. My heart was thumping as I heard that.”

Someone said, “I didn’t think I could take any more after you finished that session.”

Then I heard someone else say, “That is going to be hard for people to hear.”

As I heard those comments, I thought, That’s exactly the kind of response Jesus wanted the church in Pergamum to have when He sent that letter to them, when He said, "I have this concern. You’ve got to deal with this.” He wanted their hearts to be pounding. He wanted them to be saying, “We’ve got to do something about this.” Or as someone said after that last session, “Search my heart, Oh Lord.” That’s the response He wants us to have.

I think it’s a sad day in evangelicalism when we can go to church and sit in sessions day after day, week after week, without having the conviction of God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts. He gives us conviction. His Spirit is a gift to change us, to bring us to a place of repentance. So this can be hard teaching, but it’s needed teaching in our lives and in the Church today.

If you’re just joining us in this series, we’re in Revelation chapter 2 in the letter that Jesus sent to the church in Pergamum. Let me read the first part of that letter, and then we’ll pick up where we left off the last time.

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: "The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword (v. 12).

"I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols [that is practice idolatry] and practice sexual immorality."

We talked in the last session about the connection between physical sexual immorality and spiritual adultery or idolatry.

"So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (vv. 14–15).

The first-century Roman world, in many respects, was very much like ours today. It was sexually loose. People thought nothing of sex outside of marriage. It was widely accepted. Now, when I was a little girl, that was not true. Today that has become true, and it was true in first century Rome. So in a sense, these letters were written to churches that lived in a backdrop that was very similar to ours.

The culture in first century Rome revolved around feasts to pagan gods, and the doctrine or teaching of Balaam in the Old Testament and the Nicolaitans. We looked at this in much more detail in the last session, but that teaching was essentially that it is okay to conform to accepted standards of the world; there’s no need for Christians to really be different; it’s okay to accommodate to the culture, to fit in. Nicolaitanism, or the teaching of Balaam, was the heresy that covenant people of God can violate that covenant and pursue other gods and other covenants without consequences.

Jesus says to the church in Revelation 2, verse 16: “Therefore repent.”

What He’s saying is, “It’s not okay. You can’t just live and let live. You can’t let this go. You have to deal with this. Therefore repent,” which, of course, is the message Jesus gives to each of the churches where He has an issue with them. The solution to sin is repent. It’s not to think, “Oh, who in my church needs to hear this message?” It’s, “If you have ears to hear, you hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church,” and part of what the Spirit is saying is, “Repent.”

We all need to be repenters to whatever extent we have come to love the world and the things in the world more than we love Christ.

He says, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Now when Jesus says, “Repent,” that raises in my mind the question: Who was to repent? Who needed to repent? I think there were two categories of people in that church who needed to repent, as there are in our churches today.

First, there were those who held to this false teaching, the teaching of the Nicolaitans, the teaching of Balaam, those who were buying into this teaching and, as a result, were living compromising or unholy lifestyles. They needed to repent, the people who had become worldly Christians.

There was another group that needed to repent, and that was the whole church, even those who were not themselves guilty of that sin of worldliness.

You say, “Why did the church need to repent, the ones who weren’t guilty of that sin?”

Well, the church in Pergamum had not officially or corporately adopted or endorsed this teaching of this philosophy of Balaam. They weren’t all promoting this philosophy, but the church was guilty as a whole because it hadn’t done anything about the problem.

They were letting this go on unaddressed. They tolerated those who adopted this teaching. They allowed these people to remain members in good standing as part of their fellowship, and by harboring these people who were teaching the doctrine of Balaam, by tolerating their sinful practices, the whole church became party to the sin of the minority.

Jesus called the whole church to take responsibility for what is going on in the church. Jesus is saying that compromise, accommodation to the world, unholy doctrine, unholy behavior in the church is destructive. It is not to be tolerated. It has to be dealt with, and the starting place is repentance.

In the last session we talked about Balaam who taught the Moabites to seduce the Israelites to sin, to commit sexual immorality and idolatry. Let me just go back to a portion in that story in Numbers chapter 25. I want to show you a follow up to what we talked about in the last session.

Numbers 25:1: “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore [or commit fornication or adultery] with the daughters of Moab.” They began to be linked to the world. They got in bed with the world, literally and figuratively.

“These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor” (vv. 2–3). Baal was the foreign god.

Now sin has consequences. Short-term or long-term, sin will require a payment. In this situation, God dealt directly and decisively with the sin of the Israelites, but He didn’t just act unilaterally. He required the Israelites to take action as well, and because the sin was public, it had to be dealt with publically.

Let me go on in Numbers chapter 25 to describe what happened after this sin. Verse 3:

And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said to Moses, "Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel." And Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor” (vv. 3–5).

Now, let me just insert here, Old Testament Israel was a theocracy and the way that God dealt with sin in that nation was different in some respects than how He gives us direction to deal with it in the New Testament era. However, the underlying principles are the same. Sin has to be dealt with, and the whole body has to deal with the sin of even the minority within the body.

In the midst of dealing with this situation, as you go on in Numbers 25, another related crisis arises. Verse 6: "Behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family." Now the Midianites and the Moabites, for all practical purposes, those are interchangeable terms in this passage. So one of the people of Israel brought one of these foreign women, the Midianite or Moabite woman, to his family “in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting.”

So they’re in this process of God judging them and people being killed for immorality and idolatry. In the midst of that scene, people are weeping, maybe some are repenting, maybe they’re weeping because they’ve lost loved ones who were guilty of this sin. But this is like bedlam going on in the nation of Israel.

In the midst of that scene, there’s this public, flagrant sin where this man, just like flaunting his sin, he goes and gets one of those Moabite women and brings her into his family in front of everybody. Now what happens? Verse 7:

When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he [turned his head and said, "They shouldn’t be doing that." Is that what he did? No.] He got up and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand (vv. 7–9).

Now that’s a gruesome passage, and it’s not one we’re comfortable with. It’s not, in its detail, one that should be repeated today. I want to make that very clear. But the principle here is that in this passage God goes on to commend Phinehas for his zeal for the glory of God and for the purity of God’s people.

I've been on another journey through the Old Testament and read recently through the book of Deuteronomy. Over and over again in Deuteronomy, God says to His people, "You shall purge the evil from among your midst." Some of the translations say, "You shall purge the evil person from your midst."

You have to deal with sin in the body. You cannot let it go unchecked and unchallenged.

Interestingly, when it says in Deuteronomy 6 that you shall purge the evil person from among your midst, verse 20 says, "And the rest shall hear and fear and shall never again commit any such evil among you."

Don't you think when those 24,000 people were killed in that plague after the people listened to Balaam and commited fornication with Moabites, don't you think for the next while people were a little more careful about their choices, about their worship, about their behavior?

Dealing with sin in the body God’s way becomes a deterrent to sin in the whole body. It helps people to fear the Lord and to worship Him properly. Sin in the body of Christ, in the family of God, like cancer, if you let it go untreated, it will spread and will destroy the whole body.

Now let’s move from that Old Testament example to one in the New Testament that is more helpful for us perhaps in the how-to’s of dealing with some of these situations.

First Corinthians chapter 5. Here we have an illustration of the fact that the whole body is impacted by the sin of the one or the few, and the whole body has to be involved in dealing with it. You can’t sit on the sidelines and be passive.

First Corinthians 5, verse 1, Paul says:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. [He’s talking about an incestuous relationship here.] And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.”

Now he doesn’t say, “Pierce him through with a spear,” but he does say, “Remove him from the fellowship.”

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? . . . I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world (vv. 6, 9).

He said, “I’m not talking about dealing with the pagans out there who sin. We ought to expect people who don’t know God to live like people who don’t know God.”

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother [someone who calls himself a Christian] if he is guilty of [and the implication here is this is a persistent, ongoing pattern of] sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one (v. 11).

What he’s saying is, you don’t go on pretending like there’s no problem. You don’t just continue with business as normal, fellowshipping, socializing, including this person in your fellowship and your gatherings as if they were living like a true believer. He says,

For what I have to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (v. 12).

Now this judgment does not mean in the sense of being critical or censorious, but judging in the sense of rightly discerning where they are spiritually and dealing with the issue properly.

God judges those outside. [But what are we to do? Here’s a quote from Deuteronomy.] "Purge the evil person from among you” (v. 13).

This brings up this whole issue of church discipline. Church discipline is not something that is practiced widely in the church today, and it’s not an easy practice. It’s always difficult, but it’s absolutely essential in order to keep the church doctrinally and practically pure.

By the way, this is one reason among others why it is so important that each of us is a part of a local church body. We have people writing our ministry regularly talking about major issues in their marriage, in their family, in their relationships, and there’s really not a lot we can do about those situations.

We can encourage those people who are struggling through that; we can give them some Scripture, but if they’re not in a church where that situation can be dealt with biblically, they’re missing out on God’s plan, God’s program to help them deal with that unrepentant husband or that unrepentant son or daughter who calls himself a believer. It’s the importance of the church dealing biblically with those who call themselves believers while being in bed with the world.

If we tolerate unbiblical teaching or doctrine, then eventually we’re going to be dealing with ungodly, unholy behavior.

That compromise, that accommodation can take two forms. It can be in the form of beliefs or behavior, and those two can’t be separated because beliefs determine behavior. So if we tolerate unbiblical teaching or doctrine, false teaching or doctrine, then eventually we’re going to be dealing with ungodly, unholy behavior. Where you see unholy behavior, you can be sure there is unholy doctrine that goes with it. So we have to deal with both.

When we talk about doctrine, we’re talking about central core doctrines of the faith where Scripture is clear, unmistakable in what is the truth. We’re talking about the doctrine of:

  • the authority of Scripture
  • who God is
  • the Person and the work of Jesus Christ
  • the gospel, how a man is made right with God

There is no room for disagreement within the church on those basic core tenets of our faith.

There are secondary doctrines, there are secondary teachings, things where Scripture is not quite so clear where I believe good people really can disagree. We’re not talking about throwing out people who don’t agree with us on every jot and tittle. We’re talking these core tenets of the faith.

We have to deal not only with the belief issues but with the behavior issues, the holiness of God’s people. It matters to God. It flows out of right doctrine.

As I’ve said, there’s room to disagree on secondary matters of belief and behavior. The problem today is that we are so prone to split over secondary matters and to compromise on foundational, non-negotiable issues.

This whole concept of church discipline is very tough for our age to swallow because we live in an inclusive age, a tolerant era. That way of thinking has come to live in the church. We want people to be comfortable in church. We want everyone to feel loved and accepted and included. But God cares about His holiness and His glory, and He wants churches to be a setting where sinners are convicted and converted, and where believers are repentant and being transformed and being sanctified by His grace and the power of His Holy Spirit. If that’s going to happen, we have to be willing to confront doctrinal belief or behavioral issues that are not in accordance with God’s Word.

We have to do it humbly, graciously, with a spirit of meekness, with a spirit of love. Paul says to these Corinthian believers, “You should be mourning over what’s going on in your church.” It’s not that you go out there with anger and an ax, and you say, “You’re out of here.” No. You grieve, and you do everything possible to appeal to them to repent and to turn and to change their ways, but if they refuse—our goal is to see them restored to a place of obedience and right living and fellowship with God and with the body. But if they refuse, we have to be willing to put them out of the church fellowship.

Now, let me say, that’s not my job. That is the job of those to whom God has entrusted the spiritual leadership of our churches, our pastors, our elders. You may call them different things in your churches, but those who are responsible for the spiritual leadership. We need to be supporting them and encouraging them and lifting up their hands and making it easy for them to lead and going one on one to appeal to those who are guilty of false doctrine or unholy living so that it doesn’t have to come to this big blown-up church discipline situation.

If we were dealing with these situations one on one as brothers and sisters within the body, I wonder how many of them might not escalate to the point that they did in the church in Pergamum?

Well, Jesus says in Revelation 2, to the church in Pergamum, “If you will not repent [that is of tolerating these things going on in your church body], I will come to you soon [I will come to the church soon, and I will] war against them [Who is them? It’s those who are promoting these unholy doctrines and practices, those who are promoting worldliness and accommodation. I will] war against them with the sword of my mouth” (v. 16).

Jesus says, “If you don’t confront these issues, I will.” He says, “I will do this with the sword of my mouth.”

Interestingly, Balaam, who was the one who promoted this worldly teaching of compromise in the Old Testament with the Israelites, he was actually killed with a sword in a battle between Israel and the Midianites. I think that was just a foreshadowing of what Jesus would say later in Revelation: “If you don’t repent, I will come. I will war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

The Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God that is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.

It’s the Word of God that exposes and overcomes deception. It’s the only weapon that can deal with sin and error. The Church in the past eras of history has been very mistaken to engage in things like the Inquisition, the Crusades.

You don’t deal with false teaching and false doctrine with physical swords. You don’t deal with it with yelling, with shouting, with arguing, or with making laws. You deal with false teaching, with unholy behavior with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, the power of the Word. It saves those who receive it, and it destroys those who reject it.

The teaching of Balaam, which some hold to in our churches today, is the teaching that promotes compromise with the world, and it must be confronted. Those who refuse to repent must be excluded from the fellowship of the church. They can’t continue to call themselves church members in good standing. This is for their sake, with the goal that they will be restored to fellowship. It’s for the sake of the church. It’s for Christ’s sake, and for all those sakes, “Remove them,” Jesus says. If we don’t remove them, Jesus will do so. In some way He will exercise His righteous judgment.

It’s a great heartache to me today, and I know to many of you, that the Church today is having such a love affair with the world. We're accommodating to the world in sexual and moral issues and entertainment issues and in language. We’re worshiping the gods of sex and money and power just like the world does in unholy lives. We have become indistinguishable by and large from the world. As a result, the Church is failing to accomplish God’s holy purposes in this world and to be the light God intended us to be.

Our witness has been rendered ineffective. Our light has been dimmed. And to the Church in this age, I believe Jesus would say what He did to the church in Pergamum, “Repent. Repent. Don’t go on this way. Repent.”

Leslie: Church discipline isn’t a topic anybody hopes to deal with, but it’s something we need to be prepared for, and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been helping us understand it. The topic needs to be addressed because Jesus Himself addressed it.

We’ve been studying the letter from Christ to the church in Pergamum as part of the series, “Compromising Truth.”

If the Bible addresses an issue, we don’t want to shy away from it on Revive Our Hearts. Nancy shows us as women how to incorporate the entire Bible into our lives. Do you appreciate Nancy’s faithfulness to God’s Word? Would you help us continue? Revive Our Hearts wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for listeners like you who help us meet our financial needs.

If you value the program and want to continue hearing it, would you support us today? When you make a donation of any amount, we’ll say “thanks” by sending a booklet called Ears to Hear. It’s a follow up to this teaching series, helping you go deeper in these letters to the churches in Revelation and apply them to your life.

Ask for Ears to Hear when you call with a gift of any amount. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or you can visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Tomorrow, Nancy reminds us why to run from sin. It's so we can experience great joy of being close to God. She'll show you positive reasons for healthy choice, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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