What should we do when a Christian we know goes into the Far Country? A Christian goes into the Far Country when he/she makes a wreck of his/her life. Falling into David-like scandalous sin (2 Samuel 11). Making Lot-like bad choices that end in heartache (Genesis 13:1-13). Engaging in Jonah-like rebellion against the Lord (Jonah 1, 2). When someone we care about crashes and burns, what should we do?
This isn’t an academic question for some of us. Including me. I just learned that a longtime Christian friend has journeyed to the Far Country by making a royal mess of his life. Maybe you’ve got a friend like that too. Without denying the heartbreaking ugliness of that person’s sin, the gaping wound it inflicts on God’s honor and the searing pain it’s brought others, what should our response be to our Prodigal friend?
As I searched Scripture for an answer I found the following four ways we’re to respond when a Christian we know goes into the Far Country.
1. When a Christian we know goes into the Far Country we should remember our own weakness and realize that it’s only the grace of God that keeps us out of the Far Country.
An old hymn reminds us we’re all “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Paul agrees. After cataloging the sins of God’s Old Testament people he says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12). He’s reminding us that each of us would move to the Far Country as easily as Lot moved to Sodom were it not for God’s grace. The sight of Christian friends taking up residence there should make us cry constantly, “Lord, lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil.” And this realization of our own weakness should be salt, seasoning our thinking and talking about those who fail.
2. When a Christian we know goes into the Far Country we should remain friendly toward him/her.
The penalty for desertion in the Civil War was the firing squad. But before the sentence was carried the condemned coward could write a letter to President Lincoln requesting a pardon. Family and friends would also write in the man’s behalf. One day an officer brings Mr. Lincoln a letter from a deserter. The letter’s as lonely as a friendless hermit. No others accompany it. The officer explains that the man has no family and no friends to plead for him. Lincoln’s grieved at this. He tells the officer, “Let’s give it twenty-four more hours and see if any friend speaks for him.” The next morning the officer returns to the White House. He tells the President that no one has come out in the man’s behalf. Lincoln says, “One friend has. I will be his friend.” And the President signs a pardon for the man.
Now that story moves me deeply and, I believe, gives us the model we’re to follow with our fallen brothers and sisters. We’re to be to them what the Bible calls a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). I think this means we’re to continue thinking about them, contacting them, and doing everything we can to help them come back into a right relationship with God and the Christian community.
3. When a Christian we know goes into the Far Country we should remember that we belong to the God who is a Far Country expert.
J. I. Packer says the Samson story’s in the Bible to remind us that we belong to a God of “great patience” and “great grace” and that this truth gives us hope in our Far Country visits. David M. Lloyd-Jones echoes Packer’s words in the best Far Country sermon I’ve ever read. It’s entitled, “Nevertheless.” It’s about a ‘backslider”—the old word for Far Country Christians. The man had an Apostle Paul dramatic conversion; lived a long time as a model believer; then fell into notorious sin by committing adultery, leaving his wife, and taking up with another woman. Most of his Christian declared he was a hypocrite. Not Lloyd-Jones. He was persuaded the man would come back to Jesus. And he did. The time came when he was at the end of his rope and decided to commit suicide by throwing himself into the River Thames. But it was a Sunday night so on the walk to the river he decided he’d stop in Westminster Chapel and hear Lloyd-Jones preach one more time. He was late and Lloyd-Jones was already praying his longer pastoral prayer. As the man walked in he heard Lloyd-Jones saying something about God being the God who loves the backslider. God used that one sentence to bring the man to repentance and restoration! In his prayer, he said something about God’s love for the backslider.
My friends, this is the God to whom we belong. He’s the God who restored Abraham after his Far Country lies about Sarah (Genesis 12-13) and the God who restored David after his Far Country adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11) and Jonah after his Far Country rebellion (Johan 1, 2) to cite just a few of the Lord’s Far Country grace expeditions. This is what we must keep in mind about our Christian friends who go into the Far Country. The God to whom they belong is a Far Country expert! He often does some of his greatest grace works, mightiest grace deeds, most amazing grace actions in the Far Country. Don’t just look at how bad your friend’s situation is. Look even more at how good your friend’s God is!
4. When a Christian we know goes into the Far Country we should plead with God to honor himself by bringing that Christian to repentance and restoration.
Moses models this for us with the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). Moses is up on the mountain fellowship with God and the people are down in the valley engaging in Far Country abominations. God is furious. He tells Moses he’ll destroy the Israelites and start over. Moses doesn’t back away. Reverently, boldly, he “implores the Lord his God” (Exodus 32:11). This means he begged God to spare the Israelites as earnestly as you’d beg someone who broke into your home not to kill your children. And THAT’S the ultimate way we’re to respond when a Christian friend goes into the far country. We should come before him again and again and say, ‘Lord, God, you desire glory and honor; you want us to see how great and good you are; here in the life of this Far Country man, this Far Country woman, you have a glorious opportunity to do that. O, work savingly, work mightily, work as you alone can work and bring him, bring her back to yourself and we will glorify you!”
I can sum it up this way. When a Christian friend goes into the Far Country we’re to grieve but not as those who have no hope. We’re Grace-Focused Optimists. We know God is always up to the good of his people. We know he will never, never, never, never, never leave them (the five nevers are in the original text of Hebrews 12:5-6). And so we ought to cry to him to show how good and great he is by saving one who has so wretchedly wronged him.
How does God want us to respond to a Christian friend who goes into the Far Country?
As Grace-Focused Optimists because of the mighty grace God to whom we belong!