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When a Christian Sins: Warning

by on June 18, 2017

In the previous post, we saw that Christians are to love one another by restoring another Christian caught in a transgression. I said that means we must actually talk about sin, pointing it out to others and calling them to turn away from it. I believe I’ve seen a deficiency in the church at large to perform this responsibility, so I want to hammer home this teaching and show that it is biblical, and therefore non-negotiable. To that end, let’s consider some implications of the following verse from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

“[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28

I was once involved in a church teaching ministry that used this verse as its mission statement. It was an instructional setting for educating the average church member; basically a Sunday school class. We focused on teaching through Bible passages and theological topics, as well as thinking about the world from a biblical point of view. That’s a fine effort, and there is much need for Christians to have a biblical worldview and to learn to interpret challenging passages, but that focus may miss the point of Paul’s words here. In this verse, Paul lists both teaching and warning as his tools for building mature Christians. In fact, warning is listed first, as if it is primary in this endeavor. So, any ministry that neglects repentance and godly living will probably not create mature Christians.

One may object that warnings are not for the Christian but for the non-Christian. Perhaps Paul meant that whenever he preached to the Gentiles and pagans, he warned them they must turn to Christ or face the wrath of God. The Apostle most certainly did that, as does everyone who faithfully shares the gospel. However, Paul didn’t have frontline, evangelistic preaching in mind here. How do we know? First, this whole paragraph describes Paul’s ministry to Christians, suffering “for the sake of His body, that is, the church” (v. 24). Second, and even more clearly, Paul said that the goal is maturity. There’s no such thing as a non-Christian who is “mature in Christ”, so clearly Paul had believers in mind.

I would argue that Christian maturity has less to do with theological knowledge and much more to do with righteous living. It has been pointed out that we’ve already received more instruction from God than we could ever obey in this life. That’s not to say theology is not important, because a right understanding of God serves as the ground of righteous living for a Christian, but much learning is wasted by the failure of both teacher and student to apply the truths about God to the heart. Interestingly, the Bible passages about qualifications for church leaders place far greater emphasis on the character of a man than his theological acumen (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13). That’s a topic worthy of consideration, since most of us know of brilliant pastors who lack integrity in their personal lives.

So what does it look like to warn Christians towards maturity? As usual, it helps to get a better understanding of the word itself. One Greek dictionary gives the meaning as, “to caution or reprove gently”. I briefly mentioned reproof in the previous post, and the idea is to redirect someone who’s headed the wrong direction. Many Bible translations use the word admonish here instead of warning. So we have warning, caution, reproof, and admonishment. Add it all up, and what are we talking about here? Essentially, this is a verbal spanking. My children receive admonishment from us several times a day, because they’re constantly bickering at each other or failing to finish a task. This isn’t yelling and screaming, but a reasoned exhortation to turn from one behavior and start performing another. In a similar way, Christian adults need these exhortations from one another.

Here’s a good example from my life. On a recent evening, some church friends gathered at our house. When the night was over, one of the men called me on his way home. He had noticed something in me that he believed was sinful and needed to be addressed. At one point in the night, I had behaved disrespectfully towards my wife and then laughed it off. While I was oblivious, he noticed that she seemed hurt by it, so he gently admonished me for my actions and then encouraged me to love my wife and seek her forgiveness. Not only did this brother help me reconcile an issue with my wife, he also gave me the chance to examine myself, repent, and become more like Christ. The Bible is rich with exhortations that sound like this, “Put off laziness, and put on hard work and service towards others. Put off drunkenness, and put on sobermindedness and wisdom.” In our church, we have these conversations on a regular basis, so I get to look around at mature Christians and rejoice in the fruits of such a commitment to one another.

I want to end by pointing out that “warning and teaching” always has the gospel as its foundation. Paul was not advocating a cold command to rigid living. This verse comes on the heals of him extolling the person and work of Christ in Colossians 1:15-23, and he starts our current verse with that in mind, saying, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone…” In other words, faithfully proclaiming Christ includes exhorting one another towards maturity in Christ. Understanding the gospel will motivate the Christian to cultivate a pure heart, both in themselves and others, which seeks to honor Christ through obedience.

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