Accepting Personal Responsibility
In terms of Christian morality, what are some of our fundamental responsibilities?
"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Ephesians 5:3-5, NIV; compare Colossians 3:5-10).
"But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband" (1 Corinthians 7:2, NIV).
"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral" (Hebrews 13:4, NIV).
God calls His people from all walks of life. No matter the nature or extent of our past sins, God forgives us when we repent and forsake them. To please God, however, we must continue to listen to and follow His instructions concerning what is acceptable behavior.
We need to guard against returning to the evil practices He condemns, to the sins Christ's sacrifice has covered.
What should we do to avoid the immorality of the world around us?
"No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
"... Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2; compare 1 Peter 4:3-5).
Our best defenses against the temptation to sin are (1) staying away from circumstances that are especially tempting and (2) keeping in close contact with God through prayer.
Paul said, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18, NIV). To recognize how to avoid being ensnared in sin we need God's guidance though His Spirit. To receive that help follow Jesus' advice: "Watch [stay alert] and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). He also said, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Luke 22:40).
Our attitude concerning whether we let sin become attractive to us is important. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Our attitudes, choices and behavior speak volumes about what we are and what we believe. They reveal whether we are sincere and genuine or fakes and charlatans.
Should we shun unbelievers to avoid sin?
"I [Jesus] do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one ... As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world" (John 17:15, 18).
Jesus never instructed the members of His Church to totally withdraw from those who have not yet repented of their sins. As Paul explained: "I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler" (1 Corinthians 5:9-11, NIV).
We should choose our closest friends and companions from people whose influence will not lead us into sin because "evil company corrupts good habits" (1 Corinthians 15:33). But that should not prevent us from having good relationships with many people who have not yet been called by God.
Jesus Himself openly associated with people He knew were sinners. He never participated with them in their sins, but neither did He avoid them or consider it beneath Himself to associate with them. "Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi's house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, 'How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?' When Jesus heard it, He said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance'" (Mark 2:15-17).
Remember that God's Word tells us to "honor all people" (1 Peter 2:17). We can avoid situations that call for our participating with them in their sins without rejecting them as friends. We should always avoid being distant, unconcerned and impolite toward neighbors, relatives and associates who believe differently from the way we do. If they wish to associate with us socially we should not discourage them, as long as they do not pressure us to compromise with God's laws.
As a result of our considerate and respectful association with them it's possible that our example may come to have an impact on their views and behavior (1 Corinthians 7:12-16; 1 Peter 3:1).
Should we pressure others to accept our beliefs?
"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6, NRSV).
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander" (1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV).
We must be careful to have respect for the feelings and convictions of others, even when we strongly disagree with them. We should not try to force them to accept our beliefs. Nor should we try to coerce them into hearing or accepting information they have not requested and have no desire to receive. Peter's instruction is to answer them openly, honestly and politely when they ask us to explain our beliefs. As the Revised English Bible puts it: "Learn how best to respond to each person you meet" (Colossians 4:6).
We should honor their feelings and treat them with gentleness and respect. We should show them the same courtesy we would like to receive should we inquire about their beliefs. Remember, as has been explained in previous lessons, only God can call people and give them the understanding needed for repentance.
If our example and good behavior prompt them to inquire about our beliefs and way of life, we should answer their questions appropriately. But we should never be rude or pressure them to listen to more than they want to hear. There is a wise old saying: A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. This is generally true. We need to be an example of God's ways and character. If people respect our example, they may inquire about why we live as we do. Then we can answer them—within the limits of their interest.
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