DEALING WITH SIN
A Colson Center ViewPoint Study
T. M. Moore
From BreakPoint, April 13, 2014, reprinted/posted with permission of Prison Fellowship, www.breakpoint.org.
Welcome to ViewPoint
Welcome to Dealing with Sin, a study of the Biblical teaching about sin and how we must respond to it. Dealing with Sin is one of our ViewPoint series of studies in Biblical worldview.
These studies are designed for individual or group use. While you may derive much benefit from studying on your own, that benefit can be greatly enhanced by joining with a friend or a group to read, discuss, share, challenge, and pray for one another.
Take one lesson at a time, reading the Scriptures and narrative aloud, and pausing to reflect on and discuss the questions provided. Don’t be in a hurry. Be willing to take more than one session on a lesson if it will allow you to delve more deeply into the subject matter.
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These studies are designed as brief introductions to the subject under consideration. We hope they will enlarge your worldview, help you to become more firmly rooted in Scripture, equip you to minister to others, and stimulate you to want to learn more about the Word of God and the Biblical worldview.
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T. M. Moore
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:9
Sin in Israel’s camp
The Church, at least in this country, has undergone something of a change of mind concerning sin. It’s not clear when this situation began to arise, but that it is rapidly infecting the entire Body of Christ in America is becoming increasingly apparent. It would be going too far to say that Christians today deny the reality of sin. They do not. We understand that sin exists and that only in Jesus Christ can sin be forgiven and can we find the power to overcome and be healed from sin’s deleterious effects. The problem we’re facing is not that we deny the reality of sin. Rather, our situation is like that which faced Joshua and the people of Israel following the conquest of Jericho. They did not deny the reality of sin, yet because they were harboring sin in their midst, God withheld His blessings and subjected His people to humiliation and setback.
Achan had sinned knowingly against the Lord by taking some of the devoted spoil from the city of Jericho and hiding it in his tent. He knew that what he was doing was wrong, that it was sin. But he decided that satisfying his own interests was more important than obeying the plain teaching of God’s Word concerning sin, and he did not believe his sin would have any consequences hurtful to himself or anyone else. Somehow he must have reckoned that God, Who loves His people with an everlasting love, would understand his failing and either allow him to continue in it or, at worst, would correct the situation without any real pain or displeasure.
His false calculations proved tragic to himself, his family, and all the nation of Israel.
A community of Achans
The Church today is in danger of becoming a community of Achans. We have persuaded ourselves that, while sin is bad, and people ought not sin, we must not presume to judge what we may regard as the sins of others. Thus, where sin is concerned, in many churches today, “live and let live” has become the unspoken guiding criterion. This is happening for two reasons, as I see it. First, we have come to believe that “sin” is a relative and changeable concept, more to be defined and dealt with according to the temper of the times rather than by any unchanging teaching of Scripture. We accept the Biblical idea about sin, but not the Biblical definitions. Today we define sin more in line with how the world thinks than with what the Scriptures teach and what Christians in every age have taught and believed. The second reason we’ve become a community of Achans, hiding our sins in our own tents and considering that they’re nobody’s business and no one’s going to get hurt, is that we have persuaded ourselves somehow that God Himself has changed His attitude toward sin. God is love, and whereas the God of the Old Testament demanded that sin be recognized and expunged, God in the New Testament is more tolerant and willing to bear with our shortcomings and failings.
On both these counts, we are seriously wrong.
God and sin
Here I want to address only the second of these false ideas, namely, that God has somehow become more tolerant of sin, because He is a God of grace and not judgment. In fact, just the opposite is the case. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shocked His hearers by telling them they had heard about what sin looks like on the outside – things like murder and adultery, for example. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were masters at “looking good” when it came to keeping themselves from “sin.” In fact, Jesus said, true righteousness must exceed the outward shows of the Pharisees and deal with deep-seated issues in the heart, like anger, hatred, and lust. Jesus ratcheted-up the focus on and definition of sin. He did not in the least tamp it down. Second, whereas in the Old Testament, Paul says, God “overlooked” the sins of the nations (Acts 17:30), now He is commanding all people to repent and turn from their sins. Those who will not repent become subject to His judgment and wrath, not merely at the end of history, but in the here and now of their everyday lives. And this applies both to those who deny or reject God, as well as those who claim to be His children (Rom. 1:18-32; Heb. 12:3-11).
The tragedy of our times is that, whereas God has sharpened the focus on sin and is moving aggressively to expunge it from human society, the Church in this country has become like Achan of old. We have convinced ourselves that sin, though real enough, is no big deal. We can define it as we will and tolerate it as we choose. And in maintaining this understanding of sin, we are bringing the Church to humiliation, setback, and impotence with respect to our Kingdom calling in Jesus Christ. It is time for the Church to rethink its view of sin and how to deal with it.
For reflection or discussion
1. What’s the difference between the idea of sin and particular sins?
2. How can you see that the moral climate of the day is affecting the Church’s understanding of particular sins?
3. What does your church leadership teach about sin and how we should deal with it?
4. How can we say that God is “tougher” on sin in our day than He was in the Old Testament?
5. What are your goals for this study? What do you hope to learn?
Next steps: How do the leaders of your church define sin? What is their approach to dealing with in in your congregation and community? Ask a few of your leaders these questions, and encourage them to join you in reading the installments in this series on “Dealing with Sin.”
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” Romans 7:7
In many churches today the reason why sin is overlooked and tolerated is that we have gotten completely backwards from what Paul wrote in Romans 7. Today we say that the Law of God is not a reliable source for teaching us about sin. The Law of God is judgmental and mean; we want to be loving and tolerant. We understand sin not from the plain teaching of God’s Law, but from what the world around us teaches about things acceptable and good and true.
The Law of God is the enemy of faith, as many believers see it. “I’m not under Law,” they insist. “I’m under grace!” Thus excusing themselves from the Law as a way of knowing about sin, they put themselves in the hands of pastors and church leaders whose primary concern in dealing with sin is to avoid offending people. And pastors, wanting to appear very loyal to Christ and His Word, unfurl a banner of “love” and declare themselves and their churches to be committed to love, not judgment, and to dealing with sin in a “loving” rather than a “judgmental” manner. Yet in so doing we have turned the teaching of Scripture, the understanding of sin, and the power of grace and truth completely around. It’s no wonder we’re having such a difficult time recognizing and dealing with the sin that is hidden in the tents of the people of God.
Many church leaders today want to redefine the Biblical teaching about sin, in particular, sins that relate to practices which have become commonplace in the unbelieving world – lust, adultery, homosexuality, materialism, stinginess, and self-indulgence. All these practices are clearly defined as sin in Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments. Yet today many pastors believe that all such matters are subject to redefinition, following the temper of the times, and they try very hard to “make room” for differences of opinion on these and other issues. We thus have a choice to make. If we really want to recognize sin, and we all must do so in some way, we must either allow the Bible to define sin and our response to it, or we must reject the Bible and prefer our own best ideas. It’s time for pastors and church leaders to declare which of these shall be their guiding precepts.
The Scriptures define sin in two ways. First, sin is lawlessness – blatant denial of, disregard for, or disobedience of the Law of God (1 Jn. 3:4). The Law of God teaches us how to think about sin, because the Law of God has been given to us as a guide to holiness, righteousness, goodness, and love (Rom. 7:12; Matt. 22:34-40). Nothing that the Law of God defines as sin is countermanded, revoked, or overturned by anything else in Scripture. Does your pastor believe this? Do your church leaders adhere to such teaching? Do you? Let us declare where we stand on defining sin: Either we believe God’s Word, beginning with His Law – and everything else in Scripture builds on the Law, nothing negates it in any way – or we believe that we can define sin according to the spirit of the age. There is no middle ground.
Second, Paul says that whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). What Paul means here is something like this: Sin is what happens when people act out of mere self-love rather than out of the love for God and neighbor that takes seriously the teaching of God’s Word. Love, following the Law and Word of God, builds people up, even if the process can be painful at times. Sin leaves people to their folly and, looking out for
mere self-interest, allows them to tear themselves down rather than know the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit which constitute the character, condition, and consequence of the Kingdom of God (Rom. 14:17, 18).
Which will it be?
We must determine where we will stand on the matter of sin. Either we will recognize the authority of God’s Word and the faith of the Church to define our understanding of sin, or we will cater to the spirit of the age and, in the flimsy name of some false ideal of “tolerance” or “love”, we will reserve the right be led in our approach to sin by the changing breezes of an age in flight from God.
But whichever of these it will be, let us say it. Say it to yourself. Say it to your family. Say it to your friends. And insist that your pastor and church leaders say it to the whole church. We must each determine what will be the guiding standards for recognizing sin. Paul, John, Jesus, the prophets, Moses, and the whole cast of Scripture took their stand on the Law of God and the faith of the Apostles. Which standard will you choose for recognizing sin in yourself and others?
For reflection or discussion
1. What does the Apostle John mean by saying that sin is “lawlessness”?
2. What does the Apostle Paul mean by saying that whatever is not of faith is sin?
3. Is the Law of God the enemy of faith or of sin? Explain:
4. Read again the first paragraph under the heading, Defining sin. Do you see any indication that this is true in your church? Why or why not?
5. Where will you take your stand in learning to recognize sin?
Next steps: The Scriptures define sin as lawlessness and whatever is done apart from faith. How do your church leaders define sin? Ask some of them. Then talk with some of your Christian friends about this matter.
And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” Matthew 26:21, 22
Disloyal to God?
German theologian Helmut Thielicke once defined temptation as finding oneself at the point of wanting to be disloyal to God. Sin, because it flouts God’s Law, denies His authority, veers from the path of righteousness which He has defined, and denies the faith once for all deposited with the saints, is disloyalty to, even rebellion against God. Perhaps this is why the disciples, upon being informed that one of them was going to betray Jesus, began to be “very sorrowful.” They were horrified at the thought of being disloyal to Jesus. They knew Him and loved Him. They’d walked with Him and served in ministry with Him. While they did not understand everything that was about to happen to Him, they wanted no part in anything that would insult His holiness or impede the progress of His Kingdom. The thought that they might actually betray Him brought them to deep sorrow and made them eager to get right with Him if need be.
These days we do not sorrow at the thought of possibly betraying Jesus by some act of sin. Our sins are our own business. As long as I indulge them in my own tent, who’s to know, and whose business is it but mine? Jesus loves me just the way I am, and He knows I’m a sinner. So I don’t need to be sorrowful over my sins, only grateful because of the unqualified love Jesus has for me. But this is foolishness and should, if ever we find ourselves thinking this way, alert us to the fact that we have already begun to betray our Savior Who bore our sins in His body on the cross, and it doesn’t trouble us one bit.
If you have decided that Scripture will have little or no part in how you define and recognize sin, then you won’t be troubled by the thought of sin as a betrayal of Jesus and His heavenly Father. Oh, it might trouble you a bit that you keep stumbling over this or that sinful practice. But you can live with it, and you figure Jesus can live with it, too. Live and let live. Wrong. Jesus pronounced woe on the one who betrayed him, the one who chose to indulge his own interests and lusts rather than remain loyal to His Savior and Lord. Why should we expect anything different? Once we learn to recognize sin as that which violates God’s Law and compromises the practice of faith, we must then turn inward and examine our own hearts: “Is it I, Lord?” The psalmist commends the practice of waiting in prayer on the Spirit of God to search our hearts and minds and to reveal to us anything contrary to God’s Word that may be lingering there (Ps. 139:23, 24). We cannot address the sins of others if we are not willing first of all to recognize the presence of sin in our own lives and to deal with it accordingly (Matt.7:1-5).
Waiting on the Lord
Dealing with sin requires both recognizing sin as God defines it and reflecting on whether or not any sins are lingering in our hearts. This must become a daily discipline if we are to prevent sin from harboring in our souls. Sin which is not dealt with in our own lives can short-circuit our prayers, so that God will not even hear them (Ps. 6:18). Unrecognized and unacknowledged sin in our hearts can lead to other sins, since we grow callous to sin or begin to think of ourselves as somehow above God’s judgment. We become like David, who sinned in shirking his duty, which led him to sin by lusting for another man’s wife, leading to the sin of adultery, the sin of conspiracy to commit murder, the sin of stealing another man’s wife, and on and
on. If we refuse to reflect on the presence of sin in our own lives, we are setting ourselves up for one act of disloyalty to God after another. And if we persist in this way of dealing with sin, we are setting ourselves up for the discipline of the Lord, who loves us too much to allow us to continue hiding our sins in our tents (Heb. 12:3-11).
The problem with reflecting on sin is, first, that it takes time. We must learn to wait in silence before God, listening for the Spirit to teach us the ways of God and to illuminate any places in our lives where we are walking contrary to what God intends. If we’re too busy to pray, we’re certainly too busy to reflect on whether or not we are harboring sin in our lives. And if we are too busy for these, then we are simply part of the problem keeping the Church from knowing the Kingdom blessings of God, rather than part of the solution. “Is it I, Lord?” This question must never be very far from our minds, for the law of sin at work within us will foment rebellion against the Lord, disguising it under the “good reasons” of self-interest and inveterate frailty. Call it what you will, it’s betrayal of Him Who died for you. And if you will not be sorrowful over the sin in your life today, then what will you be capable of against Him tomorrow?
For reflection or discussion
1. In what way is sin a matter of being disloyal to God?
2. How can you make “Is it I, Lord?” a more consistent part of your daily spiritual life?
3. How can a person know when he is coming under the convicting work of the Spirit?
4. Can you think of some other ways that one sin can lead to another? Why does this make it so important that we spend time daily reflecting on the condition or our souls?
5. What does it mean to “be sorrowful” for your sin? Why is this important?
Next steps: Talk with some of your Christian friends about ways you might encourage and assist one another in being better able to recognize sin in your lives.
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:30, 31
What God requires
Could Paul be any clearer? God commands all people everywhere to repent of their sin. A day of judgment is coming. On that day those who have knowingly indulged sin in their tents and have refused the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will come under the most severe wrath and judgment of God. Even now, in this time, God is warning of this coming day by allowing sinful people to fall even deeper into sin, and by bringing discipline against those who, knowing what God requires, nonetheless choose to betray Him by harboring sin in their lives (Rom. 1:18-32; Heb. 12:3-11). We may prefer to deal with sin by looking away or otherwise tolerating rebellion within ourselves and those we love. But God does not. God is preparing discipline, judgment, and wrath against all who refuse to obey what He commands as the proper response to sin.
The nature of repentance
What God requires is that we repent of our sin. As we learn to recognize sin as God defines it in His Word, and as we spend time reflecting in order to allow the Spirit of God to illuminate any sins in our lives, we will be in a position to repent of sin and thus to return to the path of love for God and neighbor which is our proper calling as followers of Christ. But what does it mean to repent? The literal meaning of this word is to embrace “another mind” about whatever practice God may be shining the light of His Word and Spirit on in our lives. We want to recognize sin for what it is and to think about it the way God intends. The Lord calls His people to “hate” sin (Ps. 97:10), that is, to find sin to be so aversive and disgusting that it grieves them to discover it within themselves, and makes them eager to be done with it as soon as possible.
Repentance thus begins as an attitude – of hatred, disgust, sorrow, and eager longing for revival in our souls. Only God can grant the grace of repentance. As we, through quiet reflection and waiting on the Lord, come face to face with the sin buried in the tents of our souls, we must plead with God to imbue us with these affections, to give us hearts filled with repentance, so that renewed love for Him can grow where betrayal has thus far prevailed. But repentance is more than just a frame of mind. It requires that we act. As the psalmist put in in Psalm 119:59, 60, “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay
to keep your commandments.” Repentance begins within, in our minds and hearts, but it comes to fruition outwardly, in our words and deeds. We have truly repented from sin when we have adopted another course of action, another way of life, contrary to the life of betrayal and sin we previously pursued.
Contraries are by contraries cured
Achieving true repentance can require the help of a trusted friend. During the Middle Ages, Christians who sought the grace of repentance would present themselves, together with a soul friend, before a trusted counselor who would listen to the situation and prescribe a new course of action. The catch phrase which guided these situations was “contraries are by contraries cured.” If one discovers in his life some attitude or behavior contrary to God’s Word and the requirements of true faith, and if true remorse and a desire for correction have been achieved, then all that remains is to discern a course of action contrary to that which was
contrary to God’s Law. One who was an inveterate thief, for example, might be required to pay back to others what he had taken from them, and then to give some special gift to the poor. Thus he would be made mindful of the rights and needs of others, and he would see how bestowing material goods on others can bring him more satisfaction than stealing them. One who had a quick and biting tongue might be taught to pray psalms of praise and thanks and to practice courteous greetings and kind words to others, until he learned that such usage of his tongue was actually more satisfying and agreeable than what he had formerly been doing with his speech.
We may need help figuring out how to bring repentance to full fruition in our lives. But we won’t be likely to get it from pastors or counselors who do not accept the teaching of God’s Word about such matters. Seek out a soul friend who is like-minded with you about the seriousness of sin and how we must define and deal with it. Then, together, help one another day by day to reflect on sin and to take up whatever good works of repentance will help you to follow the way of the Lord with greater consistency and joy.
For reflection or discussion
1. What is repentance and why is it so important in dealing with sin?
2. What is the “frame of mind” of one who is going through repentance?
3. Why do we say that repentance is not complete until it issues in a changed life?
4. What does the phrase, “contraries are by contraries cured”, indicate? How would you expect to put that phrase to work in your own life?
5. What is a “soul friend” and how can a soul friend help us in dealing with sin?
Next steps: Do you have a soul friend whom you could trust to help you live a life of true repentance? Talk with some Christian friends about whether or not you might be willing to relate to one another in this way.
5 Respond (1)
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Matthew 18:15
Two sins, two responses
The place to begin dealing more effectively with sin is when it appears in our own lives. We are rethinking the contemporary Church’s attitude toward sin – what it is and what we should do about it. And we’ve seen that, once we begin to recognize sin as the Scriptures describe it, then we can spend time each day reflecting on our own lives, to discern whatever sins may have found safe harbor there, so that we can repent of our sins, both in how we think and feel about them, as well as in how we actually live. But dealing with sin in ourselves is not our only responsibility. We are also responsible for one another, to love one another, care for one another, and to encourage one another to love and good works. Invariably, therefore, in the process of caring for and nurturing one another, we’re going to have to deal with the sins we see in each other’s lives.
So how do we do that? It might help us to keep in mind that, when it comes to responding to sin, there are two types of sins – private and scandalous – and each of them requires a different kind of response. Here we’ll deal with private sins, and in our next installment we’ll consider what is necessary in dealing with scandalous sins.
Every believer’s responsibility
With respect to the private sins of others, each of has the duty of encouraging one another in our walk with the Lord. If I observe a brother committing a sin, my first duty is to pray specifically that the Spirit of God would convict that brother of his transgression. Only the Spirit of God can achieve the necessary sense of conviction and repentance that overcoming sin requires. So we must pray for one another, that we may be sensitive to the Spirit’s searching presence as we reflect on our lives in the presence of God and His Word. But prayer may not be enough. We may need to go to the next step, which, as the Lord Jesus indicates, will involve a confrontation in love. The best way to do this is by asking a question: “Can I ask you about something I’ve observed?” By approaching the problem in this way we give the one who is guilty of sin an opportunity to reflect on our question and the behavior we have observed. Remember, it’s in reflection that the Spirit is able to do His convicting work, and asking questions avoids accusations and encourages reflection.
We may be reluctant to confront someone who is living in sin, thinking that, by doing so, we’re actually judging the person. And we shouldn’t judge one another, right? Wrong. Jesus never taught that we shouldn’t judge one another, just that we should expect to be judged by whatever judgment we extend toward others (Matt. 7:1ff). Jesus commanded us to judge with righteous judgment (Jn. 7:24). So if I judge my neighbor with righteous judgment, I’m inviting the same on myself – and we should all be OK with that.
But what if…?
But what if my brother doesn’t accept my view of things and, upon reflection, doesn’t see anything wrong with his behavior? What do we do then? If he cannot show me where I am mistaken, then Jesus is clear; get two or three other witnesses together to support your view – people who’ve made the same observation – and approach your brother again (v. 16). This is not to make of sin a matter of majority rule; rather, the purpose of bringing other witnesses is both to confirm your observations and to agree that what you are observing is contrary to the Word of God. Very often the witness of two or three brethren can persuade an offending brother of his sin, so that he can reflect further and, hopefully, come to repentance.
But what if that has no effect? Then, Jesus says, take your brother to the church. That is, ask the leaders of the church to become involved, and to review and offer their opinion on the situation (v. 17). If the leaders of the church agree, and your friend still refuses to repent, then he is to be dismissed from the fellowship until such time as the Spirit brings him to true repentance (v. 17). It is the duty of church leaders to take this step, both for the recovery of the unrepentant sinner and the purity of the congregation as a whole. This is the process referred to as “church discipline.” Church discipline is an orderly, loving process for dealing with sin when it comes to the attention of others. Church discipline is every church member’s responsibility and duty. If we fail to practice church discipline we are only aiding one or another Achan as he harbors sin within the Lord’s camp. And, by ignoring – or “tolerating” – sin in others, we are inviting the discipline of the Lord upon the sinner, as well as upon ourselves.
For reflection or discussion
1. Explain the difference between “private” sins and “scandalous” sins. Why is it important to respond to each of these?
2. Why should we use questions when responding to sin in someone else’s life?
3. Outline the steps to take in helping a person come to repentance.
4. Why do you suppose so few churches today practice church discipline? What would you say to church leaders to encourage them to take this responsibility seriously?
5. How can you see that church discipline is a way of showing love to God and to our neighbors?
Next steps: Does your church practice church discipline? Are your church members instructed in how to fulfill their responsibility in a loving manner? Ask a few of your church leaders about this matter.
6 Respond (2)
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. Galatians 2:11
Scandalous sins are those which are public, persistent, and pernicious. Peter sinned scandalously in Antioch when he turned away from the Gentile believers there and kept fellowship with the Jewish Christians. This he did in order to placate certain Jewish teachers who had arrived from Jerusalem. He wanted them to think he was a “true Jew” and so, in the process, he sinned against his Gentile brethren. The scandalous nature of his sin became evident when even Barnabas become ensnared and followed in Peter’s betrayal. Another scandalous sin occurred in the Church in Corinth. Paul comments on this in 1 Corinthians 5. A man, a member of the church, was having a sexual affair with his father’s wife – presumably, she was not his mother, and also presumably, she was not a member of the church, since no action is ever recommended against her.
In each case these offenses were not something witnessed by just a few folks. They were public and therefore scandalous. Simply to let them go would have been to endorse sinful practices and, thus, to encourage others in sinful ways as well. These sins appear to have persisted for some time, especially the sin of the man in Corinth. And, left unaddressed, they would have had pernicious effects in undermining the fellowship, integrity, and authority of the church as a whole.
Paul understood the danger of scandalous sins, and in each case, he shows us how to deal with them.
Within the scope of the offense
As in all church discipline, scandalous sins involve confronting the person in whom sinful behavior has been observed. The difference with scandalous sin is that this confrontation needs to be done in a public manner, within the context and scope of the offense. Peter offended against the entire church in Antioch; Paul confronted him in the presence of them all. The sinful man in Corinth was “called out” in front of the entire congregation as Paul’s letter was read to them. At the same time, the congregation itself, which had tolerated this terrible sin, was also humbled and corrected by Paul’s instructions.
Peter evidently readily acknowledged his sin, and he seems to have repented immediately and maintained a deep appreciation of and affection for Paul (cf. 2 Pet. 3:15, 16). The man in Corinth seems to have been somehow justifying his behavior prior to Paul’s letter, since he was still in the church and still practicing sin. Paul’s remedy for this man was to put him out of the church and for believers in Corinth to have nothing to do with him until he turned away from his sinful practices. Paul understood that sin is very serious, and he was not willing to tolerate any Achans in the congregations of the Lord, as long as he could do something about it.
Dealing with sin
By now it should be clear that God is not pleased for us to harbor sin, whether in our lives or in our congregations. He expects us to recognize sin for what it is and to respond to it in ways that will bring about repentance or, that failing, will effect separation of sinning persons from the congregation of the Lord’s people.
But we are not likely to take church discipline seriously if we do not take sin seriously, and this is where many churches find themselves today. Whether our reason for not practicing what Jesus clearly prescribed is a fear of judging others or an unwillingness to offend, we are wrong, we are betraying the Lord’s plan for order and
growth in our churches, and we are therefore living in sin and need to repent. We cannot deal with sin effectively by ignoring or tolerating it. The only way to deal with sin is to follow the plain teaching of Scripture as often as is necessary.
For reflection or discussion
1. What would be some examples of “scandalous sin” today?
2. What happens when scandalous sins are either ignored or tolerated?
3. What standards should Christians use in judging one another?
4. What do we need to guard against in practicing church discipline?
5. Meditate on Hebrews 12:3-11. Relate this passage to the work of church discipline.
Next steps: What do you suppose would have been the consequences in Antioch (Peter) and Corinth (the man in sin) if Paul had not stepped in to confront people in their sins? Talk with some friends about this. How does this help you in thinking about the importance of dealing with sin?
Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8
“Do you love Me?”
Three times – three every public and painful times – Jesus confronted Peter with the question of his loyalty: “Do you love Me?” (Jn. 21:15-17). Peter had sinned against the Lord by denying three times that he even knew Him. The other disciples knew about this situation, and they also knew that Jesus had appointed Peter to a leading role in the ongoing work of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 16:18ff). How was this appointment to be realized, now that Peter had betrayed Jesus so egregiously? Jesus confronted Peter with his scandalous sin before the other apostles, not to humiliate him, but to restore him. This process was embarrassing and painful. We read that it grieved Peter to be asked three times whether or not he had any love for the Savior. But Jesus did not relent. He knew that they only way to realize His good and perfect plan for Peter was to lead him through the process of reflection and repentance unto full restoration and fellowship with Him and His Church.
Restoration must be the goal of all our dealing with sin – for ourselves, our fellow church members, the Body of Christ, and for the honor of our Savior and King. Sin attacks and subverts each of these, and only as we deal with sin in the ways we have outlined in this series can we recover the good purposes of God and restore those who have betrayed Him by their sin.
Restoration is a three-faceted gem. We may refer to these facets generally as revival, renewal, and awakening – the work of restoration in individuals, churches, and the larger world.
Throughout Psalm 119 we find the author seeking revival from the Lord: “revive me according to Your word” (v. 25); “revive me in Your ways” (v. 37); “Revive me through Your righteousness” (v. 40); “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (v. 50, all NASB) – and the like. The psalmist had become aware of something in his life which was preventing him from knowing the life of blessedness and joy which God intended for him. He wanted to be restored to that life, returned to that path, so that he could flourish in all the bounty and blessings of the Lord. The way to restoration, the psalmist teaches us, is through seeking daily, ongoing revival in the Lord. And this entails dealing with our personal sins according to the Word, ways, and righteousness of our Lord.
Renewal is what happens as churches, whose members are being revived, return to the good designs of God for their order, worship, disciple-making, and mission. The church in Corinth is a perfect example of what happens as God renews a church. Here was a church riven with strife, infected with scandalous sin, complacent about spiritual growth, and indifferent to the needs of others. Paul’s two letters effected powerful revival in those who heard them, and the result was that the churches in Corinth were dramatically renewed. Thirty years after Paul’s letters to them we find his disciple, Clement, writing to the churches in Corinth commending their sound teaching, humility, love for one another, famous hospitality, and their overall integrity and witness for Christ. Renewal follows in churches as revived individuals dig out the sins buried in the tents of the church and work together to return the Body of Christ to health and growth.
Awakening occurs as the impact of revived individuals and renewed churches on the communities of which they are part (cf. Mic. 4:1-8). During times of awakening the grace and truth of God flow in unusual measures through believers and their churches into the lives of the last, the lost, and the least throughout a community.
Sinners are converted. Relationships are restored. New vitality, integrity, creativity, and fruitfulness break out in all the social and cultural arenas of a community. New ventures of faith, compassion, mission, and edification begin and touch the lives of people near and far. In a time of awakening the bonds of sin that hold people prisoner to the darkness of self-interest and sin are broken by the light of grace and truth in powerful and surprising ways.
To set the prisoners free
Jesus declared that He had come to earth to set the prisoners free (Lk. 4:18, 19). Sin, together with all its destructive effects, is the greatest oppressor of men and women, keeping them in bondage to base and selfish interests. As long as we are captive to sin, including our secret indulges in betrayal, we will never know the freedom Christ intends for us. The way to the glorious liberty of the sons and daughters of God is along the path of dealing with sin. We can know true restoration – in ourselves, our churches, and our communities – if we will recognize sin for what it is, reflect prayerfully everywhere sin has been concealing itself in our midst, and repent and respond in ways appropriate to the sins with which we are dealing. Do we want to know real and joyous restoration? Then we must be willing to deal with our sins.
For reflection or discussion
1. What do we mean by saying that the goal of dealing with sin is restoration?
2. What do we mean by “revival”? How can Christians encourage one another in seeking this facet of restoration?
3. What do we mean by “renewal”? How can Christians work together to help their church move toward renewal?
4. What do we mean by “awakening”? What are the primary obstacles a church needs to overcome in order to work more consistently for awakening?
5. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from this series? How do you plan to put that lesson to work in your life?
Next steps: What is your responsibility in working for revival, renewal, and awakening – restoration? Talk with some Christian friends about this question, and agree on some things you can begin to do together to bring restoration wherever you can.
Copyright, 2014 The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview
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