What do you do if a brother or sister in Christ is in sin? How do you navigate a conversation with them about their sin? What if it is your child, your spouse, or a close friend? What can you say to them, and how do you say it? How can you be kind, but still do what is right?
There is a temptation that strikes many of us. When we know something or someone is wrong, we can tend to come down hard on them. After all, we know that God doesn’t want sin in our life or theirs; so, we harshly admonish them, hoping to drive the sin out of their life. Another temptation is to avoid the situation altogether. We know that God doesn’t want sin in their life, but we don’t want to be nosey; besides, we’ve heard people recite Matthew 7:1 our whole lives, telling us not to judge others (a conversation for another day). So, how can I walk the line of not judging, but still uphold God’s standard? For a Christian who hopes to help their brothers and sisters in Christ to walk more faithfully with God, neither attacking people nor avoiding problems seem like good options.
If you are familiar with the book of 1st Corinthians, then you know that it is a letter written to the church at Corinth for the purpose of correcting a multitude of sins in their life (there are a lot of sins discussed in 1st Corinthians). And yet, what has always struck me is that the letter does not begin with harsh accusations or pronouncements of judgment; however, the letter also doesn’t ignore the sins (seriously, the pages of 1st Corinthians are FILLED with the sins the Corinthian people were committing). Instead, Paul takes a different tactic.
In 1st Corinthians 1:1-2, Paul provides a great example of how to approach Christians that we love, when they have sin in their life. He says, “To the church of God at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called as saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord—both their Lord and ours” (1:2).
Paul does not say that his letter is to “the bunch of sinning heathens at Corinth.” He doesn’t attack them, but as the rest of the book attests, he also doesn’t ignore what they are doing. Instead, he begins with love, and reminds them who they are. Three times in the second verse, Paul helps the people remember their identity! He describes them as the “church of God”, he points out that they are sanctified (set apart by God), and he calls them “saints” (meaning anyone who has accepted Jesus).
This brings up a quick side-note: Oftentimes, we (Christians) try to clean up the behavior of lost people, as if good deeds will change their eternal fate. However, Paul is not addressing lost people. The goal of the Gospel is not to get lost people to clean up their behavior, it’s to get lost people to turn to Christ so that they might have eternal life (John 20:31). If a drunk man, who is not a Christian, ceases to be a drunk, he’d still be lost. For people who have never surrendered to Christ, our focus must always be sharing the Gospel with them. Is repentance involved in salvation? Absolutely! But when a lost person turns from their sins, they must turn toward Christ. If they don’t, then in turning away from their sins, all they have done is stop a bad habit. While that’s good for their physical life, it does nothing to secure their home in heaven—and that is what we should be more concerned with.
But for Paul and his letter to the church at Corinth, he wanted to help his brothers and sisters in Christ become more obedient followers. They had lots of sin in their life, and so Paul approached them with a loving reminder of who they were in Christ. He didn’t ignore their sin, but he also didn’t act like the situation was hopeless. He intended his letter and God’s Spirit to evoke change in their lives. This is a good reminder for all of us. As temptation seeks to turn us away from God, we must remember that we are His. And as we counsel with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must remember that with God there are both expectations and grace.
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