Whether Saved or Not, We All Sin
Even after being saved and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we Christians continue to sin. The same innately sinful flesh we were born with is still part of us. When you give your life to Jesus, you enter a struggle that will engage you until you die. We know how to be like Jesus, but it is impossible to do. There are always times we simply cannot fight off our desires of the flesh and our self interest. However, there is a difference when a “saved” person sins. When they sin, feelings of sorrow and regret always follow. Fortunately, and only the blood of Jesus, we can sincerely ask for forgiveness and it is granted.
Most of our sins remain private, or we may share them with our spouse, pastor or perhaps a brother or sister in Christ we are close to. Even when our sin remains a private matter, we seek and obtain the necessary reconciliation with God.
Sin and the Church
There are those cases; however, where our sin is made public. Perhaps a friend or church member witnessed the sin and tells others about it. Even worse, it may be a sin that when discovered is worthy of being reported in a local newspaper. When a sin becomes known to other church members, the Church is required to act. To do nothing is an “in your face” rejection of God’s Word, which instructs the church on the proper action to take.
In far too many cases, the Church and its members do not respond in a Biblical manner. Almost without fail, when such a situation is mishandled multiple things can occur. Camps can develop within the church, one camp supporting the person who sinned, the other camp wanting to penalize or even condemn the sinner. The sinner will eventually discover who supports him and who doesn’t, creating more tension. Everyone may simply begin to feel very uncomfortable with the situation. The member who sinned notices people do not look at them the same. When not handled properly, the most likely outcome is the sinning member leaves the church. The sinner does not want to attend a church where they have unjustly lost their credibility as a Christian with other members and be looked down upon. Hopefully, part of the sinner’s decision to leave is to consider the impact staying would have on the church. Without fail, there will be members who may have even forgiven the person, but their personal desire is to not have such a person attending their church. These members consider only “self,” and have no concern for the well being of the one who has sinned. The sinner must do the opposite. The sinner must put healing within the church above any personal desires, which greatly influences them to leave that church. The best way the sinner can put the church first is to do as Jesus did before Herod – remain silent as much as you can. Putting a stake in the ground only increases the division that has already begun. Sadly, this situation should NEVER develop, yet it is a path much like the paths churches typically choose.
I personally have witnessed situations where people say they will not return until the sinning member leaves. Gossip becomes rampant and the church quickly reaches a point of no return with the only option remaining is the sinner leave their church. As I wrote these last two sentences I actually felt shame, which is exactly what a congregation should feel when this occurs.
The Biblical Way for a Church to Respond
Let’s turn to the Bible, as we always should. First, let’s make this clear. The Church is not to tolerate known sin. The Corinthian Christians tolerated known sin and were strongly rebuked by Paul for it (1 Cor 5:1-2). The Thessalonian Christians were strongly commanded by Paul to act against those who openly sinned (2 Thess. 3:6).
This is the specific process outlined in the Bible once the sin becomes known:(Matt. 18:15-17):
- Go alone and urge the sinning person to repent and obey Jesus (Matt. 18:15). This is done is the spirit of gentleness and humility (Gal. 6:1). If the person repents of his sin, the matter is settled. Yes, it can be that simple. But if the person refuses to repent, bring along two or three witnesses and urge the sinning person to repent (Matt. 18:16). If the person refuses to repent, bring along two or three witnesses and urge the sinning person to repent (Matt. 18:16).
- If the person still refuses to repent, tell the church so they can urge the person
to obey Jesus (Mat. 18:17).
- If the person still refuses to repent, then turn away from church and social
fellowship with him while continuing to urge him to obey Jesus (Matt.18:17). This means two things:
- On the church level, the person is not allowed to attend the services and
meetings of the church until he turns from his sin (I Cor. 5:2, 13).
- On the personal level, the congregation is to no longer associate with the
person socially until he turns from his sin (1 Cor. 5:9; 2 Thess. 3:6; Rom. 16:17).
Those who immediately decide the sinner should not attend your church, without a due process as outlined above, and hold that position are indirectly claiming their own superiority over the sinner. John 8:7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” There is your answer to “What would Jesus do?”
This is clearly outlined in the Bible. It reveals a simple process that is serious, but respectful and exhibits gentleness toward the sinner. The only problem is it involves human beings, many of whom cannot rid themselves of their “human” emotions, which keeps them from handling this spiritually as it should be.
Usually a Sad Ending
John Hagee once said, when preaching on this subject, “If this church had picked up those who had fallen rather than run them off, our sanctuary would be at least twice this size.” A speaker at a Christian conference once said, “The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,”
How can anyone with the love of Jesus in their heart, bring such condemnation to a member of their church, when their own Savior asked for the forgiveness of those responsible for his death while on the cross?
Let’s conclude with the scripture most often quoted regarding this issue. In Galatians 6:1 we read, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” We are clearly commanded to put our personal emotions aside and remember we have a brother or sister in serious need. By not doing this, suddenly within the Body of Christ, our love for each other becomes “conditional.” Sadly, we see the person leave the one place they need the most and the place best equipped and qualified to restore a person that has slipped and fallen.
So, when this situation arises in your church, and it will, are you going to “shoot or restore?”
In the “unconditional” love of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior,
P.S. (Prayer Suggestion) If you haven’t already, embrace Jesus today. Pray to Him, with a burdened heart, confessing you are a sinner and asking Him to forgive you of those sins. Tell Him, with His help, you will turn away from those sins and seek to be more like Him. Lastly, ask Jesus to come into your heart and give Him control of your life. Amen (if you prayed from your heart, you are now a child of God and your destiny is Heaven)