Confronting Sin

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.  Matthew 18:15-17.

This is a tough subject to talk about, partly because so many think that the authority given to us as believers gives us the right to beat the sin out of everyone.  There are those who believe it’s their responsibility to confront sin, which means they go on a crusade to cleanse the world of it by any means possible.  Jesus’ method above, however, tells us we are to only confront the family of God when they’ve done wrong.  Private sins are privately confronted, unless the wrong doer remains unrepentant.  The importance of this method cannot be overstated in my opinion.  Without following this guideline we tend to give people ammunition for misunderstanding the gospel and/or claiming they were never informed.

The first step seems almost too elementary, since it focuses on a one-on-one private conversation.  Yet all of us have experienced a time or two when someone spread the news around our community of friends and acquaintances about the wrong we’d done them without ever talking to us about it first.  Jesus discouraged gossip or slander by making it a mandate of godliness to confront the problems between believers head on.  Just the two people involved need know, and no one else is privy to the issue.  Using a non-confrontational method might sound better but it is really a passive-aggressive way to deal with the issue rather than a means of solving it.  Or, it acts as a way to put the wrong doer in their place without having to go through the pain of confrontation (a form of vengeance).

Let’s stop here and reflect for a few sentences on what this means about forgiveness.  Many in the church teach—or at least practice—non-confrontational forgiveness in order to show grace and mercy.  Jesus, on the other hand, taught we shouldn’t let a sin against us fester or be ignored.  Psychologically we know unresolved problems tend to either make a wimps out us or plant bitterness in our souls.  Sin is real, it’s harmful if swallowed and not very good for relationships.  Unfortunately, many of us have a poor view of God in this matter and show our lack of understanding as to the nature of God’s view of sin by doing nothing.

Notice Jesus didn’t tell us to sue, ostracize or defame the other person involved.  Instead we are to go talk to them about the situation and do our best to resolve it between just those whom it affects.  No one is asked to punish the wrong doer, give them hell or pay them tit for tat.  Neither does He recommend we break the door down with both gospel guns blazing away.  The method of confrontation here is about love, community and keeping a relationship whole, not peace at any cost.  I have used the other method in the past, talking to other people instead of the one I’m upset with directly, and the misunderstandings grew many times larger than the issue itself quite often.

Have you ever played the telephone game where one person whispers some sentence into the ear of the person next to them and it goes around the circle until it reaches the original source?  I’ve laughed over the end result so many times, but it also shows me how easily communication can be twisted into something entirely different by a simple misread truth.  I tell someone who’s already in a bad mood about my frustration with that other person over there, they take my frustration and add to it their dark slant, then it grows a little.  When that next person retells it to someone else, the situation sounds more serious than it really is, and that person dramatizes it to someone else.  At the end of the conversation, what the original truth looked like won’t resemble what the modified version has come to be.

The reason for such careful confrontation seems to be the need for reminding everyone, first, that sin is not to be excused.  Second, all sin and fall short of the glory of God, therefore no one has moral superiority over anyone else.  If a man has ever sinned in his life, he’s a sinner saved and restored to holiness by grace.  In other words, our past continues to be a part of our history no matter what we become in Christ, and that means none of us can boast of righteousness before God or man.  Yes the sin is cast into the depths of the sea, and God removes the sins from us as far as the east from the west (infinitely), but the historical fact of the condition which required such a rescue never changes.  What does change is our future.

Third, Jesus declared the following not only as a point of bestowed authority but, I believe, as a warning:

“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two ro three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew includes a seemingly random teaching hard on the heels of confronting sin and immediately before the parable on forgiveness.  Considering the context these two verses say something vital to us about our attitude while confronting sin.  The parable right before our key passage is about God’s heart when one of His sheep are lost.  If God’s heart is longing toward reconciliation, what should we do?  The answer seems obvious to me.  So, then, what is our attitude supposed to be towards the pagan and the tax collector?

Well, to answer that, we need to know what Jesus’ attitude towards them was…and that is?

The Pharisees and rulers of the synagogue accused Him of being “a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’.” The Pharisees and those who get excited about the look of religion will never be satisfied with those who make friends with sinners because the world’s view is “guilty by association.”  However, if our light is shining at all brightly, it can only shine by the power of the Light of Men (Jesus), otherwise there would be no light.  In other words, while we might befriend “tax collectors and ‘sinners'” we don’t conform to them or become bound by the futility of their thinking, which by Jesus’ definition is darkness.

The world writes off those who don’t conform to them—or kills them.  God, on the other hand, is eager, longing for us like a Father waiting on a wayward child, and not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  2 Peter 3:9.  If this is the Father’s heart for all of humanity, what should ours be?  Again, the answer is obvious.

“In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Hmmm…Jesus follows this statement with a teaching on confronting sin.  He tells a parable about lost sheep and the shepherd’s anxious search for it, then teaches about confronting sin between brothers.  The two ideas are tied together, for sin is in its essence denial of God as our Sovereign and confronting it is a means of healing the rift developed by it.  On the other hand, we cannot extend forgiveness to one who refuses to even acknowledge they’ve sinned.  At this point, however, Jesus instructs us to “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector,” which means we can associate with them in a limited way but our viewpoint changes about who they are—unrepentant sinners.

Do you see the contrast?

An unrepentant sinner is one who is outside of wholeness, who has broken relationship with the person he or she sinned against and the body of Christ.  If we are all a part of His body, to cut one part is to wound the whole.  I once smashed my finger with a hammer tacker (a roofing stapler that acts like a hammer), believe me, my whole body ached for that finger, it was so painful I couldn’t do anything but try to breathe.  I think this is what Jesus wants us to know about sin in the church.  Even private sins affect the body of Christ in the spirit realm.  It affects the effectiveness of the body as a whole if one person cannot deal openly with their struggles, which is one of the many reasons Jesus told us to bring it into the light.  An unrepentant sinner denies Christ as the definer of what is good or evil, right or wrong, righteousness or sin.

A repentant sinner has restored the relationship with God and man, or restated another way, become reconciled to them.  It doesn’t mean the person is any less guilty of the sin, rather it points to a willingness on their part to give God the final authority over their lives.  When we admit an action or attitude is “sin” from a Judeo/Christian POV, we acknowledge that our God is right.  In other words, He is the one who defines what is right or wrong, righteous or sin; all other definitions are thrown out to be submitted to this one ideal.  A repentant sinner has confessed that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through Him.  This attitude of humble admission works as a catalyst for healing whatever wounds sin caused between members of the body.

The point Matthew is trying to bring out then must be to adjust our motivation for confronting sin in the church.  God wants us to love the person so much that we will do the dirty work of lancing the boil of sin with one another.  It’s for the purpose of wholeness not image; the attitude of reconciliation not religious piety; the restoration of joy in the family of God not a sense of social standing.  The motivation is love, the purpose is love, the end result is love.

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5 Responses to “Confronting Sin”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    I loved the way you explained this. I’m going to redirect my traffic to this post in a week or two!

  2. Confronting Sin « TLC4Women Says:

    […] I read Jon’s blog on a regular basis. This post caught my attention and it’s worth a read for all of us. Click here to read all about it! […]

  3. Frank Says:

    “We are only to confornt the family of God when they do wrong?” I am shocked by statement. How then, can we proclaim the gospel? How can we alarm sinners to their need for a Savior? I find it more loving to speak to someone about thier foul language…pornography…etc – then to let them live under God’s wrath.
    The passage is about someone sinning against you – not about someone sinning in general

    • jonnysoundsketch2 Says:

      You’re right to a point, Frank. My statement here is not about preaching the gospel or in any way saying we are not to speak truth to the world. But the context of Paul’s statement clearly tells me I am not to be the judge for the world—or a policeman of their sins. I can speak to them about it, disciple them in it and generally make them aware of what is in keeping with righteousness, but I am not to hold them accountable for their sins for that is God’s job alone.

      The only place I have the obligation to hold people accountable to the righteousness of Christ is His body. The reason for this, from my grasp of the subject, is because we are supposed to agree on standards of reasoning, moral decorum and spiritual insight. The rule for these standards being the Word of God–both written and inspirational.

      Frank, if you tell a Muslim or Hindu their lifestyle doesn’t match up with God’s Word, they will ask immediately, “Which God?!” You can’t control their behavior or hold them to a standard they won’t accept. While we can and should live in contrast to the world—hence the confrontation between members of the body—we are not their judge, though in the Judgment we will be their jury.

      Everything in its time. For now we are to preach the good news of salvation, which includes exposing the sin of the world, yes, but it doesn’t include us policing them or holding them accountable to God. That’s why I believe Paul worded it the way he did, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’ ” 1 Corinthians 5:12, 13.

      To confront sin in the world in a general way is part of the message of the gospel. To hold them accountable through specific, personal confrontation is the job of the only true Judge.

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