The Question/Issue/Argument: Should we correct other Christians we see sinning? If so, how? Isn’t it ‘judging’ them if we try to correct them?
This is another very relevant question/topic especially for this day and age where the ‘everything is alright or acceptable’ attitude is prevalent throughout our society and in most ‘Christian’ circles as well. Correcting other Christians or pointing out obvious sin in their lives is a bit of a taboo subject it seems and something that seems to be ignored in the ‘Christian’ community.
So, firstly we need to establish, is it okay to keep sinning after accepting Christ and choosing to follow God? HERE, HERE and HERE are some articles looking at sin from a Christian perspective, but also lets highlight some specific verses that talk about this. Romans 6:1-2 is a pretty clear statement that instructs us to refrain from living in sin. Hebrews 10:26, 1 John 3:9, John 5:14, John 8:11, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and many more can be found on the topic. The general consensus here is that we, as Christians, are instructed to abstain from Sin (as best we can) if we are in fact genuinely following God. HERE is another good article on that subject.
People, especially those professing to be ‘Christian’ in my experience will come up with a long list of excuses as to why they do something that they do or act a certain way or whatnot that is in obvious violation of the way we are instructed to in the Bible.
This is probably the main reason I would say non-believers have a bad opinion/view of Christians today as well and is one of the bigger problems we as the church of Christ face.
“We’re all sinners.” “You can’t judge me.” “Only God can judge me, you are just supposed to love me.” “God has forgiven me/will forgive me.” “They deserve it.” “I’m a good person.” “They are a bad person.” “They were bad/mean to me first.” “It’s part of who I am.” “No one’s perfect.” etc, etc, etc.
Those are all things I hear/have heard in regards to ‘Christian’ individuals being called-out on obvious sin in their lives. And more often than not, obvious sin in ‘Christian’ people is just ignored by other ‘Christian’ people. This attitude of rebellion and excuses and hypocritical action is actually what drove me from the Church in my younger years. Even at a young age I was able to recognize that these people were claiming to believe one thing on Sunday morning but clearly and knowingly acting in opposition to their claim as soon as they left the ‘Church’.
This fact lost my respect for those individuals, both at a religious level as well as a personal level. I wanted nothing to do with them in any aspect of life, as I felt I couldn’t trust anything about them. I still struggle with this today as a matter of fact; I don’t want to simply ‘abandon’ a brother or sister or a potential brother or sister just because they are ignoring obvious sin in their life, I want them to be reconciled with God and whole again.
So what are we to do? Saying anything to them risks their friendship and gives potential for conflict, keeping silent and ignoring the sin just exacerbates the issue and promotes more sin in God’s Church…
Well, luckily we have pretty clear instructions in the Bible on what we are to do, so lets take a look!
Galatians 6:1, Titus 3:10-11, Matthew 18:15-17, Luke 17:3-4, 2 Timothy 2:24-26 and 1 Timothy 5:1-2 all talk about bringing the sin of fellow Christians to their attention, either when they knowingly sin, or when they unknowingly sin.
We are instructed to do so in gentleness and love and with Biblical basis that what they are doing is wrong, not in anger or with arrogance or judgmental attitudes or personal opinions. If the person ignores us, we are told to warn them again, this time with another believer or two confirming what we are pointing out.
Matthew 18:15-17 is probably the most concise and thorough set of instructions on this topic, and details how we should be proceeding when the individual continues to ignore the correction of their brothers and sisters and even the Church as a whole, which is to exclude them from the Church.
This seems at first glance pretty harsh. However upon further examination I don’t really see any other viable option. The Church is supposed to be Christ’s bride. A group of people sanctified by God and devoted to serving God and being filled with the Holy Spirit. If there are ‘members’ of that group knowingly tolerating and even encouraging sin in their own lives (which has a nasty habit of spreading to the lives of others), and are refusing to change, how can they be a part of God’s Church? The simple answer is they cannot be. So best case scenario if they are allowed to ‘stay’ in the Church, is you have some people in the Church genuinely trying to strive to serve God, and others who are not, aka, division. A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). That Church cannot be effective.
So how does this translate then into our lives… Do we just start pointing fingers at all the other ‘Christian’ people in our church groups we see sinning? What are we supposed to do if they ignore us, we can’t exactly get the ‘Church’ to exclude them…
This is the most difficult part of the topic to answer because (I think anyway) of the way the Church is segregated and structured in our society (that is, North American/1st world society). Church leaders and members typically adopt the, “We’re all sinners.” attitude and are willing to overlook anything in the name of ‘forgiveness’ and ‘love’. Sure, maybe major things if they are brought to light like adultery within the church or something might warrant some reprimand or disciplinary action, but even then in many cases they are permitted to continue on in their sin and nothing is really done.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t forgive or love our brothers and sisters when they sin as we surely are called to. What we are talking about here is if they have been repeatedly made aware of their sin and are refusing to change or rectify it…
All I can really come up with is to not associate with them at a personal level if they are unwilling to repent and at least work on rectifying the sin in their lives. We cannot really ‘exclude’ someone from attending a ‘church’ service as individuals, even if I were the pastor of a church, I couldn’t exclude someone by myself without the rest of the church’s approval and involvement.
Another thing to consider is thinking of and approaching the idea of the ‘Church’ in a different way, particular in relation to this topic. Rather than thinking of the Church as the various organizations and institutions, each with their own members and governing bodies, lets think of the Church as the actual believers and followers of Christ, with Christ as the head/leader of the Church.
The organizations that call themselves ‘Churches’ will have members in them that are not following Christ as well as (hopefully) those that are, as such, it doesn’t really make sense to me to consider those organizations as part of God’s Church. To me they are just organizations. So, if I choose to meet together on Sunday with a particular group of believers at a particular building or organization, I cannot control people that may attend that meeting who may not be a part of God’s Church. I can absolutely be kind and polite to them and try to love them, but as far as associating with them as a brother and sister in Christ, if they refuse to rectify the sin in their life that has been brought to their attention, I am not going to do so.
Well what does that entail then? Essentially it means I would treat them like an unbeliever in terms of friendship/interaction. I would pray for them differently for starters, I wouldn’t become close friends with them, I would restrict the amount of time I’d spend with them, I would prioritize the needs of fellow believers over theirs, etc.
Now, some of those things I just mentioned seem also really harsh… But let me explain.
1. I would pray for them differently.
My prayer for unbelievers is a lot different than my prayer for believers. Now, I don’t pretend to be any expert in the prayer field so perhaps I’m missing things, but this is where I am at personally and my reasons for praying this way.
When I pray for other believers, I pray for strength, encouragement, patience, wisdom, understanding, guidance, blessings, healing, perseverance, etc. etc. etc. based on what they are going through, and that their relationship with God and understanding of God would increase and for discernment and faith and that God’s will would be done in their lives.
When I pray for non-believers, my prayer is that God would have mercy on them and soften their hearts and call them to Him. Yes, I do also pray for things like healing and patience and encouragement for non-believers based on their circumstances, however it is first and foremost a prayer that they would come to know God and that God would use their circumstances to lead them to Him.
2. I wouldn’t become close friends with them.
So this seems a bit harsh, I mean, why not be close friends with them and then you can better influence them towards Christ, right? Well, that’s true in theory yes, however the problem arises (at least for me), in that I struggle to develop close friendships with people who don’t share my faith in God. Now, this isn’t to say we cannot still be ‘friends’ and hang out and do things, as we surely can.
What I’m saying though is when it comes down to the personal things in life that separate acquaintances and ‘friends’ from ‘family’, is that those individuals would not be able to be a part of my ‘family’ because they do not share that critical aspect in their life of following God. I would not trust those individuals with anything important, nor would I expect them to trust me with anything important, I wouldn’t go to them in times of crisis, I wouldn’t share with them personal thoughts and feelings and experiences, I wouldn’t ask them Biblical questions, I wouldn’t ask them for advice on important decisions, etc.
Would I still love them and try to help them if they needed it? Sure. Would I still try to correct them if I saw them continuing to sin? Sure. But if they continued to ignore the sin in their life, unfortunately that would, at least for me, prevent us from becoming close.
3. I would restrict the amount of time I spend with them.
Again this seems maybe cold or arrogant to say. I mean, after all, the more time a non-believer or someone who’s sinning spends with a Christian, the more they will be able to see God in that person and recognize the sin in their life right?
Well that’s also theoretically true yes, however the reason I restrict the amount of time I spend with non-believers or people claiming to be ‘Christian’ but don’t walk that way is more for my own benefit, not theirs.
Now, that seems very selfish so let me extrapolate further. I am firstly an introvert, so spending time with anyone in social settings is tiring for me and I only have so much energy. Secondly, spending time with non-believers or people not following God is even MORE exhausting (for whatever reason) and often drains my patience along with my energy.
So, while I would love to tell you that I have unlimited patience and energy to spread God’s love to those around me 24/7, the fact is I do not, nor do I think anyone does or that is how God created us. Even Jesus himself took time frequently to spend in prayer with God by himself or spending time with just His disciples.
I need to spend time with God and with other believers (aka, family) in personal/private settings, and I think this is actually important to practice for all believers as well, even those that aren’t introverts. There is a reason a lot of missionaries and pastors and similar people lose touch with God and depart from the faith, and that is (I think anyway) that they don’t spend enough time with God because they are so busy ‘working’ with non-believers and other Christians that they lose touch with Him.
4. I would prioritize the needs of fellow believers over theirs.
Now, here you may say, “This clearly is wrong! How can you say the needs of a saved soul outweigh those of a poor lost sheep that is trying to find it’s way back to the fold?” Well, I would have agreed with you, at least mostly, except for the fact that… The Bible says otherwise.
The Bible instructs us to put the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ over those of non-believers, and after examining this I think it makes perfect sense, and I’ll detail why.
First lets look at the early Church, or, what I would say is the ‘closest to perfect’ Church we have reference of. Acts 4:32-35 talks about the early church and how they operated.
“32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
So, you’ll notice it doesn’t say, they sent the money to the poor of the city, or they put their money to be used for missions to other cities, etc. Rather it shows quite clearly they took care of one another “to each as any had need.” Now, does that mean we shouldn’t give to the poor, support missions and missionaries, etc? No of course not, as there are many other Biblical references saying we should do those things. However, what we can see here is that if your brother or sister in Christ has a need, we are called to help them, and even more so than a non-believer.
James 2:15-17 and Galatians 6:10 also illustrate the importance of helping brothers and sisters in Christ.
Additionally, in 1 Timothy 5:8 it’s broken down a step further even saying that you are responsible to care for your blood relatives before others as well.
Non-believers are to know us by our love for one another (John 13:35). If a non-believer sees a christian giving money to support a missionary or something while a fellow believer in their same town cannot afford food, what kind of message does that send? It’s bad enough if we see a non-believer in need and don’t help them but how much worse is it if we have a fellow brother or sister in the same situation and we don’t help?
Going back to the family analogy, if my biological sister needed help moving and an acquaintance of mine or a friend needed help moving and they were both moving at the same time, who do you think I would help? I’m going to help my sister of course! Is it because I don’t like or love the other person or don’t want the best for them or something like that? No, of course not, it’s because my sister is family, and the other person is not.
We don’t have unlimited time, energy and finances (or, at least I don’t anyway). As individuals, this means it is impossible for us to meet every need we come across or contribute in some form to them. Chances are you WILL have to pick and choose where to spend your resources in terms of helping others, and I think at least according to what it says in the Bible that we are directed to help our family in Christ first, before helping others.
Now, all that being said, I think there are probably other things I would approach different in terms of someone professing to be a Christian but knowingly continuing to sin, however none come to mind at the moment. If I think of more, I’ll add them in the future.
The bottom line here is I’m not trying to ‘condemn’ or ‘judge’ someone in this situation, all we are called to do is try and correct them in gentleness and love. It is not up to us to ‘change’ them or ‘save’ them, that’s God’s job. However at the same time we are also instructed not to just ignore sin when we see it in other believers lives and try to cover it in a blanket of ‘love’ and ‘acceptance’, as the Bible clearly states we are to no longer abide in sin, but are to strive for righteousness.
Risking, diminishing and losing valued relationships with people is a tough pill to swallow most of the time and it’s a difficult road to go down. However at the end of the day, it’s our relationship with God we have to put above all others, and if we truly do love our erring brother and sister, we will try to correct them regardless of the potential consequences.