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Some honest, thought provoking reflections from R. R. Reno on the pressure we face to deal politely with the erosion of moral truth:

A friend confides to me that he’s having an adulterous affair. I sigh inwardly over our sin-saturated condition as I remind him that the Ten Commandments are pretty clear about adultery. I counsel, but perhaps too sympathetically. I exhort, though often too gently. And even though he responds with self-justifying sophistries, it doesn’t affect our friendship very much. We go on as before, though maybe with a little more distance between us.

I have to a certain extent soft-pedaled moral truth because I’m weak and want to get along. Swimming against the current is exhausting and can be lonely. I reassure myself that at least I haven’t really condoned his transgression, haven’t affirmed as right that which is wrong. It’s an easy, thin, cowardly consolation, yes, but it’s also a crucial line of defense against the debilitating interior corruption of willingly and self-consciously betraying the truth.

Most of us who dissent from the sexual revolution do something similar, not just with friends but with society as a whole. We go to work socialize, and share public space with many people who reject the moral law’s authority over their lives, people who regard abortion as a fundamental right or who think sexual liberation an imperative. We do so in large part with civility and an appreciation for their good qualities. We accommodate ourselves to the moral realities of our time but don’t condone them. We do this because we can look away, not fixing on what is wrong because we are not forced to do so.

We can’t so easily accommodate when circumstances force the issue. If my married friend were to insist on bring his mistress to a dinner party, I’d be under tremendous social pressure to smile, shake her hand, and make her welcome, all of which would erode my defense against betraying the moral truth. I’ve done just that, or something similar. They are painful occasions. I feel myself bearing false witness, all but affirming out loud what I know to be wrong. As I struggle for moral survival, I try to reserve some moral space, deep within the privacy of my consciousness, where I’m saying  “no” even as I’m socially saying “yes.”

In this and moments like it, I find myself wishing I prized politeness less and had the interior freedom to kick out my friend and his mistress—or in some way to give the moral truth that has been jammed into a far corner of my conscience some purchase on reality, some public expression. For a purely internal commitment, a moral conviction that never emerges out in the open when confronted by its negation, can easily, perhaps inevitably, become spectral, inconsequential, and eventually lifeless. (“Marriage Matters” in First Things, November 2013, p. 4)

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15 thoughts on “Moral Convictions Must Emerge Out in the Open”

  1. Jeff Atnip says:

    A brother brings his mistress to a dinner party. Hmmmm. Maybe say something like, “I love you brother, and I am a sinner too, but this is open unrepentant sin. I cannot endorse it by my presence. Call me if you want to talk. I will pray for you.” And then leave.

    Do I have the courage to actually do this? I don’t know.

  2. Daniel says:

    I’m glad other men wrestle with this aspect. Our weakness leads us to smile on that which God frowns upon, look upon that which God turns away from, and welcome that which God would never allow in His presence. If only we hated sin as much as God does! If only we would see it the way He sees it.

  3. Steve says:

    “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.” (1 Cor 5:9-11)

    I think the key to our response should hinge on whether our friend is a professing believer. If he is, then the biblical response is to ask this friend to leave our dinner party. But if the friend is not a professing believer, I’m not sure our response should be the same. Take this hypothetical to another level. What if our friend had divorced for unbiblical reasons and remarried. Should we refuse to admit such a couple to our dinner party? According to Jesus, such a person is living in adultery. Is that any different than a married man having a mistress?

  4. Wesley says:

    What an wonderfully awful reflection Reno gives here. This very thing he speaks of is one – at least – of the reasons that religion in general and Christianity in particular has lost so much force and influence today: we have all these convictions and beliefs that we cherish deeply but which also remain deeply hidden. God help us. God help me.

    Thanks for posting this KD.

  5. Lynnette says:

    Thirty years ago my husband had an affair. None of those close to him confronted him with his sin. If they had, perhaps I would not have had to raise our two girls alone. I wouldn’t have had to endure the pain, fear, and loneliness of being a single mom. (God has been very faithful to my family; however, it was not His perfect plan.)

    Get angry with those who say they are Christians but who do not live it. Defend the wife. Defend the kids. Defend their marriage.

    If you don’t, who will?

  6. Truth Unites... And Divides says:

    Decline gay wedding invitations.

  7. lisa says:

    I was going to ask just what Steve asked: Is the friend a professing believer?

    Does it make a difference? I think it definitely does, but I’m not sure how much. I find it interesting that John the Baptist did not say of Herod’s taking his sister-in-law, “Well, Herod’s not a believer and we can’t expect him to act like one.” He said,”It is not lawful for you to have her.” Candidly, I’m not sure WHAT to do with that.

  8. anaquaduck says:

    living in NT times, Corinthian life or Roman lifestyles seem to be emerging more so. What people see as new found freedom is far from it.

    1 Cor 5:9-11 & Gal 6:1-10

    I can say what is right & wrong on the basis of God’s word but it matters how & why I say it.

  9. Althea says:

    We had a close friendship with a married couple, and when we found out the husband renounced Christianity, it was confusing but we kept up the relationship. On some level, I sensed that things were terribly wrong in their marriage. My husband tried to confront the other husband, gently, but their conversations stayed on the “shallow end” even after seven years. A year later, we found out that he had betrayed his wife with another friend’s wife. He did not think he had done anything wrong. He moved out, devastating his wife and two small children. My husband refused to play golf again with this guy, stating that we have chosen to support his wife and that he was wrong to leave her, so our friendship was over.

    It was hard. Especially when we ran into him at the grocery store or other places around town. We were friendly, but not friends. I was afraid that he would use us to get information about his ex-wife to use against her in the divorce process and child custody proceedings.

    Others try to reason with him, but this guy lives in such moral ambiguity that I don’t think talking works. A few months before his affair became discovered, he told me about how lying was a part of every day life in his culture. And I wondered how he’d feel if someone lied to him. Morals are always in the grey area unless you are the recipient of someone’s bad moralistic behavior. I wish I had said what I was thinking. I walked on eggshells around him, sensing he was overly critical with everyone else but himself.

    My conclusion is that this breaking off a relationship or fellowship is a last resort.

  10. Curt Day says:

    Adultery is horrible and as bad as we recognize it to be, most if not all of us could fall to the temptation. Adultery is, in most cases, the one of the most extreme expressions of selfishness and self-centeredness. It has no concern for the pain that others will feel from the relationship and those others include children.

    But the question that the rest of the world has for us American Christians is why, when talking about morality, are we only concerned with a limited number principles and values? If we were asked to say the word that immediately comes to mind when we hear the word immorality, we would respond with some reference to sex. And we do this while tolerating, if not celebrating, immoral foreign policies that kill so many while leaving parents without children and children without parents. We tolerate, if not celebrate, economic policies that increase wealth disparity and threaten more and more people with poverty. And when confronted with that, we show our economic privilege by talking like Marie Antoinnette by saying that the poor in our country are rich compared to the poor in other countries.

    In other words, when we so easily tolerate, if not celebrate, social immorality if it is carried out under the right banner and for our immediate benefit, why should we be surprised about our weak responses to personal sins committed by brothers and sisters in Christ?

    As for responding to the immorality cited in this blog post, isn’t it a case by case situation. On the one hand we want to be in the position to confront and, if possible, support a righteous response to the confrontation. Breaking off the relationship removes one from the opportunity of doing either. Or on the other hand, we don’t want a person claiming to be Christian to think that things are ok if that person continues with the immorality.

  11. Seneca Griggs says:

    Confronting a brother in sin; if they are a good friend, it is so hard. I’ve been tortured on that rack in the past.
    I wonder how Doug Phillips exposure came about?

  12. a. says:

    sorry Lynnette (above), painful isn’t it; yet then later, how much more precious His words become:
    “I love you with an everlasting love, with an everlasting covenant”

  13. Sir, I find it difficult to believe that you wouldn’t confront your friend about the issue. If you don’t you’re no real friend. It’s only because of the loving candor of good friends that I’m still on the road with God. Where on earth would I have ended up if they just let me be the fool?

  14. Scott Buchanan says:

    Thanks so much for posting this.

    I’ve had to confront these sorts of situations myself, struggling with my own failure to speak it when sin is being paraded or celebrated. Work colleagues who trash the idea of marriage, or unbelieving friends who joke about having liaisons with other women. It’s offensive, but I am painfully aware of my own reticence to speak out in those circumstances. Mr. Reno’s experiences are my own, and it’s strangely encouraging to hear a mature believer speak so candidly this way.

    Now, to pray for the moral courage to confront and challenge when necessary.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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