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When Should You Confront a Fellow Christian’s Sin? Part 2

Photo of Jeremy BaconJeremy Bacon | Bio

Jeremy Bacon

Jeremy is a divorced single dad who lives in Illinois with his three amazing children. He has a bachelors and masters in theology, which is not always super-useful at the retail job he's worked since 2006.

For Part 1, click here.

We need to figure out how to love our fellow Christians enough to confront their sin.

Yet we avoid the question. Why? Why are we reluctant to intervene with fellow believers engaged in obvious disobedience?

First, perhaps we’re afraid of their spiritual immaturity.

As we’ve looked at in-depth, people do not naturally respond well to being corrected. Yet Proverbs holds out the “wise person” who can respond well.

“Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning” (Prov. 9:8-9).

Again, we’ve mentioned before that Christianity provides the exact resources (grace and forgiveness) to help us face our faults. Yes, we have to gauge what an individual is ready to handle, but if they’re never ready, something is seriously wrong.

Obedience is the single greatest way to know Jesus better. 

Second, perhaps we’re afraid of our spiritual immaturity.

This is a perfectly rational fear.

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).

Perhaps we’ll be tempted by the same sin as that person, or by the lingering temptation of judgmentalism itself. If Jesus is always driving at attitudes, then attitude is key. Attitude is what makes the difference between harmful judgmentalism and a life-saving intervention.

So Paul emphasizes restoring them gently.

Also, many of these “intervention” passages imply or clearly state that it should be done in groups (Mt. 18:15-17). While this is based in the Jewish legal tradition (Deut. 19:15), there’s also some practical wisdom here. If other people also see a need for an intervention, then it’s much less likely that I’m just venting my own neuroses.

Third, we’re afraid of the mess.

The “mess” simply is the lack of clarity. Does this merit an intervention or not? Is this any of my business? What is the morally right thing to do here? What is the effective thing to do here? Often, none of that is clear.

We could get it wrong. Maybe we do the morally right thing in an ineffective way, and it just makes things worse. Or maybe we are morally out of line. We stand on the edge of this mess, this unclarity, the waters of chaos.

Remember, trying to walk across that water on your own is madness. Only the Holy Spirit can guide through that kind of thing. So Paul says, “You who live by the Spirit should restore that person” (Gal. 6:1). And when we fail, remember that’s what grace is for.

Lastly, we’re afraid of legalism.

Are we just going to be piling up rules on people? This is spiritually toxic in the extreme. Either they will (1) ignore the rules like a rebellious teenager (“it’s too hard, so why even try?”), (2) think they are keeping the rules and thus become twice as much of a monster, or (3) settle somewhere in the middle, hoping they’re “good enough” but living in constant (and correct) fear that they are not.

Those responses are unacceptable, so instead we slide into what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.” What do I have to do to be saved? “Nothing, absolutely nothing.” What do I have to do to be right with God? “Nothing, absolutely nothing.” What do I need to change? “Nothing, absolutely nothing.”

What is Christ calling me to? “Nothing, absolutely nothing.”

When we ask, “What do I have to do to be right with God?” we get stuck on the dilemma between legalism and cheap grace.

That’s because the question itself betrays us. It shows that we’re approaching God on transactional terms. We’re relating like we’re in a marketplace making a business deal. How much does this thing cost, and who is going to pay for it? The tendency of nearly every religion to devolve into a rules-based system probably shows a universal tendency to relate to God in transactional terms.

But that’s not how God relates to us. He literally stepped into our shoes. He got a house in the neighborhood (Jn. 1:14). He wanted his followers to understand that they were his friends and he loved them (Jn. 15:9-15).

Jesus didn’t relate to us in transactional, market, business terms. He related to us in social, personal terms. Because the point of all of this (seriously all of this) is to know him. Personally. According to Jesus, that literally is eternal life (Jn. 17:3).

So how do we know Jesus?

Please understand that the commands Jesus gives, all the imperatives in the Sermon on the Mount, are not arbitrary rules. They show us his heart. That is why obedience is the single greatest way to know Jesus better.

When we grow in holiness, we experience the heart of Jesus. We come to know him through having shared life experience with him. He and we have spent time in the trenches together.

So how can it be healthy to “judge those inside?” Only if we are the community of those who burn with a desire to know Jesus more.