Galatians 6:1 says “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” (ESV). The instruction in this passage is quite clear; it is our job to confront other Christians when they are living in sin. Paul added that it was to be done gently and with caution, but the message is very straightforward. Still, each and every day we know that our brothers and sisters in Christ are living contrary to God’s Word and we do nothing about it. We refuse to act because we are scared of confrontation. Or, if we are failing to do this, maybe we are not as spiritual as we would like to believe. We need to be prepared to teach and lovingly correct those who are no longer walking in the light, and we need to be prepared for the backlash. Below are what I believe to be the five most common responses to being confronted about sin!
The fear of attempted restoration largely comes from the anticipation of anger. When we approach someone or “put them on the spot,” we put ourselves in danger of feeling the wrath of our sinning brethren. The sad truth is that we often think we can bully our way out of the wrong that we have committed. Extreme anger and lashing out are sure signs that we have hit a nerve and guilt is already at work. We cannot let the expectation of anger stop us from obeying Paul’s admonition. We must be prepared for nastiness including accusations of our own wrongdoing (see the plank/speck discussion in Matthew 7). This predictable response to being corrected is to be expected and must not deter us from our duty.
It is very difficult to be told that you are living in sin. Many Christians are too kind to lash out at people they consider part of their spiritual family, but they do something far worse – deflect! “Deflectors” may be willing to concede some wrongdoing, but they are no able to accept the blame for it. This common “devil made me do it” attitude is very frightening because it allows us to get rid of guilt. Being caught it in sin often involves multiple people (adultery, fornication, gossip, etc.), and it is easier to blame someone else than admit that we are wrong. This attitude is common among criminals as well, so law enforcement officials often interrogate just one member of a band of criminals who has no problem giving up his/her co-conspirators. When we approach someone living in a way that separates them from God we must make them be accountable for their own sin. Similarly, we must be accountable to God and to other Christians. Others may be guilty, but we will not have anyone to deflect the blame upon when we stand before God on the Day of Judgment!
Sadly, most people have to be caught red-handed to confess their sin. When we approach someone who we think may be wandering away from God we have to understand that lying may be the easiest response. This is very difficult because without concrete proof we cannot accuse someone of wrongdoing. It is regrettable that preachers and church leaders often have to be private investigators to protect their members from wiles of the devil. Lying is simple, but liars usually get caught. If a Christian’s conscience is seared to the point that they would rather lie than be reconciled to God, there is a huge heart problem at work. We can only hope that those we approach will be truthful because God cannot be lied to and every secret thing will be revealed when we stand before him (Ecc. 12:13-14).
Many Christians would not lash out at someone who cares for them. Similarly, they would accept their part in sin instead of deflecting it onto someone else, and they certainly would not lie when a loving brother or sister talked to them about sin. That’s why rationalization is the scariest of all these responses. Often times we know that something is wrong, but our fallible, finite minds allow us to justify the sin that we are committing. I cannot count the times I have heard “I know the Bible says this is wrong, but if you think about it God really would not hold me accountable for ______.” This is mind-boggling, but we do it every day. We are able to convince ourselves that God will change his mind because he will see our flawed reasoning! We must understand this about God – he does not change! His immutable laws are not subject to the edits of his creation! We must stop rationalizing and stop allowing others to try and figure out a way for sin to be okay!
Last, but certainly not least, is the appropriate response to being approached about sin – repentance. Paul’s directive in Galatians 6 was designed to elicit guilt and remorse. He had to approach the Corinthian brethren about their sin and he wrote in 2 Corinthians 7 that he was sorry he had to do it. He knew that it produced sorrow, but it was a godly sorrow that led to repentance (v. 10). This is how we must approach every encounter with a sinning member of our Christian family. We need to be ready for the pain and awkwardness, but we need to always be hoping and praying for repentance. It will almost certainly not come immediately, but someone who truly wants to follow Jesus and spend eternity with the Heavenly Father, will see the error of their ways and turn away from their wickedness. I understand that it is easier to pretend that sin does not exist, but God needs us to be his ambassadors to both the lost and wayward Christians. All of our uncomfortable moments and nervous anticipation will be worth it when see someone we love restored and when we are able to be with them as the ages roll on!
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