When I look at the world today, it is clear that ungodliness is running rampant. We need only to read in Galatians 5:19-21 to get a pretty comprehensive list of sins that are widely accepted and tolerated in our culture today.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” How many of these things are still widely considered sins? Most people would agree that murder is a sin, but many other sins on this list are widely tolerated, and in some cases even encouraged.
The media, professors, peers, and colleagues tell me that I must be tolerant of these things, especially sexual impurity: homosexuality, adultery and fornication. But it says clearly in verse 21 that “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” If I want to follow Christ as the Bible tells me, I need to ask: how “tolerant” was Jesus of such things when He was on earth?
No tolerance for sin
It is for good reason that the Bible describes Jesus as having “eyes like flames of fire.” (Revelation 19:12) He was zealous when it concerned purity for God. In Matthew 5:29, Jesus tells the multitudes, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”
Jesus didn’t intend that people harm themselves physically; He wanted to show them the seriousness of sin. The mindset He had, that He would rather cut out His eye than sin, was far from passive; He had no tolerance for sin in His own life.
Jesus’ zeal for purity extended well beyond outward sin; He was zealous in the thoughts and intents of His heart. In Matthew 5:27-28 He says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
This means that I do not have to physically commit sin to be guilty of it; I can be sinning in my thought life. This is extremely serious! It is in my thoughts that sin begins, and I must take up a battle there by being zealous against my own lusts and desires that lead me to impurity, anger, selfishness, etc. “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience…” Colossians 3:5-6. I cannot tolerate any sin, even in my thought life! I must take every thought captive when it comes up and put it to death.
Zealous against sin or sinners?
If I am to have no tolerance for sin in my own life, how can I tolerate the people around me who agree with or live in these sins? Should I be zealous against them and their behavior as well? As I read in John 8 about how Jesus took it, I get more light over this matter. In this chapter, many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law wanted to stone an adulterous woman, in accordance with the Law of Moses. But Jesus would not condemn her. Instead He told her simply, “Go and sin no more.” I do not need to condemn people with my thoughts, words or deeds; I do not need to be zealous against them.
But I can’t just agree with or “accept” their lifestyle—I must live my life before God’s face, and in accordance with his word. Practicing homosexuality, for example, is widely accepted in society today. But the Bible clearly states that this is sin. If I am tolerant of any forms of sin, regardless how widely accepted they are, I deceive myself.
Then I find that I sometimes need stand up for what I believe in. This can be a terrifying thought: to speak out against sin, when the whole world says it’s okay. Instead of accepting sin and being tolerant, I need to “Be on [my] guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13. God will strengthen me to do and say what is fitting for a Christian when I must defend what I believe!
Instead of being tolerant, I must be zealous against all sin, just as Jesus was. Galatians 6:7-8 give a serious exhortation: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption…” If I take sin seriously rather than being deceived into thinking there will be no reaping for it, then I can experience the second half of verse 8 instead: “but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” Not only can I be set free from all the sins that plague mankind here in this life, but I will also have an eternal inheritance together with Jesus and will be worthy of Him!
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-14.