My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James5:19-20
James exhorts believers of Jesus to be involved in the messy lives of fellow Christians, that indeed pointing out unrepentant sin is the most loving thing we can do. Unfortunately, there is debate as to the necessity to involve oneself in others peoples’ sinful tendencies. While some are quick, even at times eager, to stick their noses into affairs that do not concern them, others are hesitant to be bothered by the messy lives of those around them. While these are certainly the extreme positions, most Christians are unsure as to the extent of their responsibility. What’s the most famous Biblical principal non-Christians know? Don’t judge lest you be judged… But this isn’t what James is calling us to. He is calling us to point out unrepentant sin in the life of a fellow believer. Judgement leads to death but repentance leads to life.
The question then becomes, how do we effectively address/confront unrepentant sin in those in our Christian community so that it will lead them to repentance and joy? We must admit that the truth of how one ought to hold one another accountable lies somewhere in between the two positions outlined above.
The prophet Ezekiel received the following charge from the Lord:
“When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’; and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezek. 3:18 NAS)
The Lord is very clear about the responsibility we have if we are entrusted with the truth of the gospel. As those who know the Lord and His commandments we are responsible to encourage one another to quickly repent of sin through the grace that Jesus gives. There are certainly those who are quick to accept the responsibility to confront others sin, only to abuse it at the first given opportunity. We must be aware of the awesome responsibility that comes with the command to encourage the sinful to turn from their way.
We aren’t merely responsible to confront them on their sin, but confront them in light of the love and grace Jesus has given. The apostle Paul spoke clearly that we must not only speak truth, but that we must speak it in love.
But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, (Eph. 4:15 / NAS)
Paul makes a statement that is certainly worth remembering when confronting sin. Jesus himself pointed out that before taking the speck out of a brother’s eye one ought to remove the log out of one’s own eye (Mt. 7:1-5). In the same context, Jesus warns of the danger of being judgmental against a brother. When you approach a brother in gentleness, love and patience, that person will hopefully realize your intentions are good and that you are confronting his sin to lead him to repent and ultimately live a life pleasing to the Lord.
There has to be a differentiation in the way a brother is approached. Some are by nature more stubborn, others more timid and easily wounded. Paul and Jude give similar advice to the Christians as to how to approach different people with correction. Paul suggests to the Thessalonians to “… admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.” (NAS) In similar fashion Jude encourages his readers to “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”
There is a desperate need in the church today for men and women to stand up and speak the truth to one another in love. As modern day Christians, we have become too comfortable or too critical; some condemning, others condoning, and both have to stop. We as children of the Almighty Holy God have to live in accordance with his Spirit. We must never condone sin, but always love our neighbor. Out of this love a concern will grow for their holiness (if they are believers) and for their salvation (if they are unbelievers).