We all want our kids to be mature and discerning, but did you know that discernment requires us to divide? Join AMBrewster as he teaches Christian parents about an important doctrine that can save our families from much heartache.
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Two episodes ago we talked about biblical unity and diversity.
We learned that we’re commanded to be unified in our submission to God’s Truth, that we’re allowed to be diverse in our application of God’s Truth as long as the application submits to God’s Truth, but that we’re not allowed to be unified if we’re not unified in our submission to God’s Truth.
And today we’re going to talk about God’s practical expectations for that final point. What do we do when it’s clear we should not be unified with someone?
How do we teach our kids to think about this topic?
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Okay, so I admit today’s title was poorly written because I was trying to be veiled. Most of the time you want your titles to be very clear from a search engine optimization standpoint. So, why did I call today’s episode “Teach Your Children to Discern by Teaching Them to Divide”?
Well, I believe anyone following this ministry wants their kids to be discerning.
To discern is to perceive or recognize something. It’s to distinguish the differences between things — thereby allowing you to make the better choice.
Of course we want out kids to be discerning. That’s what Solomon wanted for his son when he wrote proverbs. In Proverbs 1:2 Solomon sets out the purpose of the book as “To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding.”
A chapter later he mentions twice that by taking his advice we’ll be able to discern the fear of the Lord as well as righteousness, justice, equity, and every good course.
Discernment is very important.
In fact, it’s vital to our being able to determine if we should unify with someone or not.
We have to be able to discern what God’s will is, but we also need to discern if the individual with whom we’d like to unify is submitting to God’s revealed will.
In Hebrews 5:14 we’re told that only nature individuals have the ability to discern between good and evil. We definitely want our kids to be mature.
So, what does it mean to teach them to discern by teaching them to divide?
Well — again — the definition of discernment requires that we distinguish between things. If I’m going to discern which piece of currency is real and which is counterfeit, I have to divide them based on their differences.
If I’m going to discern between a healthy meal and death food, I need to divide them based off their differences.
Therefore, just like unity is commanded in Scripture, division is also commanded.
Unity is expected when we rally around Christ, but there will be division if one or both of us are not rallying around Christ.
Let’s step through this process together.
1. God commands righteousness.
We saw this on episode 401. We read multiple verses calling us to unity in Christ. In addition to that, we could spend days reading all of the commands in Scripture that require us to be righteous.
2. God commands that we flee sin.
Every single time the Bible tells us to be righteous, It’s telling us not to be sinful. In addition to that, the Bible also tells us not to sin.
Romans 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!”
I Corinthians 6:18, “Flee immorality.”
Ephesians 4 tells us to lay aside falsehood and sinful anger, stop stealing, forbid unwholesome words from escaping our lips, don’t grieve the Holy Spirit, and put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice.
And on and on and on . . . God commands us to reject sin.
So, in order to discern whether something is righteous or sinful, we’re going to have to make a divide between them.
3. God commands unity in Him.
This is obviously a review point, but it needs to be repeated.
When we discover those who live and promote righteousness, we must embrace them and unify with them.
However . . .
4. God commands that we flee from those who advocate sin.
When we find people who live in unrepentant sin, the Bible is very clear how we should approach them, and it’s not described as polite avoidance or tolerance and open embrace.
A. We are not to fellowship with the world.
Psalm 1:1 is very familiar to us, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!”
But one of the best examples of this dramatic command is II Corinthians 6:14-18. “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be MY people. 17 ‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 ‘And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty.”
As you can imagine, people struggle with this passage because it doesn’t sound very “loving.” It doesn’t even seem to represent how Jesus treated unbelievers.
Once in Matthew 9:10 and once in Mark 2:15 we read about Jesus spending lots of time with sinners. In fact, the religious leaders would use His affiliations to smear His reputation.
So, how do these two concepts go together? Well, the answer will come with an understanding of the word “fellowship.”
Fellowship refers to participation that like objects have with each other. Water mixes with water. Light can be added to light without diminishing each other. But light can’t mix with darkness just like water can’t mix with oil just like Christ can’t mix with Satan.
They can’t have fellowship. They can’t participate together. They can’t commune on a spiritual level. We could put it this way — they have nothing in common when it comes to the most important part of who they are.
The Christian should be living for God, but the unbeliever will be living for self. They don’t understand each other’s worlds.
So, why did Jesus spend so much time with unbelievers? He didn’t do it to fellowship with them. He wasn’t bearing His soul to them like He often did with the disciples. He was there to reveal to them their need for a relationship with Him.
In Mark 2:17 Jesus says, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
To what did Jesus come to call the sinners? He came to call them to a saving relationship with Him where they can not only reject sin, but also unify with righteousness.
The key is, He wasn’t fellowshipping with unbelievers, and nether should we.
Of course that doesn’t mean that we completely ignore them and hide from them. Too many foolish people and false denominations have encourage professing Christians to cloister themselves from the world. That is not at all what Paul is telling the Corinthians.
Paul is telling us exactly what we would expect to hear — we must not participate with unbelievers in evil deeds. Ephesians 5:11 tells us, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.”
Of course, we need to spend time with unbelievers, but we do so to reach them for Christ, to shine the light of the Gospel into their lives. And then when they are born again, then we can fellowship with them as we sharpen each other and confess our sins to each other and pray for each other and bear one another’s burdens and rebuke, exhort, encourage, admonish, and reprove each other.
That is fellowship. We could put it this way — discipleship is fellowship. We can’t disciple unbelievers. We can evangelize them, but we can’t fellowship with them.
In the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians he had already established that “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.”
We’ll talk about this verse more later, but — for now — please understand that you and your kids have been told by God that they should not be fellowshipping with unbelievers.
We can’t talk anymore about it now, but I highly suggest you listen to our Friends series because far too many kids are — in fact — trying to fellowship with unbelievers, and they’re doing so to their own destruction.
But it’s not just unbelievers with whom we cannot fellowship, there’s another interesting group, and what God has to say about this group is even more stunning.
B. We are not to associate with professing believers who blatantly sin.
Matthew 7:13-23, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 15 Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from ME, you who practice lawlessness.’”
It’s possible that we won’t be able to fellowship with that professing believer because they’re not actually a believer, but it’s also possible we can’t fellowship with a genuine believer because — for a time — they are living like an unbeliever.
Proverbs 13:20, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
II Thessalonians 3:6, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.”
Paul tells the Thessalonians to “keep away.” That’s not simply, “Don’t fellowship but instead spend time with them for the sake of the Gospel.” No, this is “stay away from them.”
Titus 3:10, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”
Now, this is an interesting verse which supports all of the points we’ve made so far. God is commanding to reject, to separate from, to divide out from among us someone who causes divisions.
Well, wait a minute, aren’t we being divisive by dividing from the divisive man?
Here’s the thing, not all division is wrong. Division that God commands — division that is in line with the Scriptures — division that rejects unrighteousness — is expected. But division that refuses to unify with God’s will is a sin. Therefore, we are to righteously divide from those who unrighteously divide.
This is actually really easy as long as we allow God to decide what righteousness and sin are. The moment we take that upon ourselves or trust the government or expect the church to draw their own lines, that’s the moment we complicate everything.
So, if we allow God to do His job and we unify with Him, we can easily follow Christ’s commands in Matthew 18:15-20, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
Jesus is telling us that if a professing believer divides from righteousness, we should seek to reunify him through reconciliation. But if he refuses to be reconciled, he’s acting like an unbeliever.
And then Jesus recaps, 19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
You see . . . our unification must be done in His name — His character.
But, here’s the surprising thing. We can’t fellowship with unbelievers, we can’t fellowship with professing believers who are living in sin, but what God has to say about this final category is the most dramatic.
C. We are not to associate with professing believers who advocate false doctrine.
Just allow me to read the following passages.
I Timothy 6:3-5, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”
Acts 20:28-30, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
I John 4:1-6, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
II John 9-11, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
Romans 16:17-19. “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”
II Timothy 3:1-5, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.”
Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
So, here’s the thing. In God’s eyes, there is no one more diabolical and wicked than someone who claims to speak for God, but who deceives people into living an evil lifestyle.
In the Matthew 18 passage, before talking about how to find reconciliation with a sinning believer, Jesus says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
How much more dramatic can you get?
God’s people are definitely supposed to divide from false teachers. This is why Jesus spent time with unbelievers who were willing to know Him better and shunned those who claimed to speak for God even though they rejected Him.
Now, some of you have figured it out.
Some of you know what I’m talking about today.
Some of you are very aware of the fact that there is a biblical teaching called the Doctrine of Separation, and I’ve cited many of the passages that teach this doctrine.
Unfortunately, the Doctrine of Separation has fallen out of use and teaching because people don’t like it, and they don’t like it for two main reasons.
1. They simply don’t want to separate from those whom God commands us to separate.
And 2. They have seen the Doctrine of Separation abused and fear doing the same thing.
Allow me to address the second.
I am a fundamental, independent baptist. And I know that I may lose the respect of some of you because you have been hurt by some of those same people. I understand. Allow me to say that a rejection of me would be wrong for those reasons, but I understand the temptation.
Well, in the 1920’s the fundamentalist movement called the churches in the United States back to Christ-honoring obedience to the Doctrine of Separation. And it worked all to the glory of God. False teachers had permeated the churches and the denominations and the universities, and they had to be cast out if they refused to submit to God’ Word.
Unfortunately, the decades following would see men doing what they so often like to do — taking things farther than God intended. We started separating over false gospels and heresies, and then moved to separating from people who dressed differently and listened to different music.
And by the 90’s many separatists had run out of people to separate from . . . so they started separating from each other.
And so much of what they did was wrong, but — may I suggest — that flying to the opposite extreme where we embrace ecumenism is equally as wrong.
You’ve heard it today. God repeatedly commands His people to separate themselves from people who unrepentantly live and advocate for the sins from which He commands us to separate.
And that takes care of the first objection as well.
Don’t try to be more holy than God. Don’t believe you can fellowship with unbelievers and backsliders because it’s “loving.” It has nothing to do with loving. It doesn’t matter how much the oil loves the water, they can’t mix.
Genuine Christians cannot truly fellowship intimately with unbelievers because it’s literally impossible. You may call it fellowship, but one of two things are true: either A. You’re not really fellowshipping, or B. You are fellowshipping because neither of you are born again and you’re both in sin.
So, how do we teach our children to be discerning? How do we teach them to divide where God says divide and unify where He commands we unify?
Well, with the very little time we have left, I want to explain 4 categories. And — from the outset — I will tell you that only one of them is a category in which God commands us to separate. The other three are not.
Just like we discussed in episode 401 and rehearsed here, God commands us to separate from sin and those who unrepentantly live and/or advocate for it. The clear commands in Scripture are what we call doctrine.
And that’s out first category.
These are the commands and clear teachings in Scripture. Just like we call God’s commands to separate from sin the Doctrine of Separation, we also call the teachings concerning the Gospel the Doctrine of Soteriology — that is, the Doctrine of Salvation.
Obviously this requires that we know God’s Word. This is so important. Ignorance of the Scriptures is one of the thickest roots of sin.
I counsel so many families, and — let me tell you — ignorance of Scripture is just as damning as rebellion against Scripture we know.
But this also requires that I truly know and understand from where the other individual is coming. Most church doctrinal statements sound very similar, but the practical outworking of their teaching is not.
Just because someone wears a WWJD bracelet or a shirt with “faith” written on it or a cross necklace doesn’t mean we’re talking with a fellow believer who is striving in the power of the Holy Spirit to live in fidelity to God.
Too many Christians are painfully ignorant when it comes to embracing anyone who makes any kind of claim — veiled or not — that they may possibly believe in God. This is foolish.
Why? Because that person with whom we’re unequivocally trying to fellowship may not even be born again. They may believe a false doctrine. They may actually propound that false doctrine and be leading others astray.
This is why we must know God’s Word and know the individual or group or ministry so we can rightly discern if we can unify with them or if we need to separate from them.
Teach your children to immerse themselves in Scripture. Teach them to ask good questions. Teach them to be discerning.
But this is where our separation must stop. Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to separate from people because of differences in the following categories:
Convictions are personal conclusions to which we have arrived based off principles and illustrations in the Scripture.
For example, in the 90’s there were many people who believed that women should not wear pants because Deuteronomy 22:5 says, “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”
The problem is that no one in the Bible times wore pants back then, they all wore very similar outfits made of identical fabrics and colors. An additional problem is that they arbitrarily decided — based on culture — that (even though pants were being made specifically for women) pants had to be masculine clothing.
But Deuteronomy 22:5 was not referring to a wife not being allowed to wear her husband’s t-shirt. The passage is actually speaking to the transgender issue of our day. No one should have made it difficult for anyone else to be able to rightly determine within reason that they were talking to a biological man or a woman. It would have been wrong to pretend to be something you weren’t so that other’s were confused.
It’s not an abomination for a woman to wear pants, however, it is completely appropriate for a woman to have that conviction. There’s nothing wrong with that. She’s not sinning if she only ever wears skirts.
On the other hand, if she refuses to associate with women who wear pants even though they hold to and live out the fundamental doctrines of the Bible, now’s there’s a problem because she’s causing disunity and division where there should not be any.
Sometimes you may hear of people dividing over “standards.” But standards are not inherently right or wrong. Standards are simply rules designed to help us keep our convictions.
If I were a no-pants woman, I would have the standard in my house that the ladies don’t wear pants because of my conviction that we shouldn’t wear men’s clothes.
But let me use a different example.
The biblical principle says “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Yes, that is a command, and yes, we’re not allowed to do anything that doesn’t glorify God, but this verse does not specifically command how we are glorify God in what we eat or drink.
So, a conviction might be that since sugar is damaging to the body, it doesn’t glorify God to eat it — especially in excess.
Based on that personal conviction, I may create a standard that could call for moderation, occasional fasts, or even complete abstinence.
Here’s another example. The Bible illustrates that certain parts of the human anatomy are either uniquely sexual or should be reserved for spouses alone.
The command is that we be modest, but there are not regulations on hemlines, necklines, or tightness.
This is where I must exercise my conviction. Let’s say that the standard designed to help me keep my conviction is that shorts should be to the knee, clothes shouldn’t be skin tight, and shirts should be kept on.
The Bible commands a general expectation, but God gives us the freedom to determine with the Holy Spirit how I must live in order to glorify God under that expectation.
Consider Exodus 19:10-13 as a really good example of this: “The Lord also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; 11 and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”
Now, where did Moses set the boundary? Well, we obviously don’t know for sure, but he could have set it just about anywhere. It could have been right on the base of the mountain. It could have been ten yards from the base of the mountain. In fact, it may have been so far back that someone could have crossed the barrier by yards and yards and still not died because he was nowhere near the base of the mountain God commanded them not to touch.
So, you see that standards are simply the rules we set in place to guard God’s commands and our convictions. The power of the standard lies in whether or not it’s God’s standard to keep us from sinning against His clear will or our standard to keep us from transgressing our own conviction.
But we also set up standards for the last two categories.
We’re going to call preferences assumptions with no direct biblical basis. We see something in Scripture and we assume a logical extrapolation even though there is no direct biblical command or principle.
Some people prefer to decorate a baby boy’s room in blue and the girl’s room in pink. Though the Bible does mention basic differences between the sexes, there is no biblical data to suggest that pink is inherently a feminine color away from which all boys should stay.
Not dressing your sons in pink would be a preference with no direct biblical basis.
Since God doesn’t command that men not wear pink clothes made for men, it would be wrong to separate from some guy who loves the Lord and wears pink.
And finally . . .
These are beliefs with absolutely no biblical basis.
I love root beer, and I think Mountain Dew tastes gross.
I love skiing and martial arts and mountain biking, but I don’t watch professional sports.
Those are personal opinions with absolutely no root in the Bible. There’s obviously nothing wrong with those opinions, but it would be wrong to be divisive because people don’t drink root beer.
Now, let me wrap this up.
There are ditches on both sides of this truth. On one side we may be tempted to embrace anyone and anything even if it runs counter to the Scriptures. On the other side we may be tempted to reject everyone who doesn’t live life the way we do.
Both of those are sinful.
Now, let me tell you a personal reason I’ve discussed this today.
I have had many friends and family members who know nothing about the doctrine of separation. They attended youth groups that would get together with catholics for “the sake of the gospel.” They would listen to “Christian musicians” who sang about stuff that did not represent God’s reality.
And when we don’t teach our kids to know God’s Word and be able to use theologic and reason and analytical thinking skills to judge whether or not the thing in front of us glorifies God . . . we’re setting them up to accept everything God rejects and reject everything God loves.
And I have seen this happen over and over and over again.
A few of my friends who grew up like this have blanketly accepted the Black Lives Matter organization. Now, I’ve already been very clear that black lives do matter, but the organization itself is patently and unashamedly ungodly. They espouse beliefs that are wicked, they promote sin, and they do not submit to biblical teaching in any way, shape, or form.
I cannot unify with the Black Lives Matter organization because it would be an offense to my God.
Imagine someone has an atheistic group whose mission it is to destabilize the church in America. I absolutely must not embrace them because they call themselves “Brotherly Love” and provide free baked goods to people who attend their rallies.
I have to know what God commands. I have to know what the individual believes before I can determine whether or not the Lord would be pleased by my unifying with them.
If you want your children to mature and be discerning . . . they must learn to divide when necessary.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets and remember that if we want our children to grow up into Christ, we must parent in all truth . . . even the Doctrine of Separation. And we need to teach them that love is doing what’s in God’s best interest for someone, even if that means that we must take a stand against their sinful lifestyle with the hopes that they will come to know Christ and be reconciled to Him.
It doesn’t matter if we like the way that sounds . . . it’s what God commands.
To that end, join us next time as we wrap up Season 16 and look ahead to the Season of Grace.
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