by Steven Chan
The Bible says in 1 John 1:6-2:2: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”
- Christians ought not to continue in sin as we have died to our former carnal life when we were buried with Christ in baptism (Rom 6:1-6). Sin should no longer reign in our bodies (Rom 6:12)
- While Christians ought not to sin (1 John 2:1), the reality is that Christians are not perfect and will fall into sin due to the temptations in this world. When we sin, the Bible tells us that we “ought to confess our sins” to Him, and that God will forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This confession of our sins to God is not a “license” for us to continue to sin (Rom 6:1). If anyone thinks he can willfully “cheapen” the grace of God and use it as a license to sin, the Bible warned against “insulting the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:26-19) as our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29), One ought not to continue in sin.
- When a Christian is overcome by sin, the Bible says: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who arespiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” (Gal 6:1)
a.The needed action is that of the “restoration” of the erring brother to a “reconciled” relationship with God (2 Cor 5:18-20; Psa 51:12) because his sin has separated him from God (Isa 59:2). If the brother who has ‘erred from the truth’ is restored or converted or turned from his wayward way, then ‘his soul would be saved from death, and his multitude of sins would have been covered’ (i.e. forgiven, covered by the blood of Christ; James 5:19-20; Rom 4:7)
b.The needed action is not to “condemn” the brother who has been overtaken by sin for there is one who ‘judgeth’ (i.e. condemneth), that is, Christ (1 Cor 4:5; Rom 14:10-13; James 4:11-12). In the account of John 8:1-11 about the woman caught in adultery, the action of the scribes and Pharisees was not to ‘restore’ but something else; they wanted to trap Jesus: ““Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have somethingof which to accuse Him.” They were not interested in the spiritual condition or the spiritual well-being of the woman who was overtaken in sin.
The needed action is to ‘restore’; ‘repentance’ through the knowledge of the truth is the objective: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Tim 2:24-26)
c. The needed action is not to “condone” the sin or to “accept the sinner”. This is evident in the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the church at Corinth concerning ‘the immorality of the man who had his father’s wife’ (1 Cor 5:1). Paul rebuked them for their “acceptance” of the relationship and the brother who had committed such an immorality: “And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.”
But aren’t we supposed not to “judge”? Listen to Paul’s reply: “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Cor 5:3-5).
Our beloved apostle Paul warned thus: “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.” By that, he meant that the tolerating or acceptance of such immorality in the body of Christ would have a bad ‘leavening’ influence on the other members of the body. The “little leaven” of immorality had to be ‘purged’ or ‘removed’.
To make his teaching clearer, Paul explained: “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”(1 Cor 5:12)
d. In the account of John 8:1-11 about the woman caught in adultery, Jesus illustrated the application of the above principle when He said to the woman: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). Jesus did not condone the sin of adultery of the woman; He did not condemn her. He told her “not to sin any more”. When we sin, we seek forgiveness from God; we are comforted that out of His abundant mercy, God forgives us when we repent and confess our sins to Him. Likewise, we ought not to condemn; neither to condone the sin or the act of the sinner. Instead we are to “restore” the brother who is overtaken by sin, by ‘urging him to sin no more”.
e. What if the brother who is overtaken in sin, refuses to ‘confess’ his sin or to ‘repent’ from the error of his way? The Bible says in Titus 3:10-11: “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” A factious man is one who is stubbornly self-willed and persists in his actions, even to the extent of causing divisions in the body of Christ. The needed action is to “reject” him; not to “accept” him.
This is consistent with what Paul wrote in 2 Thess 3:14-15: “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” He is a brother who believes in Jesus but one who has “erred” from the truth and is in need of being ‘restored’ to a ‘reconciled’ relationship with God from whom he has been estranged because of his sin or error.
Such a practice is also consistent with what Jesus taught with regards a brother who refused to ‘confess’ his wrongdoing or ‘repent’ of his sinful action: “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” (Matt 18:15-17) Although the ‘sinful action’ here is that of a ‘personal wrongdoing’ between two brothers, the principle applied is the same: “if the person refuses to hear the church”, then is to be ‘rejected’ as a ‘heathen or tax collector’ – this simply means that he is no longer to be treated as a fellow believer who ‘walks in the truth’. The apostle John rejoices with those who continue to walk in the truth: “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 3-4; 1 John 1:6-9)
Brethren, let us remember the exhortation of the Scriptures when a brother is overtaken in a trespass or sin. Let us truly be disciples of Christ in all things, including how we ought to approach those who are overtaken in a trespass or sin. Let us remember the Golden Rule of Christian conduct as stated in Matt 7:12; to treat others in the same way as we would want ourselves to be treated by others. When a brother is overtaken in a trespass or sin, let’s do our very best to ‘restore’ such a brother in a spirit of gentleness, looking out for ourselves lest we also fall into sin.