2009-08-05 - Summer Questions
2009 #5 ~ How to Deal with a Brother in Sin
Jeremiah 3:6, "Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, 'Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there.'"
Today's Question: "I am a Christian and have a friend who is one also. He is currently embroiled in an adulterous affair. I know technically that Jesus died once for all sins, but how can this man go to heaven if he persists in this? - Thank you"
Thank you for your question. I think it is a good one and one that will allow us to look into the general question of the backsliding Christian. How do the faithful view and seek to help a brother or sister in Christ who has denied the faith by their lifestyle? I will try to give some practical and more specific suggestions at the end. It is not to late to submit summer questions. There are several more to come, but you are welcome to submit questions at any time during this series.
Let us first look generally at the backsliding Christian. To "backslide" in the faith is generally a gradual, voluntary, and senseless moving away from the things of God (from truth), in which the person was formally walking. This can come about via adultery, but also it happens when we find that we are living prayerless lives, neglecting God's Word, or engaged in specific sins that grieve the Holy Spirit. All of these fall into the category of backsliding. We know better, but we do worse. It is the often a slow forming practice of things that are displeasing to the Lord. The true Christian certainly never intends to fall away, but we ease into it and one day we are walking in the joy of the Lord, then the next (so it seems) we are asking, "How did I get here?"
The true backsliding Christian returns to Christ in repentance and faith. It may be a long time, but the child of God cannot live forever in a way that dishonors his/her Lord and denies who they really are by the transforming work of the Spirit in their hearts. In the case of a prayerless life it might be simply that the Christian deals privately with their sin, or maybe asks a friend to pray with them. In the case of a public sin, such as adultery, recovery can be much more involved. There is sin against the spouse also which must be addressed. There is a public breaking of God's law and it has to be confronted and dealt with in a public manner. The church is involved when one of the members falls into sins that deny the conduct, and principles of our faith. It is painful to see a brother or sister fall from their profession, but it serves as a warning to the household of faith, and a testimony to outsiders that such things are dealt with and not swept under the rug. For there to be healing there must be confession. Forgiveness is there, and it is free. There needs to be no penance, but there must be acknowledgment of the sin for the weight of it to be lifted off. This has to be done very carefully, and it takes the wisdom of the leadership in the church to handle such things in a godly manner. What do we say of the one who is seemingly walking in Christ for a time (even years) and they fall away? What if they never return to Christ? We leave final judgment to the Lord (Matt. 7:1-3), but we have to admit that the appearance, in one who never repents of grievous sins, and never returns to Christ, is that they never really were a part of Him. Again, it is not for us to judge, but a true child of God cannot continue to live in sin. That sin will become a curse to them and they will return to free grace or they never knew it.
Matt 18:15-18 "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that `by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. 18 "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (NKJV)
What do we do when we know that someone has fallen away? We pray for them. We must carefully confront them. We have to practice the teaching of our Lord given to us in Matthew 18:15-20. We may have to break fellowship with them telling them that to continue "normal relations" with them would be to approve of what they are doing. We long to have fellowship with them once again, but to keep on with them, as if nothing was amiss, would be unkind to them. They must repent and return to Christ to continue in fellowship with His children. The person in adultery who is trying to live the Christian life on the side is seeking to live in the world and in the faith. It can't be done (James 4:4). It might be very difficult, but if we allow them to continue in sin, and treat them as if all was well with them and Christ, with them and us, we do them no favors. We approve of their sin by not showing our disgust at how they have dishonored Christ, the faith we profess, and the witness of every Christian who seeks to live a godly life and win others to Christ.
It is very difficult to know that a brother or sister is living a life that forsakes Christ. Pray for wisdom in how you handle the situation. What the person needs is the Gospel. They need it fresh. They need it often. They need to know that there is forgiveness, yes, even for them, if they return to Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Editor's Note: The questions in this series are stated in the exact form sent by the readers - unedited, unproofed, in order to remain true to the reader's original wording. Tonight the verses from Matt 18:15-18 were added by myself for clarity.