So often we encounter sin in our own lives and in the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters. How does God continue to respond to us in our moments of sin? How are you and I called to respond to our brother or sister who has succumbed to sin? The answer to both questions is with love; God’s love and the application of love, as defined by God, by believers to their brothers and sisters.
God Gives Us An Advocate – Because We Need One!
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 ESV)
We will sin. God hates sin. God also knows that even the most faithful follower of Christ is incapable of living a sinless life (1 Jn 1:8-10). And because of that, He sent His Son to die for the sins of the world. This is love. Jesus laid down His life for us so that we might join Him in worshiping His Father, have a relationship with Him, and enjoy eternal life. Sin in the lives of His saints is to be expected, but it is not to be embraced.
God’s Loving Response To The Sins Of His Children
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11-12 ESV)
Being disciplined, whether by our worldly father or our Heavenly Father, is not something most would say that they enjoy. And while the discipline we received from our parents when we were children may not have been perfect in many cases, our Heavenly Father disciplines perfectly; and with a clear and holy purpose. This discipline is driven by love, and its aim is the transformation of our sinful being into a perfect likeness of His Son, Jesus. When we feel the weight of His discipline on our shoulders, or feel a heaviness in our hearts brought on by the consequences of poor choices, we should be quick to open our eyes and examine our surroundings. This unpleasant state we find ourselves in may be the result of the Father’s ongoing discipline, and because it is meted out to us as a catalyst for godly growth, we should embrace it, knowing that the changes brought about in us through this are for our own good; and done in love so that the resulting spiritual growth brings us into closer relationship with God. God wants us to be holy (1 Pet 1:15-16), and He wants us to draw others to Him by our display of love to others. And this love is not the love that the world embraces, but the type of love that can only be expressed through our increasing holiness resulting from God’s discipline.
Growth is not always pleasant. Because of the fall, sin is entrenched deeply within our flesh, and the process of turning what was once dead into something alive in Christ can encompass much pain, sadness, anger, and anguish. But for all of the growing pains, this discipline also produces joy. In realizing that God is at work in us in such profound and powerful ways, His love is made real to us and our joy at coming closer to Him, honoring Him, and becoming increasingly obedient to His will for us grows and far outweighs any discomfort (Ja 1:2-4).
The Christian’s Response To Sin In Our Brothers And Sisters
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20 ESV)
So what is our response to a brother or sister who’s sin is obvious to us? Knowing that we all have our own struggles against worldliness, the devil, and our flesh, are we to dismiss the sin of those around us and “judge not”? No, this would be a failure to love through dismissing truth. For the purpose of this article, I want to focus on our response to a believer’s sinful patterns and falling back into a pattern of sin. It is not at all in keeping with the Bible that we Christians devote ourselves to calling out every single sin we see in another. First of all, it just would not be possible. And second, we are all at different points in this sanctification process, and unfortunately it just doesn’t seem to be God’s pattern to cause all sin in a new believer to end in one magical moment.
But what of the alcoholic, sober for years and now suddenly drinking again with noticeable consequences? Or perhaps the brother who is neglecting or abusing his wife? The former drug addict who slips back into using? Maybe a man who once engaged in homosexuality and has turned from it, putting obedience to God above his own desires for sex and companionship – and yet he suddenly finds himself off course and flirting with some old habits and temptations?
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8 ESV)
The response to all of these situations would seem to be the same. Love them. Love them enough to point out the sin in their lives. In love, lead them in confessing their sins and in making a course correction toward holiness. Love this brother or sister in a way that makes clear the truth of God’s character and commands, the reality of Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins; and love them in a way that encourages and gives hope. God says that He will bring to completion that which He has started (Phil 1:6). And we have every reason to believe this about that brother or sister caught in sin, as much as we do about ourselves.
While it may, at times, feel right to scold, cast out, or condemn our fellow Christian for bad behavior, it doesn’t seem to be the prescription recommended to us in the Bible. Even in the unfortunate case of a Christian’s sinful behavior that causes what would seem to be embarrassment or difficulty for the church, our first concern should be to restore this brother or sister to a right relationship with God; not to see to it that he is punished for his sins or to defend ourselves to a world that doesn’t understand Christian love and forgiveness. We are called, as children of God, to be discerning about sin within the body of believers, to weed out unrepentant sinners from within the body (1 Cor 5:12-13); however we are not called on to be the sentencing judge of our brother (Mt 7:1-5). Punishment belongs to the Lord (Rom 12:19).
The loving Christian will take all available steps to see a brother or sister change from their sinful ways; to be restored to obedience, trust, and faith in the Lord. Saint Paul says that every thing is passing except for one: Love. And it is in God’s love for us, and his definition of how we are to love one another, where we will find the appropriate response to sin in the lives of our brothers and sisters.
[The Way of Love]
And I will show you a still more excellent way…
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…
…So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 ESV)