Summary: We must avoid even the appearance of sin
David P. Nolte
You have heard the duck test – “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck” That suggests that something can be identified by its habitual characteristics. Actually in this neck of the woods it should have been the beaver test!
That kind of test applies to sin, as well: The sin test – “If it looks like a sin, acts like sin, impacts like sin and comes across as a sin, then it probably is a sin.”
But we are counseled, no, commanded in the Bible to abstain from, to avoid, and to stay far away from evil or sin in any of its forms. Today I want to put it as does the KJV: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV).
Paul urges us to “Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Philippians 2:15 (NLT2). That is, live in the world uncorrupted. Carry the light of God by word and deed into the sin darkened world.
If what we are doing, or saying, looks like sin, and impacts others like sin, it is sin and we need to avoid it like it was a rattlesnake. The apostle Paul said that he would give up any freedom or activity that might cause someone else to stumble. We, too, may need to bridle our freedom!
Some might protest: “But as long as I know I’m not doing wrong why does it matter what others think?” Well, it’s like when a little boy was getting dressed for school. He held up a shirt he had worn the day before and asked, “Mom, is this shirt dirty?” She replied, “If it’s questionable, it’s dirty so pick another shirt.”
Well, if it is questionable behavior, it matters. It is our responsibility to make our behavior unquestionable. If our morals look questionable or if our actions give the impression of misbehavior or if what we do or say calls into question our commitment to Christ, it matters! If it paves the way for someone else to sin, it matters! If it turns someone away from Christ it matters!
I say it again: Yes, it matters what others think of our behavior! And I include myself in this, perhaps even more than you, because James warns me, that as a teacher I will be “subject to a stricter judgment!” James 3:1.
Now, this is not a spanking sermon, just a reminder that, in times of extended inactivity we sometimes grow a little lax about, or inattentive to, our behavior. Idle hands are the devil’s tools. I don’t want to shoot at anyone, because I, too, wear a target. But if the shoe fits ...
So, why should we avoid even the mere appearance of sin? Because no one is an island with a life lived outside the context and influence of, or impact on, other lives. We are responsible for that influence and impact.
When God asked Cain about his brother, Cain replied, in a self-defending manner, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He thought that absolved him of responsibility for Abel. When Pilate washed his hands to indicate his end of involvement in the trial of Jesus, he thought his responsibility for the outcome was washed away.
But, whether we do, or don’t, feel responsible for how our speech and actions affect others, we are responsible and will give account to God for how we have led or misled someone.
So, we must abstain from, and totally avoid, any appearance of evil. And the Lord may have to say to you, as He often has to say to me,”Behave yourself!” Here’s why the appearance of evil is harmful:
I. IT MUDDIES OUR WITNESS:
A. You are the only Jesus some people will see – don’t present a blurred, twisted or smudged image.
1. If we compromise our convictions, others, as they observe, may say, “If you are a Christian I don’t want to be one.”
2. If we profess one standard and live by another they may say, “The church is too full of hypocrites.”
3. If we are doing something dishonest or dishonorable, they will doubt our testimony.
4. If we are too chummy or forward with someone other than our spouse, they may think, “If they do that in public, what do they do in private?”
5. If we use inappropriate language they may well doubt our purity.
6. So, if we talk like the world, think like the world, and act like the world, people have a right to conclude that we are of the world.
B. A group of men who professed to be Christians were telling slightly off color, or at least questionable, stories after church when one of the men in the group said, softly, “Please excuse me. I’m a new Christian and this is not the kind of talk I want to participate in. And since I’ve opened my mouth, I am sorry to say that if I were a stranger listening in, I’d never guess you were a group of Christian men.”