For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1Cor 7:14 NIV)So how does this work? How is it that an unbelieving man can be sanctified through a Christian woman? The bi-product of sanctification is to sin less. It is to become increasingly Christ-like in one’s deeds and actions. It is holy living. So now presume we have a very carnal man, which loves over-drinking, is a brawler, and loves to steal things. These are sinful activities. Yet, by living with this Godly woman, the very nature of her presence will have a positive influence on him. Her light will bother his darkness. He might even occasionally go to Church. And he will moderate his wicked conduct to appease her sensitivities. If he is going to over-drink, but remembers it upsets her (and that she will cry) he will be more inclined to avoid inebriation (or have the shame to at least hide it). If he is tempestuous and wants to punch some bloke’s nose, she might encourage him to walk away and be the better man. Her influence will calm his evil inclinations. Her love will calm his hate. If he is going to steal something from a store, he will be discouraged by remembering that his wife will think less of him if he did. Her influence has a braking effect on his evil tendencies and inevitably draws him into a holier lifestyle (against his nature). The believer sanctifies the unbeliever. This is not to say that the unbeliever’s heart moves closer to God, but that their conduct is swayed by the believer’s influence. (Side note: please remember, we are not to marry unbelievers. This verse in question speaks of a conversion within an existing marriage).
This principle is also seen in society. When Christianity becomes increasingly dominant, cultural morality begins to be shaped by Biblical standards. Prostitution (for example) was made illegal. So while many men enjoyed purchasing sex it was suddenly more difficult to acquire. The presence of believers therefore decreased whoremongering, and consequently, had a sanctifying influence on society.
There is another dynamic to consider as well. The believer will also pray for the unbeliever. Prayer has potency. God cares for His children. It is not inconceivable that God would remove certain demonic stumbling blocks that could trip-up the carnal man, and He would do this for the sake of the Godly lady’s precious prayers (for God cares for her). This would bear some semblance to Westley’s concept of prevenient grace. There are verses that indicate that God’s grace actively suppresses evil around the world, and that at times He will pull His grace back a bit and allow evil to flare and self-combust. In this case, her prayers may help to suppress the more public manifestations of his carnality.
I’d like to briefly mention the children that are made clean by Godly parents. Many children will embrace their parent’s Godly instruction and continue on the path of holiness when they reach adulthood. But even carnal worldly children will experience some sanctification while under a Christian parents care, for they are limited in their conduct by their parent’s morality and authority. And they are positionally not placed in areas of temptation. If you are not exposed to temptation, you will not be drawn to sin. You might even be blissfully ignorant of the sins. But when they reach adulthood, and find they now possess responsibility for their own self-determination, they will frequently embrace their sinful natures and embark on a quest of God defying carnality: rejecting the faith they were raised in. They were sanctified by their parents’ influence while they were at home. But with their parents’ departure, and likely the fellowship of new worldly friends, their evil leanings are no longer suppressed, but embraced. Your company helps determine your conduct. Or, your chosen friends express the desires of your soul, the darker your friends the darker your soul.
Now let’s reinstate our keynote verse’s revelation that there are situations where Christians can sanctify the conduct of non-Christians by close proximity, and let’s apply it on a broader spectrum. This principle maintains its validity for all our relationships. And the principle also works negatively to corrupt the Christian. This is why the Bible adamantly discourages close friendships with unbelievers, and furthermore instructs us to break fellowship with false teachers or the heretical – those that deny Biblical truth or morality (1 Cor 5:4-6; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 Tim 2:17 - except for the already married). Their backwards influence will dullen us.
Now I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Romans 16:17 KJV)Paul is speaking to the Church here. Those people that profess to believe in God but do not adhere to what the Bible says are to be avoided. The GN Bible says “keep away from them!” The ASV Bible says “turn away from them”. If you do not, you are choosing a path that encourages your own corruption. And the corruption has already begun, because your path is contrary to the clear instruction of Scripture. These people are not meant to be part of your fellowship. Christ’s body doesn’t need cancer (1 Cor 5:5-7).
Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works (2 John 1:8-11 ESV).If you do these things, “you partake in his evil deeds (KJV)”.
BANG!! If we frequent the company of a worldly person or one who is theologically twisted, we “take part in their wicked works”!! We participate, or enter into, or contribute to their “evil deeds”!! So something as seemingly innocuous as a “greeting” can smear you with wickedness?
Let’s break this down:
"Takes part” (“partaker” in KJV) is from the Greek (koinōneō). It is a “sharing with” or “communicating with” (Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek).
“Greets him” according to Gill’s Commentary is to “converse” with them “in a friendly and familiar way”. I personally read this as spending friendship time with them: whether going out for coffee, inviting them over to your house, going out together to see a movie, talking on the telephone, hanging out together, skyping, etc. - any one of these is sufficient and should be avoided.
There are some qualifiers here, but it speaks of the depth of which you allow someone to have influence within you, and what levels of intimacy you allow them to transverse. In computer jargon, you are a `read-only’ file system to the world. You do not give them `read’ and `write’ access, for this will allow them to infect you and to corrupt your files. They are a Trojan horse with a hidden payload that you cannot see. And they will inevitably find your exploit (weak spot) if you spend enough time with them.
The apostle John is adamant on this point.
"We cannot have communion with saints and with Antichrist at the same time". Here we see John’s naturally fiery zeal directed to a right end. Polycarp, the disciple of John, told contemporaries of Irenaeus, who narrates the story on their authority, that on one occasion when John was about to bathe, and heard that Cerinthus, the heretic, was within, he retired with abhorrence, exclaiming, Surely the house will fall in ruins since the enemy of the truth is there”. (JFB Commentary).We see here how a disciple of Christ is to act. This was one of Christ’s twelve, and he left the Greek bath-house without even entering it because someone that had rejected some component of Biblical truth was already inside. John wouldn’t allow this man’s words to sully his ears. He would not “greet” him. How lax are we in comparison, and why are we so eager to corrupt ourselves?
But this begs the question, why would we want fellowship with someone that is contrary to Christ? Is a nice smile or a cute predisposition enough to lure us away from our Shepherd? If so, perhaps we love the things of this world more than the Lord. If you find you have a lot in common with the devil’s children, and as such enjoy their company, this is a bad indicator. For in truth, you should be at odds with most of their opinions and interests. And given that their opinions are rooted on the devil’s principles (worldly principles), you should find them a tad distasteful. When we allow these people into our inner workings, we are displacing Jesus within us for them. The Bible clearly elucidates this on the Church level.
“If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him.” (2Thes 3:14 ESV)
“This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough!” (Gal 5:9 GNT)
“Let him who has done this be removed from among you.”(1Cor 5:2)
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Mat 18:17 ESV)The Church is God’s children. It is not a building or an institution. It is a people. We are the Church. So when you see verses that communicate to us that the Church is to dispel evil and repel it, it is speaking to us individually. The collective Body of Christ is made up of individuals in communion with one another. When those individuals accept contrary company, they violate God’s directives for the Church.
Supplementary, please take note of that last verse again. In it we see that Jesus is speaking. He differentiates between (1) how a Jew interacts with another Jew and (2) how a Jew interacts with a Gentile. And you can see from the context that the interaction with a Gentile is very limited in comparison. This similarly speaks of the difference between how a Christian interacts with a non-Christian, or the Lord’s children and the devils. It speaks of the propriety of relationships. The holy do not commune with the unholy. The clean do not commune with the unclean children of this world. And when the clean embark on uncleanliness, we are to break fellowship with them to help restore them back to the faith.
"Let him be to you as a ... tax collector".
Publicans (tax collectors) were people of abandoned character, and the Jews would have no contact with them. (Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible)So the Jews would have no contact with Gentiles or tax collectors, heathen or publicans. And Jesus tells us to act likewise with someone who refuses Godly correction. This is not to say that we are not to show them kindness or help them when they're in need (Luke 10:25-37 - Parable of the Good Samaritan). But we do not count them as friendship material, for this could compromise us spiritually.
Now do you see the power of proper fellowship? Holiness is not strength of will. It is not a mighty spirit that cavalierly slaps evil away and laughs. It is largely positional. Those you choose to fellowship with will either strengthen your relationship with God or weaken it. If the fellowship of a Godly woman can sanctify an unbelieving man, how much more so could the fellowship of a Godly person sanctify another Godly person? And this is a mutually beneficial sanctification, for they symbiotically sanctify one another. And this sanctification is not a superficial one as it was with the unbeliever, but penetrates to the junction of Spirit and Soul, affecting our innermost being. This is the nature of two Christians in communion. This is the Church body. Wherever two Christians meet in the Lord’s name, God is in their midst (Mat 18:20).