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Deadly Admonitions: How Not to Help Struggling Christians

Updated on September 10, 2012

I was standing in line in an office store behind three people in lively conversation. It was obvious from their speech that they were Christians and, upon listening closer, one of the two men there was a new Christian. I heard the older lady tell this gentleman convincingly, “That’s the Lord’s way of keeping you saved.” What that meant I didn’t have a clue, but I was interested.

It became apparent that this man was trying to quit smoking. Then the other man there, evidently a veteran Christian, advised his friend, amidst much that he said, “Well I always tell folk to smoke, drink, cuss…till you stop. You’ll get tired of it.”

The scenario was not unlike another a friend of mine related to me. He had a friend earlier in his life that was a philanderer. This young man had sought spiritual help in a church service where at some point (whether during or after I don’t know) an old church mother said to the gentleman, “Oh, you’re just being a man, baby.”

May God have mercy upon these men and all like them just beginning the Christian life and even greater mercy upon the sincere ones who counsel them with error!

What Judging Does and Does Not Mean

First some scriptural context. As Christians we do not judge other people in a way that presumes our own innocence of sin or immunity from their sort of sin. This is Christ’s injunction in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1-6). We are correct in saying that the holiness of God and his righteous standards are in judgment against all ungodliness; and to the extent that we side with righteousness we judge indeed (and this doesn't mean that we have nothing to reprimand when offense occurs).

This is interesting for another reason. Christ explains that sin itself judges and condemns a person (John 3:17-21). When we presume to judge a person in a posture of standing over and against them, without regard of our own sinfulness, we stand in the same condemnatory role as that person’s sin. Thus Christ’s instruction is given to protect us from participating in that person’s sin.

In the end, the position Christ commands of his disciples is one of loving restoration. Thus the apostle Paul is correct when in Galatians 6:1-2 he counsels Christians to restore those overtaken with fault in non-judgmental love with a clear view of one’s own ability to exceed the one in the same sin. In effect, Paul has restated Christ’s command exactly.

Godless and Deceptive Advice

Now, the good that I find in these two accounts is persons who have clearly perceived a trait in their lives as an antagonizing or binding force that works destructively in them and hinders their relationship with God. Their humility makes them ready to receive the grace of God for strength to overcome their struggle. But the great horror for souls like these is to become enjoined to well-meaning Christians with counsel that is not only unscriptural but is simply not thought out.

What could these two young men possibly hear in the advice that was given to them? Perhaps “Continue to have all the uncommitted sex you want. You’re a man and men are highly sexed creatures. You’re only doing what is natural to you and for your body. God doesn’t condemn you yet, baby.” And perhaps “Smoking is a vice you must rid yourself of; but you’re a new Christian and it’s understandable that it might not be so easy at first. Don’t worry too much about it. When the time comes you’ll get tired of it and it’ll stop.”

I find the advice given to these men to be godless and (unintentionally) deceptive. It is godless because it does not rely on the spiritual grace God provides to overcome sin and effectually undermines the work of Christ. "You’re only doing what’s natural to you”—yet if it’s natural I should continue with it, but why am I conflicted and in turmoil over it? “When the time comes…”—you mean that I can’t expect God’s active help in quitting this habit but it will rid itself sometime in my future? What if that’s ten years down the road? The men would be justified responding this way.

Moreover, the advice is deceptive because the New Testament scriptures constantly explain the flesh, the lower, carnal nature and strong coercion in humans in constant battle against the Spirit of God, something the advisors surely understood. The reason why these men were calling on God is because they had become enslaved to their deeds; and after a while people grow to hate the addictions that enslave them.

Demons with Friends

But what about the ones who frolic in sin and like it (and no one can say that sinning doesn’t feel good) and haven’t yet discovered sin to be a hard taskmaster? How will he respond to this advice? “Cool! I can be a Christian and continue to score with every girl I want. God wouldn’t give me my sexual nature just to condemn me for it. It’s a wild buck right now, so I’m going to enjoy the ride while I can.” He will say, “Whew! I really didn’t want to give up my cigs. Quitting would be hell itself. Really, what could it hurt?” (And this indubitably raises the question about whether smoking is a sin or not, but this is not the topic. It is a sin for this man because his conscience tells him so, 1 Cor. 8:4-13.)

The advice given to this kind would effectually send them back into a possibly worse form of their wrongdoing. And how do we defend these admonitions when the wrongdoing becomes strong vice, broadly defined as inordinate sex, substance abuse, or no respect for life?

I need not go on. These two men were on a path to freedom (and hopefully still are) until meeting up with damnably bad advice. What God requires of us in our struggles is that we are always swimming against the current of sin, as tough as it may be. Where sin may be at work in our lives, he requires our utmost efforts to rid ourselves of it as we rely on his strong, supporting grace.


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    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S 

      7 years ago from Danville, VA

      Neil, I'm not going to argue with you. I don't understand what your issue is with what I've written. I agree with much you have explained. You criticize my speaking about ridding ourselves of sin as we rely on God's "strong, supporting grace"; but then you say, " the hardest, and often takes time as he/she works out their sin in a way Jesus has chosen..." Is there a difference? In the end the inner work will be the Holy Spirit's, but the behavioral change will be all ours. Sure, God can give a person instant deliverance from anything, but we both know that is not how it happens usually.

      I have not advocated works religion...again the last sentence confirms this; and I am myself millions of miles from perfect. You lament that I should have pointed out the advice as ungodly, but I have done just that. The third section is entitled "Godless and Deceptive Advice"!

      I think we'd do better if we discussed the scriptures with the intent to understand them and one another, even to have fellowship or agree to disagree. But your tone seems argumentative and this doesn't represent us or our Jesus well.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      "Neil, you have sorely misread what I've written."

      No I haven't!

      The last sentence you wrote is this:

      "Where sin may be at work in our lives, he requires our utmost efforts to rid ourselves of it as we rely on his strong, supporting grace."

      I put it to you that you are in no position to try and teach others and that you don't properly understand the concept of being saved and neither do you understand the concept of grace.

      1) It's not up to us to rid ourselves of sin!!! Its the work of the Holy Spirit to:

      a) Convict a person of their sin

      b) Work on that persons heart in order that it be changed to address the offending behavior.

      This part (b)is the hardest, and often takes time as he/she works out their sin in a way that Jesus has chosen and is unique to them and their Jesus and the Holy Spirit determine.

      It is during this time grace is supplied to the individual who may slip up many times or go through some form of calamity, in order that their heart be changed. The truth is that our hearts are so wicked and corrupt that it often takes calamity before we can come to true repentance with a changed heart, not just changed behavior. Jesus has a plan for each and every one of us. He takes care of our sin IF WE submit ourselves under His authority and give everything we have (fears, truth about our sin nature in the form of confession) up to him. He wants to be our Lord and Savior, not us. The church is full of people who are trying to be their own lord and savior, who are bypassing the work of Jesus on the cross and are on a sure path to destruction. NO MAN CAN EVER BE HOLY BEFORE A HOLY GOD WITHOUT JESUS.

      I find it ironic that you quote me 1Peter 1:16 and don't bother to take that particular verse in the context of the whole of the chapter in which it was written.

      If you want to play that game I can always take some scripture to show the exact opposite, in that, it is impossible for a man to save himself. Is God a liar? Does His word contradict itself? No! God is neither a liar and nor does the word of God contradict itself.

      There is also some irony in that you ask me to show you how the following advice is biblical:

      “Well I always tell folk to smoke, drink, cuss…till you stop. You’ll get tired of it.”...

      Notice also, that in my reply to you, I used the words 'IN THE RIGHT CONTEXT' and said that that advice if given in the right context, was actually biblical, and this is the important bit, nowhere did I actually imply or mean to imply, that in the case you gave and as it was spoken, that the advice given by the other person was actually right...just that your interpretation was wrong for a number of reasons that I am about to explore in more detail.

      All your diatribe is about 'works', regardless of whether you can actually see it or care to see it. You talk about Christians who have sex etc etc and I distinctly get the impression that you relish in the concept of being righteous or thinking of yourself as righteous whilst condemning other people. You are like the Pharisee who says to himself 'I thank god that I am not like the sinners and tax collectors and the ungodly'. What you need to be is like the man who says to himself, 'God have mercy on me a wretched sinner'.

      You had the perfect opportunity to do some good and put Jesus in the centre of this hub and your advice but you flunked. In fact you don't mention Jesus by name once. Are you ashamed of the name Jesus? Yes you used the word Christ but that is just His title. He is the Christ. His name is Jesus and you didn't mention it once. That is very telling...

      You should have pointed out that the advice you overheard was not centred around Jesus and therefore was ungodly advice. The expression "You'll get tired of it eventually" implies that sooner or later he/she will get bored of it. There is no mention of conviction of sin and neither was their talk about giving it over to Jesus.

      Sadly, you seemed to miss this and made it a works issue when it was never a works issue to begin with, and people like you should stop your teaching forthwith.

      It takes faith! Faith and works are two sides of the same coin. Faith in Jesus produces the desire to depend on Him and to get ever closer to Jesus, in order to learn the ways of His kingdom. This closeness and longing to get to know the creator, brings forth a changed heart baring fruit that eventually produces works as a result.

      It doesn't come about under our own efforts as you seem to imply.

    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S 

      7 years ago from Danville, VA

      Neil, you have sorely misread what I've written. I'm not sure how you've viewed me to be a "purveyor of what is right" when all I've done is explained the scriptures and followed the given counsel I heard to its logical conclusions. You accuse me of snooping in other's private conversations: I stood in line behind these folk who spoke so loudly that others several feet away could have heard them; and because the conversation was Christian, I was interested.

      You call me a gossip-monger and one looking down my nose at others; but I have only called into question errant advice--of the counselors, not the counseled. You also tell me that I need more context, but what more was there for me to know when I realized that one person was being counseled by two others about his smoking, which was causing him some spiritual distress. I was indeed interested to hear what advice they'd offer since they put their own conversation on display. And please explain to me how smoke-drink-cuss-until-you-stop is biblical. I've explained the scriptures I read: You explain yours now.

      I've said nothing about abstinence. (I'm not sure how you've come to see me as rebuking the weak in this article. I've only challenged wrong advice.) And, yes, spiritual change is the work of the Holy Spirit, but he still commands us "Be ye holy as I am holy" and "Reckon yourselves dead to sin." The assurance of salvation is that I can look in the mirror of the scriptures and determine that I'm doing everything I can to be godly. This is how any person can know they're saved; and yet "not I but Christ in me."

      Jesus does do the changing, Neil, but he requires our full participation. Who can pray that God takes away their sinful habits but won't fight to change? "Show me your faith without works and I'll show you mine by my works."

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good advice? I am sure you are well meaning and sincere in what you write but you fail to realize that you are part of the problem.

      In holding yourself up as a purveyor of what is right, you have in effect made a judgment, and that judgement has been made on the back of you listening into a private conversation between people you don't know. Therefore, it stands to reason, that you know nothing about their background or their private, personal relationship with Jesus. You are in effect, a gossip monger, looking down your nose at these people which you assume are wayward, when you can never know the bigger picture.

      While some of the things you say are not wrong, in and of themselves, you and people like you, do nothing more than twist your ideologies, and create stumbling blocks and snares for people, with your works-based dogma.

      “Well I always tell folk to smoke, drink, cuss…till you stop. You’ll get tired of it.”

      Actually, given the right context, that advice is biblical. But of course, being a gossip-monger and listening in to other peoples conversations, its not possible for you to determine any background context. Is it?

      The fact of the matter is, Jesus doesn't want your BS and your can save that for your churchianity buddies. He accepts you as you are and He does the changing and not you.

      Its not about abstinence. Its about a change of heart and that change of heart is supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. The real crux of the issue not whether a person still commits x,y,z sin, but rather, whether his/her heart is/was right with Jesus in the first place and whether they have given their life over to him in its entirety, as opposed to becoming their own lord and savior, by merely practicing abstinence of certain sins they once did, and changing themselves...whilst still desiring those sins in their own heart, of course.

      If you think that abstinence makes you righteous then you are deceiving yourself. Whilst it is true that a saved person will show signs of a changed heart, he/she may not be 100 percent sin-free as regards to his/her old lifestyle. Go read Mark 4:8 and notice that the seed that fell on good ground bared fruit, some thirty some sixty and some a hundred. All bared fruit of differing amounts? But all would have bared real-fruit and not a false, 'put-on' righteousness like that of the Pharisees.

      I feel you need to concentrate on your own relationship with Jesus and maybe, just maybe take a look at yourself a bit closer before you write publicly about other peoples private conversations that you just happened to overhear.

      And remember it is Jesus that does the changing and not you!

      P.S. As for smoking...Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? If you were the Holy Spirit how would you feel about having filthy smoke blown in your face, day in and day out?

    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S 

      7 years ago from Danville, VA

      Such a deeply moving concept that convicts me to think on it--He gave up all for me. Can I not give up sin for him? That will ring in my ears for a while. Thank you, TJ.

    • Tamarajo profile image


      7 years ago

      Well presented and good advice. Your concluding paragraph says it all about swimming against the current of sin.

      We would all do well to not treat grace so cheaply by continuing in known sin nor to advise anyone else to do so.

      I had my own personal confrontation with this some years ago and I learned the hard way that God does mind. I learned that to continue in what I was doing was evidence of my lack of love and loyalty to a God who had been nothing but faithful to me. a God who gave up everything for me... could I not give up sin for Him?

      Although it is God who does the work in us we must be moving in a direction towards Him through repentance. We certainly must not wait until we no longer "feel" like sinning.

    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S 

      7 years ago from Danville, VA

      @feenix: Thank you. Those are kinds words. I think we Christians must do more than stick scriptures in people's faces but also think with and through the scriptures. Only then will we get God's heart on matters.

    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S 

      7 years ago from Danville, VA

      @MsDora: A smile came across my face at how you used "ungodly" to refer occasional Christian advice. You're right: Just stick with the Word and let God do the work. We're only agents.

    • feenix profile image


      7 years ago

      Hello, ithabise,

      First, welcome to HupPages. I wish you the very best.

      Second, this is a useful, awesome, beautiful and interesting post and I am very grateful to you for writing and publishing it.

      As a matter of fact, this article is one of the best pieces I have ever read concerning how we, as Christians, should deal with sin.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      7 years ago from The Caribbean

      Good advice. Thank you. "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly." (Psalm 1:1). Since the ungodly may sometimes pose as Christians, we have to read the Word for ourselves. You're right.


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