In the name of tolerance, today’s intolerant culture has convinced those they don’t tolerate (Christians and churches) that bringing up sin is hypocritical at best and hateful at worst. In fact, the nerve of Christians to have an opinion about sin in an age of moral relativism is the reason for the world’s intolerance toward believers.
On the one hand, they do have a point. How could we expect those who don’t know the Lord to adopt His standard for their behavior? Attempting to apply God’s rules to those who make up their own (rules) understandably comes across as irrational and judgmental. Yet many Christians continue the air war on society, dropping verbal bombs from 10000 feet rather than fighting a ground war of compassion at close proximity.
On the other hand, why would Christians allow those who worship the god of self-determination to apply their standard to those who worship a God who was so opinionated about sin that He paid the ultimate price to atone for it – the sacrifice of His only Son? In other words, the body of Christ has been swayed by our PC culture to depart from Scripture and follow the media’s lead – removing “sin” from our vernacular. Pastors, staff, lay leaders and members have become increasingly reticent even to mention the word “sin”, much less bring up a believer’s sin – at least to their face.
Rather than risk accusations of focusing on the “speck that is in your brother’s eye”, not noticing “the log that is in your own eye” most Christians are unwilling to address a brother’s sin. They see the elimination of sin from our own lives as the prerequisite for broaching the topic of sin is someone else’s life. That, of course, is impossible. It’s similar to the popular argument that we shouldn’t be outspoken about our faith until we’ve become a “good” Christian, when (ironically) being an excellent representative for Jesus actually means confessing our sins and showing His power to forgive sin. People are dying without knowing the Lord or drifting farther away from Him every day. How can we wait to share our faith or to bring up sin until we become “good” enough to avoid any accusations of hypocrisy?
Addressing Sin Isn’t Optional
It’s not only ok to bring up sin among believers, it’s commanded repeatedly in Scripture. Many contend that it’s not our place to “judge” – better to leave that to God than risk being a “pharisee”. Even though there is certainly a “wrong” way to confront sin within churches and the lives of believers, that did not deter Jesus’ disciples from fulfilling their responsibility to maintain the purity of His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). There are too many examples from Scripture on that subject to reference here, but consider a small sample of verses from 1 Corinthians 5:
“Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” (v. 2)
“I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (v. 11)
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” (v. 12)
Jesus confirms our need to deal with sins committed by other Christians in Matthew 5:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you…” (v. 15)
“If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (v. 17)
Based on those verses, it appears that (consciously and intentionally) avoiding the topic of sin (with our brothers and sisters) is a sin in and of itself. Choosing to mind your own business and not be nosy (as we discussed in our last blog post) when it comes to sin in a believer’s life may mean missing an opportunity to help that person overcome whatever sin is keeping them on the fence or off the Lord’s path.
Sin and its remedy are at the core of all that we believe. The topic shouldn’t be avoided.
- How can someone develop a saving relationship with Jesus without repentance for sin? Jesus suffered and died to offer forgiveness, not a free pass to sin as you please.
- How can you grow as a disciple without curtailing sin? Obediently following in the footsteps of Jesus is the essence of discipleship.
- How can you disciple someone else without confronting sin? Accountability for our words and actions is a key component of discipleship.
- How can you pursue sanctification without seeking to eliminate sin? There’s no better way to honor Jesus’ sacrifice than to avoid what put Him on the cross in the first place.
We can’t walk with Jesus or talk about Him without addressing sin. Sin is what separated man from God and brought our Savior to live among us. If there’s no recognition of sin, remorse for sin and appreciation for Jesus paying for our sins, then there’s no salvation and no hope beyond this life. If there’s no effort to eradicate sin, then there’s no obedience, discipleship or growth in Christ.
How To Bring Up Sin
We see immorality among our Christian neighbors, coworkers or fellow church members but we think “I have to live with these people”. Many of us reside in a fixed, permanent structure that can’t be moved (i.e. a house) so we hesitate to rock the boat with our neighbors. Pastors likewise have invested in a fixed, permanent structure that can’t be moved (i.e. church building) so they are often afraid to bring up sin and ask hard questions of their members and regular attenders (who they “have to live with”). However, all Christians can confront sin effectively if done so…
- With Prayer – Carrying out your responsibility to help a brother or sister living in sin is not going to be easy. It won’t be comfortable for you or them. You’ll need the strength and words of the Holy Spirit. And only the Lord can lead them to repentance, without which they may never realign with His will.
- With Preparation – What if the worst happens? They may turn the tables on you, tell you it’s none of your business, resort to outright denial or refuse to admit it’s even a sin. What if the best happens? They may have been drowning in guilt for weeks and “overshare” – overjoyed to finally get it all off their chest. Be prepared to offer support and comfort – an opportunity you would have missed if you never brought up the topic.
- With Conviction – Don’t forget the Bible’s commands to keep the Church pure. Decide that it’s worth taking a risk, even if you’re not the poster child for purity. Remember that Jesus, Paul and Peter all came out of the gates preaching repentance. Keep in mind that believers are more accountable for sin than those who don’t believe.
- With Courage – John the Baptist pointed out Herod’s sin of sleeping with his brother’s wife and got beheaded. You’re unlikely to face a similar fate, but undoubtedly persecution is often retribution for the mere presence and proximity of Christians bringing an awareness of sin. You won’t win any popularity contests by asking the hard questions but there’s often a price for obedience.
- With Discernment – How can we reconcile Paul’s words “Why do you judge your brother” (Romans 14:10) with “Are you not to judge those inside (the church)?”? (1 Corinthians 5:12). Those commands are not conflicting because Paul is speaking in Romans 14 about religious elitism among believers, viewing others with contempt and inferiority for not following certain practices. 1 Corinthians applies to immorality such as greed, theft and idolatry.
- With Compassion – There is a difference between judging and correcting. We can take a stand for morality and point out sin with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). We can balance grace and truth, offering stern correction with love.
- With Honesty – Personally, I sincerely want to know what I’m doing wrong. Please tell me – and don’t beat around the bush. If offered as loving correction, I’ll know you care about me and the Church enough to endure the discomfort of confronting me about my sin.
- With Humility – Preface correction with confession. Admit your own faults before bringing up someone else’s.
- With Friendship – Our culture’s definition of love is overlooking and ignoring sin. God’s definition (and Jesus’ model) of love is truly getting to know someone, including their sin, and offering freedom from guilt and shame by gently calling them to repentance.
- With Wisdom – Realize that sin comes in many forms. Most Christians suffer from worry, anxiety and greed to some extent – and there’s value in being held accountable when we veer off too far in any of those directions.
Each of us can become a “pastor of our neighborhood” by being a first responder for neighbors in need of temporary help, eternal hope and continued growth in Christ. There’s no hope or growth without talking about sin. Sin, and realizing the depths of God’s love in atoning for it, is at the root of the formation and strengthening of a relationship with Jesus. If many pastors have become reluctant to deal head-on with sin within their congregations, maybe it falls on the rest of us to lead the way.
It’s Your Turn…
Knowing the devastation caused by sin – divorce, division, decline and death – how can we not act when we see a brother or sister in Christ caught in Satan’s trap? In order to continue in sin unabated and unopposed, the world characterizes any intervention as hatred. Do you believe the world or what God’s Word says about the importance of providing loving correction before fellow believers suffer the dire consequences of sin?