How Should A Christian Address “Another Persons Sin?” (Part 1)

Recently I posted the following thought on social media: “When you attack another believer you are attacking Christ.  Be careful what you say about others.”  My reasoning was that all believers are a part of the “body of Christ” and Christ is the head.  Jesus accused Saul of persecuting Him because Saul was persecuting the church, or “the body of Christ.” Even though Saul wasn’t persecuting Jesus directly, Jesus viewed attacking the believers as an attack against Him. In reply to this post, someone asked me to “define” attack and they followed up that request with “The word of God is pretty clear thay (sic) we are to not only call each other out on sin, but call each other out on outright heretical teaching that is contrary to the Gospel.” (Emphasis is mine).  So the question I hope to answer here is “How should a Christian address “another persons sin?”  Should we “call each other out?” And if so, what does that look like?  If not, how do we handle someone else’s sin? Do we ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist?  And who is defining what is sin?  Do we go with the broad definition from the Bible that “…whatsoever is not of faith is sin?” (Romans 14:26).  Wow! So many questions!  Let’s get started!

To get started I want to look at how Paul handled the issue of sin among believers and how he dealt with heretical teaching in the churches. Paul gives us several opportunities to look at how to handle these situations.

The Corinthian Example

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul addresses the church at Corinth in regards to a serious “sexual” sin that was “among” them. It was so serious in fact that he called it a “kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.”  So I believe we could say that Paul was “calling them out” on this sexual sin.  But here’s the rub, he was addressing the entire church at Corinth, because in Paul’s words, “you are proud!” In other words the church itself, including the leadership was proud that this man was committing this sexual sin!  Paul even had to tell them that “Your boasting is not good!” How crazy is that! So yes, there is Biblical precedence for “calling (the church) out” for tolerating and encouraging sin. But notice Paul addressed the church directly. He didn’t write a letter about this situation and post it in a public place for all to see (ie Facebook).  It is damaging to the church’s witness when we tolerate sin in the church and it is equally damaging when we make a church’s tolerance of sin a public issue or a particular believers sin a public issue. Paul’s conclusion to the Corinthian situation is to “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

Paul was able to do this, because he had a “relationship” with this church and its people.  He knew them and he was concerned for them and for the soundness of the gospel and the doctrine he had given to them. Too often I have seen people “attack” other believers on Facebook or on their blog without really knowing the “facts” of the situation.  They read someone’s opinion and without ever looking to find the truth, they simply re-post and further promote the slander of another believer.  I’ll state this as plainly as I know how, “this is just wrong!” If you see or know of a fellow believer who is in error, please have the courage and courtesy to confront them directly rather than lambaste them all over the internet for the whole world to see. (Read this post by Frank Viola on “Warning: The World Is Watching How We Christians Treat One Another”)

The Galatian Example

Paul gives us another example of how to deal with someone who is “caught in a sin.”  In Galatians 6:1 he tells the church “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”  This is a matter of “restoration” not “destruction or attacking.”  The goal of “restoration” is never to hurt or attack someone it is always to help them.  Tweet This  If our intent isn’t to restore and bring the offender back to a place of fellowship then we have the wrong motive.  It is the responsibility of the spiritual to restore them “gently,” or as the KJV says “in the spirit of meekness.”  So yes, we are to address “known sin,” but not something we concoct up as what we think is sin or what we think someone has done because we read it on the “internet.”  I’m tired of the rumors and slander that goes on in the church body. When we address sin with someone we know and are in community with, it must be done in the spirit of meekness and gentleness with the intent to restore.

The Timothy Example

Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”  Whenever the gospel is shared it should contain these three aspects:

  • Correction
  • Rebuke
  • Encouragement

Correct or Convince – This refers to correcting behavior or false doctrine by using careful biblical argument to help a person understand the error of their actions.

Rebuke – This deals more with correcting the person’s motives by convicting him of his sin and leading him to repentance.

Encourage or Exhort – This refers to calling to a person. To admonish, exhort, to urge one to pursue some course of conduct (always prospective, looking to the future). This is the positive side of preaching. Whereas the first two are the negative side.

Biblical preaching must be balanced. If there is conviction (correction and rebuke) but no remedy (exhortation), all we do is add to people’s burdens. On the other hand if we only encourage those who should be corrected or rebuked, we are assisting them in their sin.

Here is the key factor in all this, it must be done with “all longsuffering” or as some translations have it, with great patience. Results are seldom immediate. We must be patient with those who oppose us or who simply don’t understand or are not yet at a place where they are ready to believe or even at a place where they are ready to admit their sin.

In the next post (How Should A Christian Address “Another Persons Sin?” – Part 2) I will share the proper and improper ways to address sin in the life of another believer.

— Keith



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