Show me the spiritual condition of your companions, and I will tell you what your spiritual condition will be three to five years (or months) from now.
Many drift into apostasy — denying biblical sexual ethics, affirming the racist Black Lives Matter, and false ideologies like radical feminism and Critical Race Theory, all while flying under the banner of creedal orthodoxy. They are no less dangerous than the earlier liberals. Such "churches" are not Christian . . .
Perhaps you’ve seen the 2008 Swedish horror film Let the Right One In. Almost all vampire movies are cinematic graphic novels by comparison.
Like many horror flicks, the most horrifying dimension is not the monsters or the mood or the music but man, and almost always overtly depraved man. Sinful humanity is the real horror show.
The plot involves an early teenage boy lonely at home and bullied at school, befriended by a teenage neighbor girl who, it turns out, is actually a several-hundred-year-old vampire. The movie is essentially about the creepily developing friendship between these two. Specifically, it is about how, gradually, the vampire gains access to this boy’s lonely heart, and the catastrophe that results, not from blood-sucking but from life-sucking.
Here’s one of several chilling, morally decisive scenes:
The Bible and the Heart
The Bible speaks to this catastrophe. It persistently warns about bad company, and particularly of giving unrighteous people access to our heart.
The heart is the source of our spiritual, moral, intellectual, emotional, and volitional life (Pr. 4:23; Lk. 6:45). The condition of our heart produces all of our words and actions (Pr. 23:7; Mt. 15:17–20). In today’s metaphor, the biblical heart is our immaterial “core.” What we are in our external life is what we are at our core, our heart.
We increasingly hear philanderers and abusers declare when publicly exposed, “I want everybody to know that’s not who I really am.” But it is who they are. There’s no incongruity between our external moral life and our internal spiritual condition. The latter produces the former. Long-term hypocrisy is impossible to pull off.
The Peril of the Unguarded Heart
This is why the Bible warns us to guard our heart, which includes protecting it from the ungodly (Ps. 119:11; Pr. 3:1–8; 7:25; 2 Chr. 19:2). Godly companions will spur us to godliness; ungodly companions will spur us to ungodliness (Pr. 13:20). “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33).
The first Psalm, which establishes the theme for the following 149 (the righteous man versus the unrighteous man), begins by warning the righteous about associating with the unrighteous. Even the wisest is vulnerable. The wisest man who ever lived apart from Jesus Christ, King Solomon, was seduced to apostasy from God because he married pagan women who captured his heart for their idolatry (1 Kin. 11:1–4).
While our default attitude should be kindness and friendliness toward sinners, we may never allow them access to our heart. Jesus was a accused of being a friend of sinners (Mt. 11:19), that is, of associating with and condescending to them, but he was separate from sinners (Heb. 7:26), and he did not commit himself, that is, his heart, to any (Jn. 2:24).
Rousseau and Marxism
If a relational characteristic of earlier generations was excess of guardedness and reluctance to open one’s heart to others, the overreacting blunder of our own time is a refusal to guard our heart, an eagerness to share our heart with any and all on almost any occasion — as long as we can get an audience.
One of the harbingers of this shift was French Romantic intellectual Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who held that the best society was one in which everyone’s heart would be transparent to everyone else’s — secrets are immoral. Marxists everywhere have embraced this premise, and are notorious for requiring public confessions of the deepest recesses of one’s heart to all comrades. Nothing should be private, not even our thoughts. This secular perversion of biblical faith substitutes public mental denuding for private Christian confession.
Today you can collect 5000 friends on Facebook and share with the world your heart’s deepest secrets. You can be an emotional exhibitionist, and everyone else can be an emotional voyeur. For a Rousseauian age, it’s a perfect arrangement.
When we don’t guard our heart, when we believe that our heart is ours to give to whomever we wish, when we rebel against the God who alone is Lord of our heart, we seek union with illicit hearts. Even the best Christian, when lonely, young and single; widow or widower; ministry leader with no truth-telling peers — is exceedingly vulnerable to diabolical compromises of his heart.
A sympathetic unbeliever or backslidden Christian comes along and shows attention, concern, and affection, and we open our heart. That person gains access to our inmost person, and, intentionally or not, plants seeds of unbelief, rebellion, depravity, and apostasy.
Because our heart creates tenacious spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and psychological attachments, we’re easy prey. Hearts vulnerable to unbelieving, rebellious people are vulnerable to unbelief and rebellion. Guarding our hearts is much easier than recovering an unguarded heart from illicit friendships.
The Peril of the Unguarded Ecclesiastical Heart
We can give our heart not only to people, but also to institutions — and we should. The church of Jesus Christ is a prime instance. The church was purchased with his own blood (Ac. 20:28). It is the ekklesia, the local community of the redeemed. It deserves our heart’s devotion.
But not every church. One of the great Christian tragedies of the last 200 years has been not only the defection of the overwhelming majority of mainline churches in North America to theological liberalism, but the large number of Christians who, loyal to the church as an institution, have refused to guard their heart and have thereby become disloyal to the Lord.
Churches shift leaders, and over time many drift into apostasy, not only creedal apostasy, denying our Lord’s virgin birth and atoning death and resurrection, but also, and more recently, existential apostasy, “Liberalism 3.0” — denying biblical sexual ethics, affirming the racist Black Lives Matter, and false ideologies like radical feminism and Critical Race Theory, all while flying under the banner of creedal orthodoxy. They are no less dangerous than the earlier liberals. These churches are not Christian.
Many otherwise faithful church members retain a sense of loyalty and devotion, with fond memories of what their church once was, and refuse to separate from it when the church refuses, after sustained warning, to separate from visible, sustained, public evil.
Biblical commands to separate from evil, including, perhaps especially, ecclesiastical evil, are indisputable (2 Cor. 6:17; 1 Tim. 6:20–21; 2 Thes. 3:6, 14–15). Even if our heart is devoted to what once was a faithful church, a warm and orthodox body of people, when the church decisively shifts toward apostasy and refuses to retrace its steps, the biblical imperative is separation.
While we should not separate, to employ Jeffersonian language, for “light and transient causes,” if we remain within a sinful institution, supporting it with our attendance and money and influence, we become a partaker of its evil deeds (2 Jn. 7–11). This is not a case of honest theological disagreement or sins, even grievous sins, of which the church repents. Rather, separation is the final break in the face of persistent, unrepentant apostasy.
Constant exposure to unrepentant evildoers tends to wear down our Christian fidelity. In the Old Testament, Lot’s residence in Sodom didn’t subvert his own faith, but it likely contributed to his family’s moral ruin (2 Gen. 19; 2 Pet. 2:4–10).
Our Lord didn’t request that his Father remove his disciples from the world, but to protect them from its ubiquitous evil (Jn. 17:15–16).
There could be no doubt, however, that consistent exposure to evildoers, particularly those in close proximity, is a spiritual hazard. The more we spend time with people, the more we tend to open our hearts to them. This is why moral separation is an imperative even if geographical separation isn’t.
The Peril of the Unguarded Cultural Heart
Still, God warned Israel to expel the pagan Canaanites, or they would lead his people into idolatry:
Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you. (Deut. 11:16–17; see also Ex. 34:12)
If we fail to expel unrighteousness by the power of the gospel, if we create a détente with evildoers, their evildoing will seduce and destroy us. For this reason we must engage in “Christian Counterpunching.”
Christians living in highly apostate and pagan geographies can and should live godly lives. Many Christians have remained pure amid impurity in the course of Christian history.
But Christians in coastal California and Eastern elite cities should constantly guard their hearts against gradual assimilation of contra-biblical attitudes that are normalized everywhere around them as ideological apostasy: statist socialism, same-sex “marriage,” and Leftist racism.
This assimilation isn’t limited to elite zip codes. Rural and semi-rural fly-over cultures espouse their own apostasy — hypocrisy, fornication, pride, machismo, pagan patriarchy, grievance mongering, and rebellion.
One reason Christian culture is imperative is because peaceful coexistence with evil cultures never remains at equilibrium: evil cultures seduce and expel godly cultures if godly cultures refuse to convert and purge evil cultures.
The Triune God demands our heart’s affection. The first and great command, towering over all others, is to love God with all of one’s heart (Mt. 22:36–40). A heart truly given to God guards itself against all of his competitors. The counterpart to the first of the Ten Commandments forbidding idolatry is the first and great commandment requiring heart devotion.
After God himself, opening our heart to a godly spouse and relatives and friends is entirely appropriate — and essential. We are commanded to find and preserve godly companions (Pr. 13:20). Godly companions influence us toward godliness. Show me the spiritual condition of your companions, and I will tell you what your spiritual condition will be three to five years (or months) from now.
The last American Puritan, Jonathan Edwards, famously wrote a book on “religious affections.” In the words of A. W. Tozer, we are becoming what we love. If we love God and seek him with all of our heart, our words and actions will be godly, because our heart is godly. Likewise, if we give our heart to a godly spouse and relatives and friends, they sow godliness in our heart, and we will sow godliness in theirs.
If we open our heart to the ungodly, we are opening our heart to ungodliness. It is impossible to separate the person from his moral condition, as much as we would prefer to do so. We can proverbially love the sinner while hating the sin, but we cannot open our heart to the sinner while avoiding his sin.
Unguarded hearts and cultural apostasy
This fact implies a consequence many Christians seem not to recognize: our culture’s apostasy did not begin with evil words and deeds, but with unguarded hearts. This is how formal orthodoxy and external obedience of one generation can become heresy and moral degradation in the next.
Cultural apostasy is a lagging indicator, and the condition of men’s hearts is a leading indicator.
For this reason a chief responsibility of parents and pastors and other Christian leaders is not only to guard their own hearts, but to consistently stress to those in their care a heart given to God and, therefore, guarded against all his competitors.
Let the right One in.
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