If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die forhis iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul. —Ezekiel 3:18-21
I love gracious people. There are some people in my life who I consider very good friends and mentors—people who would stick their necks out in defense of me. These people, I love and appreciate as they have graciously given themselves over to the body of Christ, for the edification of the saints, and the defense of the Gospel. As a believer, I have a God-given duty to extend the same grace to my fellow believers. As a matter of fact, this grace, by definition, does not require a prerequisite or a follow-up. It’s simply grace. It’s what Christ did for us on the cross. Christ graciously took the punishment on the cross for our sins, though we deserved it not, and he now stands before the father, interceding on our behalf. This is the greatest example of grace; it is the standard of grace. He is the ultimate model for the grace we are to show others, especially our fellow believers. But grace is not God’s only attribute, he is also truth, and He is just, among other things.
So how do we balance our grace, while not compromising the other attributes of God?
What grace is not.
Grace is not simply ignoring sin or enabling sin or error. In all of God’s grace, God never ignores sin (Romans 3:23, 6:23). True grace knows that it’s better to be told the truth and deal with the aftermath than allow it to continue unchecked. The grace that God extends to us is only because Christ satisfied the wrath of God on the cross.
Grace is not universal. Grace is only extended to those who repent and put their faith in Christ (Luke 13:3-5). But even then, repentance and faith are gracefully granted to us by God (Eph 2:8-9).
Finally, grace is not weakness, it’s a supernatural gift. John MacArthur once said “Meekness has no relation to weakness but denotes power that is under willing control.” Extending grace to someone who does not deserve it shows a Spirit-filled willingness to control your anger and allow the work of Christ to be seen through your actions.
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. —Proverbs 6:16-19
What exactly does it mean to “sow discord?” Oftentimes, Christians with strong convictions—people who have a zeal for the truth of the Word of God and devote their lives to defending it—have this accusation hurled at them. I often write about errors I see being promoted in the church—anything from ecumenism to social justice to charismania, and beyond. But this does not mean we should be softening our stances on issues of compromise when it comes to defending the faith. It simply means we should do our best to approach issues in a godly and gracious manner with humility and a desire to glorify God.
That being said, the accusation of sowing discord is a strong accusation to make brothers and sisters who stand firmly on the authority of the Word of God and are devoted to defending it.
Merriam-Webster defines “discord” as follows:
a : lack of agreement or harmony (as between persons, things, or ideas)
b : active quarreling or conflict resulting from discord among persons or factions : strife
Galatians 5:19-21 says:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Therefore, accusing someone of sowing discord is basically accusing someone of not being a Christian and serving self-interests. The accusation often goes that if you are speaking out against those you disagree with, you are creating divisions and strife among believers. Unless we just sit idly by, nod our heads in agreement, and put our stamp of approval on everything our leadership does publicly within the body of Christ, then we must be sowing discord.
But Scripture demonstrates otherwise.
The Cause of Division in the Church
First of all, Scripture is very clear on what causes divisions within the church. There tends to be a great amount of backlash towards believers who are quick to rebuke other Christians who are in sin or even false believers who are masquerading as Christians. The argument is that it distracts from the love of Jesus, but love is not the only quality of Jesus. Jesus came to bring truth, a sword (Matthew 10:34). Jesus did not come to tell everyone that they could believe what they wanted to believe, worship whatever idols they want to worship, and seek whatever God they want to seek, and as long as we stand in unity, everything would be fine. Jesus commanded us to expose error within the church (Eph. 5:11). Being united in error is not what Christ taught his followers, nor is it what he commands for the Church. Being united on false premises is superficial and not true unity.
So what creates disunity in the church then if it’s not the bickering and quarreling and the argument? According to Scripture, it is false teachings—error. Error is what creates disunity in the church, and error must be corrected to regain that unity. Paul says in Romans 16:17, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” Notice, he doesn’t say to avoid the ones correcting the false doctrine, he says to avoid those who bring false doctrine because they cause disunity. He doesn’t say to turn a blind eye to sin and join up with them nor does he say to ignore it and sweep it under the rug. No, he says to stay away from them, expose them for what they are—tools of Satan that cause disunity.
Jesus’ Response to False Teachers
Further, to accuse someone who is standing on the Word of God and doing their best to obey it, of sowing discord is to accuse Jesus of the same thing. In Matthew 23, Jesus gives seven woes to the Scribes and Pharisees (the false teachers of the time).
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
This is a powerful rebuke by Jesus himself. He did not mince any words here, nor did he turn a blind eye to the false teachings that were going on. He exposed them for what they were. He had no objections to name-calling—he used pretty harsh names for these people.
Paul’s Response to False Teachers
These false teachers were teaching doctrines of demons, doctrines that sent people to hell. The false teachers compromised the Gospel and served self-interests to the detriment of the unsuspecting lost. The Bible makes it very clear that this is unacceptable within the church, then and now. Specifically, Paul says in Eph 5:11:
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
The unfruitful works of darkness would be the joining with the world when we are supposed to be standing apart from the world (James 4:4, 2 Corinthians 6:17, 1 John 2:15, etc.) Our commission as believers is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). We cannot make disciples when we compromise the Gospel. Using the church to try to create a Utopian kingdom on earth in the name of Christ is a worldly desire and not of God. Jesus says in John 18:36 “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” We, as a body of believers, should be solely focused on making disciples of Christ, for it is only through this discipleship that hearts will be changed.
Yoking With Unbelievers
Moreover, yoking together with unbelievers, including false teachers, churches, denominations, and religions, in spiritual endeavors and using the name of Christ is strictly forbidden in Scripture.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? … – 2 Cor: 14-16
The difference between spiritual endeavors and a common, secular “working together” must be understood.” The phrase, “unequally yoked,” in 2 Cor. 14 is “ἑτεροζυγέω,” transliterated “heterozygeō.” It is actually a compound of the two words “ἕτερος” (“heteros”), and “ζυγός” (“zygos”). It was metaphorically used to represent the unequal combining together of working animals, such as a donkey and an ox, to a plow. Because of their differences, these animals would have difficulty accomplishing the task, while taking the focus off the work itself and putting it on the workers. Paul is speaking to the Church in this letter and he is literally commanding its members not to enter into a formal working partnership or alliance with unbelievers—specifically those that would cause them to compromise their witness.
The witness for Christ is compromised because the focus is taken off of doctrinal purity in the alliance, and put on less important things, like social issues. This isn’t to say that some social issues aren’t worth fighting for in the church, they are, but we must do so from a biblical premise. We cannot join together with unbelievers and say that in the name of Christ, or in the name of the Gospel, we stand united on social issues. This gives the world the appearance that doctrinal purity is merely a side issue.
There is a common misunderstanding of what it means to be “salt and light.” Many people think this means sharing the love of Jesus with unbelievers, but it’s much more than that. Being salt means preserving the truth of Jesus Christ by holding fast to it, and being light means exposing darkness and error by “shining the light” of the truth of God’s word against it.
The Result of Compromise
People believe false doctrines. People die. People go to Hell. Why is that not the number one issue with some in the church? Acts 20:27-31 speaks of false teachers rising prominently from within the church. False teachers are not simply outside of the visible church but have crept in unawares, unnoticed by most people (Jude 1:4). It is very important that we guard our flock against false teachings, and not just blindly support all leadership in the organization simply because you are a member of it. That in and of itself is false teaching and is used by many churches including the Roman Catholic Church and many Evangelical churches. It is imperative that you speak up against all opposition when you see error creeping into the church. 1 Thes 5:21 says “but test everything; hold fast what is good.” We must, and when it’s not good, we must speak up. Paul says in Ephesians 4:14 that we must grow spiritually, grounded in Scriptural truth, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
John MacArthur says in his New Testament Commentary on 2 Timothy:
A vessel of honor to God (the man described in 2 Timothy 2:22) must develop a discerning mind. An unguarded mind, even of a believer, is subject to deceit, misunderstanding, and confusion, which inevitably produce false doctrine and sinful living. The undiscerning mind is ‘tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming’ (Eph 4:14).
Many of these leaders we dearly hold in such high regard, sadly, are subject to their own depraved state as much as anyone. They have a form of godliness, but deny its power (2 Tim 3:5). Even Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). Sadly, many well-meaning, gracious people don’t want to acknowledge that there could be serious errors within our churches and want to simply go along with whatever wind of doctrine is being pushed at the time. This is exactly how Critical Race Theory crept into Southern Baptist churches. It began as a seemingly benign campaign against racism. But many saw through it and spoke out against it. Years later, it has all but killed many Evangelical churches.
Our leader’s hearts are naturally wicked too (Jeremiah 17:9) and it’s only the heart of Christ that is pure. Sadly, anyone who dissents is often accused of slander, serving self-interests, and sowing discord. But these winds of doctrine come in, seemingly harmless, and the masses get behind them, and promote them, and stand by them, and enforce them, and fight for them, and defend them—yet they never come to the knowledge of the truth until the damage is done. This is because discernment and defending the faith are not seen in their proper biblical context.
The common gospel that is creeping into the church is a man-centered ideology that seeks to bring about a Utopian society instead of looking to Christ alone in hope and trust for salvation. Their goal is being accomplished, and many are falling victim to its teachings. Christians as a whole no longer contend for the faith (Jude 1:3), stand up for the truth (1 Thes 5:21), or speak out against error (2 Tim 3:16-17), nor do they see any true purpose in standing apart from the wicked (2 Cor 6:17) and exposing the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph 5:11). What the Church fathers, Reformers, and great theologians fought so hard for is slowly being undone. If we aren’t going to stand separate from false teachings, then why proclaim that we have the truth? Why not just merge with all the false gospels and doctrine disintegrate? Why even have a Bible if we begin to let it slowly slip away as our final authority? Are we just giving lip service to the authority of Scripture now? Are we out to please man first?
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. —Galatians 1:10
I can tell you this; while I will seek to be gracious, patient, and merciful, I will not, and cannot be silent. I cannot stand idly by and watch as people fall victim to every wind of doctrine. I cannot concern myself with trying not to offend people.
A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent. —John Calvin