We can try to manage, manipulate, and control people in our lives in an attempt to keep them in line, but if their minds and hearts are not interested in obedience, we aren’t doing them any favors. We may even be prolonging the inevitable thing that may be what’s needed to drive them to repentance.
The father in the story of the prodigal son did it. His son, knowing what was right, chose instead to leave home and squander his inheritance. The father didn’t chase after him when he ran away to a strange country. He didn’t go rescue him when his money was gone, he was friendless, homeless, and starving. He didn’t cushion him from the destruction that the son was bent on bringing onto himself. He let him go. He gave him over to his own desires. The prodigal son only recognized his stupidity once the consequences of his actions brought him to his knees, quite literally, in the pig-pen of sin and filth (Luke 15:11-32).
Jesus did it. There was a young, rich ruler who Jesus loved. The ruler asked Jesus what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus told him and the ruler didn’t like what he was told. Jesus watched the young man walk away in tears, unable to do the one thing He had asked of him. Jesus didn’t chase him, rationalize everything and beg him to be obedient. He spoke truth to him and let him go, watching him as he walked away (Mark 10:17-27).
I know it’s a battle. I used to fight it all of the time in my own head. Arguments like, the Bible tells us to be long-suffering or we shouldn’t judge others made feel guilty all of the time. But you know what? Now I am at a place where I feel guilty when I choose to casually hang out and fellowship with people who are openly spitting on Jesus and His sacrifice (Hebrews 6:6).
Yes we need to be long suffering with people who are making an honest effort. And we don’t have the authority to judge people’s eternal souls. But God says that light has no business fellowshipping with darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14). And that we are actually required to rebuke people who are in sin (James 5:20, John 7:24), encouraging them to live up to the standard that God himself has laid down for us all. And he says that if people refuse to repent and change themselves, to not even eat with a person like that (1 Corinthians 5:11).
I know that sometimes the things God asks us to do seem unfair. They can seem counterintuitive. They can be hard and unpopular. But He asks us to trust the fact that His ways are higher than ours and His thoughts are higher than ours, that he is working everything out because he loves us, and that when He says something, His words will always be proven to be true (Isaiah 55:8-11).
If someone is seeking truth, and you give it to them, they are going to try and obey it. If they don’t, they aren’t really looking. And if someone isn’t interested in obeying the truth they know, I’m telling you that not only is it o.k. to let them go, it is God’s will.