“It’s their choice.”
Sometimes these words come as a choker chain pulling me into check, and I know there is nothing more to say. But I’ve heard the same words often used with misguided implications. At those times, every neuron of my brain protests any further silence.
Of course, not every situation is so straight or crooked. Your friend drinks Fireball shots on weekends until the bar goes lopsided. Your roommate disappears to their significant other’s place every night because they’re “crazy about each other.” And your little sister got a rainbow unicorn tattoo on her birthday, with plans to add a lollipop forest across her lower back.
When someone you love makes choices that you question, what is the “Christian” response? Do you cover your eyes and repeat something like, “They can run their life however they want”? Or do you kidnap them and stage an intervention at a remote cabin, complete with cult-worthy brainwashing?
This is a much more complicated question than what’s right and wrong. My mental processing in these situations runs like this (along with copious prayers for guidance):
1. Are their actions one-size-fits-all sins?
Before all else, are we dealing with sins or something I’ve personally been convicted by? Just because something makes me uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s wrong for someone else to do (Romans 14). We are free to do anything, yet there are some things God has made clear throughout history that are not healthy choices for anyone (1 Cor. 10:23). Is the lifestyle in question explicitly dishonoring God and disobeying his Word?
2. Am I being a hypocrite?
Who listens to the advice of a hypocrite? No one. So if you are one, just drop the issue now and save everyone’s time. How do you know if you are a hypocrite? See Matthew 7:4-5. Jesus basically says (in not-so-friendly terms) deal with your own issues before nitpicking other people’s lives. Maybe you are struggling against the same sins as your friend (or are avoiding addressing something worse). For example, people who suffer from road rage are more likely to accuse other drivers. Am I seeing my friend’s choices without a “log in my eye”?
3. Is this person a believer in Christ?
If not, then you should be concerned with only one choice: will they choose Christ? We have no authority to judge the sins of unbelievers (1 Cor. 5:12). Christ always has to come first because we are all saved “while still sinners” (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:3-4).
Read the stories of when two tax collectors met Jesus (Luke 5:27-30, 19:1-10). In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were considered thieving, exploiting, traitorous scum. But once Levi met Jesus, he became an apostle and author of the Gospel of Matthew. When Zacchaeus met Jesus, he was so overwhelmed by gratitude that he immediately offered restitution for anyone he had cheated.
Real change can only happen when Jesus is present. Can I genuinely call my loved one a brother or sister in Christ?
4. Is God telling me to speak up?
Paul envisioned the ideal Body of Christ together growing more like Christ himself by stable teaching and “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:14-16). Paul demonstrated this when he wrote a disciplinary letter to the Corinthian believers. The letter hurt both Paul and the Corinthians, but he didn’t regret sending it because the correction brought about their greater good (2 Cor. 7:8-12).
He instructed Timothy to follow his example, and I believe every believer shares the same duty to “correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
The New Testament Church carries a theme of mutual accountability. The apostles couldn’t be with every group of believers at all times, so God had to speak through each group’s own people to prod them towards greater fullness in Christ (Gal. 6:1; James 5:19-20). Every believer needed to be responsible for each other, just as we ask children to keep their younger siblings out of trouble.
Don’t ignore the pressing feeling that I need to say something. Could it be that God wants to use me as his voice?
5. What is the best way to share Christ in this situation?
So I think God may be leading me towards a climax. Before I get too hasty, I need to take time to pause, thoroughly study the Word, and earnestly pray about what my next steps should be. Whatever I may like to tell my loved one may not be what’s most honoring of Christ. Remember that we are challenged to use our words in the name of Christ to build each other up (Col. 3:17; Eph. 4:29). Test the words that come to you in study and prayer and then keep whatever is good and of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19-22).
It may be that the Spirit doesn’t give me words—at least not this time. Maybe words are not strong enough in this case and action is required instead. Re-evaluate whether your life shows Christ to others and strive to be the light that will not be covered or hidden (Matt. 5:16).
This is what it all really comes down to. What’s most important: that this person gives up their sinful lifestyle or that they come to know and love Jesus Christ? As any Christian should have witnessed in their own journey, if you have the latter, then the former necessarily follows.
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19