HOW TO HELP A BELIEVER WHO’S SINNING or, THE INDISPENSABLE COUPLET OF GRACE AND TRUTH

January 18, 2024

HOW TO HELP A BELIEVER WHO’S SINNING  or, THE INDISPENSABLE COUPLET OF GRACE AND TRUTH

 

It’s easy to prove that we all sin, often and often grievously. If you are oblivious to the sins of your own life, you are blinded by pride, which is the mother of all sins. We don’t need to wallow in despair over our sin-prone life, but we do need to be humbly aware and aggressively vigilant.

But how do we help a fellow follower of Christ who has fallen into serious sin? Do we ignore that which is destroying them (and others)? Do we stand back in criticism and hypocritical judgment? Do we attack them with Pharisaical confrontation? What do we do?

The Bible gives us everything we need to know about everything we need to know about. Since the sin problem is prominent, Jesus addressed this often through his teaching and actions. In fact, it is discussed in every book of the New Testament.

THE GOD-ORDAINED COUPLET

When the Apostle John summarized the One who had come to us, the “only begotten of the Father,” He used two words to summarize the glory of God that we saw in Him. He said that Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). These two traits seem to be oppositional, but they are complementary. That couplet is repeated throughout the Bible to describe godly men and women.

In Jesus’ discourse on how to handle sin in others in Matthew 18, He reminds us of these twin components that must drive our responses.

LOVING, TRUTH-FILLED CONFRONTATION

“If your brother sins” is the opening of this instruction in Matthew 18:15-20. At that introductory remark, we all lean in, for we want to know what we should do in this common dilemma. Jesus then describes a loving way to confront and help a sinning brother.

It always (always) is to begin privately. If they resist your loving overture, you are to take 2-3 others to help you. And then, the circle broadens to more believers in the church. If their sin is persistent and rebellious after such loving confrontation, you must assume they are not believers and treat them accordingly. This step sobers the church and gives a proper statement to a watching world. And, if they are a true Christian, the loss of the canopy of grace should make them so desperate that they will repent and return. This process is not a quick “1-2-3-and-done,” but we are to move to each progressive step when the previous approach seems to have no effect.

Imagine a man who has fallen into quicksand and is slowly but surely drowning. Self-help is useless. You can stand around, gossip about him, and callously offer him no help. Or, you can extend your hand to save him. If he refuses, or your personal attempt is not enough, you should enlist 2-3 others. If that fails, your love for him would demand you enlist a team with multiple ropes to do everything possible to save his life. This would be confrontational but the most loving, redemptive step possible. This is what we commonly call “church discipline” is to be: a caring, progressive response to deliver an ensnared Christian and bring them to health and restoration.

INSTANT FORGIVENESS

But Jesus quickly expands this thought further with a profound teaching on forgiveness in verses 21-35. When is a Christian to forgive? Immediately and always. It is always our responsibility to forgive those who’ve sinned, particularly those who’ve sinned against us. Why? Jesus' rationale is that we have been forgiven far more by our heavenly Father. He’s been merciful to us, and we must always be the same.

Forgiveness is “our responsibility to release a debt by faith for the glory of God.” There is much to understand in that simple statement. Simply put, forgiveness is taking what someone has done out of our courtroom (where we are judge, jury, and executioner) and placing it in the courtroom of heaven. (See Romans 12:17-21).*

“BUT I THOUGHT WE WEREN’T SUPPOSED TO JUDGE?”

Jesus never said that. In fact, just the opposite. His classic teaching in Matthew 7:1-6 warns against improper, hypocritical judgments. “First, take the log out of your own eye, and THEN you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Removing a speck from a friend’s eye is a loving thing. But we must do this with the humility and grace that recognizes our own sin and need also: truth and grace. Paul would reiterate this couplet.

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

Why are these coupled together? It is important not to callously ignore those who are gripped by sin. Sometimes, the only way they can overcome is by the gracious but persistent help and confrontation of those around them in the church. But if those confronting them are full of unmerciful unforgiveness, that confrontation will be driven by revenge and harbored hurt. And those results are never good.

Is someone around you entangled in the bondage of sin? Love them enough to pray about what you are to do and then approach them with grace and truth. 90% of the time, a long coffee with some loving encouragement will deliver a true believer who’s faltering. That one confrontation and some follow-up accountability will deliver them, and they will always consider you their greatest friend.

But before you go, make sure that your heart has forgiven them fully, your approach is humble and gentle, and your heart is consumed with a God-given love that has no motivation but their good and God’s glory.

 

*For further help on forgiveness, read “FORGIVENESS: Healing the Harbored Hurts of Your Heart.” https://billelliff.org/products/healing-the-harbored-hurts-of-your-heart

 

 





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