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What to Do When a Christian Sins

by on June 10, 2017

How do we deal with a fellow Christian when they sin? Do we ignore it and quietly pray for them? Do we bring down the hammer of God’s law? Do we tell a more mature Christian, maybe one of the pastors, and just let them handle it? No one influences our lives more than fellow Christians in our local church, so it’s crucial to get these interactions right. By my count, the New Testament uses the phrase “one another” almost fifty times to describe how Christians should act towards each other, so surely we can find guidance from God’s word to answer this question. I want to take a short series of posts to look at helpful passages. Let’s start with Galatians 6, which includes a commonly misunderstood phrase:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-2

Paul said the spiritual among the Galatians should restore anyone caught in transgression. To restore is to put something back in place that has become disjointed, like setting a broken bone. The one caught in transgression is out of place, not obeying Christ or walking in His commands, and the spiritual one needs to actively work to restore them. One must not simply turn a blind eye. If someone is walking the wrong direction, the way to help them is to go to them, show them their waywardness, and turn them back in the right direction. This is the meaning of the word “reprove” that we see so often in the Scriptures. Restoring a brother or sister requires actually talking to them about their sin, showing them how it is a transgression of God’s commands, and exhorting them to turn from that sin and walk in obedience to Christ.

At this point, someone will object and remind me that we all sin, and that it’s arrogant to judge others. A friend recently shared this concern. They believe Christians can fall into the worst of sins, so who are we to call out sin in others, or, worse yet, tell someone they’re not a Christian because of their sin? Now, I don’t advocate racing out to tell people they’re unsaved, but neither should we offer comfort to those who will not put away sin and live holy lives. Most of the counsel I’ve heard, received, and even given to others has sounded like this, “Hey, we’re all sinners, and I’ve done the same thing many times. We’ll never be perfect in this life. I’ll pray for you, and I’m here for you if you need anything.”

This sounds humble and loving, but it’s neither. It’s not loving towards the person, nor the God against whom they’ve sinned. The Bible is clear; there is no condemnation for those who have believed in Christ for salvation. However, forgiveness is not the only thing we receive when we come to Christ. God gives us a new heart with new desires, including the desire to honor Him as our Lord. Therefore, a willingness to put away sin when confronted is one great evidence that a person has been born again. If we gently expose someone’s sin, and they turn from it, we can both rejoice over their restoration!

This, Paul goes on to say, is bearing one another’s burdens. Bearing burdens has less to do with being a good listener or meeting physical needs, as the phrase is most commonly used, and more to do with helping someone identify and repent of their sin. Members of my church — including, but not limited to, my pastors — keep watch over my soul by helping me live a godly life. Bearing burdens fulfills the law of Christ, and what is the law of Christ? Sacrificial love!

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34

I obey Christ’s command to love other Christians by restoring them when they sin. Although it’s wrong to be rude or proud when exposing someone’s sin, it’s even more unloving to not approach them at all.

Finally, I want to return to a phrase which partially explains why Christians struggle to address sin in the lives of others. In Galatians 6:1 we read, “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him…” Paul says those who restore others should be spiritual. What does he mean by that? Who are the spiritual people? The Holy Spirit indwells every Christian and seals them for salvation (cf. Ephesians 1:13-14), so how are some spiritual and others not?

Let’s back up a little to chapter 5. There, Paul contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, and he urges Galatian Christians to “walk by the Spirit”. In short, to be spiritual is to obey God, or to act like a Christian. Those who sin are not keeping in step with the Spirit, because God’s Spirit would never lead them to disobey God. So, spiritual people are those who do not have unrepentant sin. Their current pattern of life is one of obedience. In other words, this loving act of restoration is not limited to “mature” Christians. A new believer who walks by the Spirit is qualified (and commanded!) to love their brothers and sisters in this way. This is fundamental to our lives as Christians, and we need each other. Just as this and other passages indicate, we must examine ourselves and put away our own sin first, but then we are all called to obey Christ’s command to love our brothers by drawing them away from sin. Christians, go bear one another’s burdens for the glory of God.

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  1. When a Christian Sins: Warning | uncommon faith

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