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“A Christian is not sinless, but a Christian sins less”. This statement shows that a Christian does sin but he strives to sin less. “My dear children…. If anybody does sin….” (I Jn 2:1). Many Christians have taken this statement as the license to sin against the Lord. Temporarily there is pleasure in sinning but each one of us will have to suffer the consequences of the same. No believer can get away from the consequences because he is a child of God. Peter says, we should keep ourselves holy as the Lord is holy.
The Word of God teaches us that there is a possibility for a believer to be trapped in sin and go away from God (Heb. 6: 5; 10: 26, 29; Gal. 6:1; Jam. 5: 9; 1Jn. 2: 1; 5: 16; 2Tim. 4: 10). God’s Word also teaches that a believer who sins should be punished (1Cor. 5: 5; 1Tim. 5: 20; 2Cor. 2:6). So let us analyze the above subject according to the Word of God: HOW A BELIEVER, A CHURCH, AND GOD WOULD DEAL WITH A BELIEVER WHO SINS…!
- HOW SHOULD A BELIEVER DEAL WITH A SINNING BELIEVER (MATT. 18: 15-35)
This portion of the Word of God shows how a believer should deal with the other who sins. If a brother sins against another, go to him secretly and show him his fault. This is the first step. If he is not willing to accept or listen to that brother, 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 continues to refuse to listen even to the Church, treat him as he would a pagan or a tax collector, for these kinds of people were separated from the Jewish community. However, if he sins against only one person, it would be better to have patience towards him to repent. In Matt. 18: 21, 22 Jesus says to Peter to forgive your brother for 490 times; this shows us how much more we should be patient in forgiving. Verses 23-35 encourage us to forgive patiently as much as the Lord forgives us.
Gal. 6:1 says “if someone is caught in sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. The meanings of the Greek word used for restoration are: to rejoin the broken bone and to mend the torn nets. Therefore we should not be in a hurry to separate a person who sins, from the Church; rather try to restore him as much as we can. One who does that is spiritual Gal. 5:16; perfect in faith 1Cor. 2:15; Heb. 5:13, 14; and kind Gal. 5:22. We should also bear in mind that there is always a possibility for us to fall into the sin when we do these kinds of services Gal.6:1; I Cor.10:12. Therefore do it prayerfully.
Jam. 5:19-20 says that there is a way to bring back a person who wanders from the Truth. We should approach him by prayer. The meaning of the word “wander” as used here in verse 13 (Jude) in the context of “wandering stars” indicates a believer, who wanders from the Truth; one who has lost his hope and expectations. The verses go on to say that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death. So it shows that a believer who is continuing in sin would die before the time that already has set for him Jam. 5:20; 1Cor. 5:5; 11:30; Heb. 6:8; 10:27. These verses are not talking about the evangelisation through the gospel but restoration of a believer who sins. Nowadays, people who are able to restore a sinning believer are very rare in our Churches and society. So let us pray for the sinning believers patiently that they may be restored to the Church (I Jn. 5:16).
- HOW SHOULD A CHURCH DEAL WITH A SINNING BELIEVER
The church is the institution of God on earth where He reveals His Holiness and Righteousness. The church should reveal the righteousness of God through punishing and rebuking the sinning believer. It should be done without showing partiality. However, nowadays we often see in the local churches, sins are covered according to status, fame, and wealth. This is a horrible sin that the elders of the Churches do. Many people are more interested to reveal the sin of poor believers and try to accuse them publicly, but the Word of God declares that there should not be any partiality in the Church. That will spoil the holiness of the Church. Therefore let us think about the benefits we get when the church punishes the sinning believer according to the word of God.
- It produces spiritual growth (Titus 2: 8-15)
It becomes a punishment of God’s grace when they were rebuked strictly by the spiritual believers. That in turn would help the sinners to come back to God and grow spiritually.
- It produces righteousness and holiness as the fruit of peace (Heb. 12: 10, 11)
When the church punishes a sinner (Mt. 18:18), it would help him to come back to God, and be holy. Also it will produce righteousness as the fruit of peace even though he would be sad for a while.
- It restores (2Cor. 2: 5-11; Gal. 6:1, 2)
It would be like a fractured bone being rejoined, when a sinner comes back to the church. In 1Cor. 5: 1 we read about an incident of adultery (which we rarely see among the Gentiles) had happened in the Corinthian Church and that believer, although he had to go through the process of punishment by the Church, did come back and repent. (2Cor. 2: 5-8) Because he was restored, Paul asks the Corinthian believers to forgive, comfort, and love him more.
- It produces fears in believers (1Tim. 5: 20; Acts 5: 5, 11)
When the believers happen to see a sinning believer is punished it would help them to fear, and not to be trapped in sin.
- It saves from death (Jam. 5: 20; 2Cor. 2: 5-8)
When a sinner is punished and separated from the fellowship of the church, he is given to Satan to whom he yielded himself, so that God’s punishment would be revealed in order to destroy his flesh (1Cor. 5: 5). If he is willing to accept the punishment, repent, and be obedient to God then he would be saved from the death. God gives life to those who do not sin unto death (1 Jn. 5:16)
- It covers the sins (Jam. 5:20)
When a sinner who has gone astray from the faith, repents and comes back by confessing, God forgives him. Because he has come back to the fellowship of the church, the believers forgive him, though he has to suffer the consequences of his sin. Thus his sins are covered.
The Church should not have the intention that he would perish when he is to be punished. Instead the church should punish him bearing in mind that he is a believer, in order to earn him for Christ. Therefore let us consider the process of punishment that a Church should obtain towards the various sins people commit.
While the Church punishes the public and revealed sins that people commit, God will punish the sinner who sins secretly. If anyone does not obey the Church and commits sin among each other, separate him from the fellowship (Mt. 18:17). We should not have fellowship with him. One who does not live and obey according the Word of God, advise him (2Thes. 3: 6-14), and if he still he does not obey then set him apart, and do not have any relationship with him (2Thes. 3: 14). But do not mull over him as enemy.
If someone is caught in sin because of tests, temptations and burdens, he should be restored gently by one who is spiritual (Gal. 6:1), so that they would repent and be restored. People who are selfish, self deceivers and teaching things they ought not to teach should be rebuked sharply until they shut their mouth. Teach them that they should be strong in faith and keep them away from the false teaching. Warn those who cause divisions and teach false doctrines in the Church. If they do not obey, then we should keep ourselves away from them (Rom. 16; 17; Tit. 3:10). We must not associate with anyone who is immoral or greedy or an idolater or a slanderer, or drunkard or a swindler (1Cor. 5:11), but expel the wicked man from among the believers. With such a man do not even eat (1 Cor. 5:11). So be on your guard against false teachers. Do not take him into your house or welcome him (2 Jn. 10, 11) rather hand them over to Satan (1 Tim. 1: 20; 2 Tim. 2: 18).
If there is an accusation against an elder then it should be brought by two or three witness and those who sin are to be rebuked publicly (1 Tim. 519). If their sin is severe then they should be removed from the post. A real elder would repent and confess his sin before it is brought forward and quit his post and live a faithful Christian life. Those elders who do sin, should not cling on to their position as today’s elders do. The church should make sure that these kinds of people are removed from the post. Therefore the church should deal with a believer who sinned, carefully, gently, righteously, without partiality, prayerfully and punish him so that God’s justice would reveal him in order to bring him back for the Lord.
- HOW DOES GOD DEAL WITH A SINNING BELIEVER
God is the one who punishes sin. God will punish all the secret sins and public sins. The Lord disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:5). Our God who punishes the sinner and ungodly in eternal hell will begin His judgment in the Church (1 Pet. 4:17 – 19). We can see the ways in which God judged His people.
- Through Message (2 Sam. 12: 1-14)
Nathan was sent to King David to convince him of his sin. Therefore God uses His message to convince his people of their sins and punishes them, so that they would return to God.
- Through Meaninglessness. (Eccl. 12:8)
Solomon the wisest man on earth enjoyed all the pleasures of sin; but he was brought back to the Lord because of the meaninglessness of life that he felt. He was convinced that true meaning and happiness of life are in the Lord. In the same way, the Lord brings back the carnal believers.
- Through Tragedy (Jonah 1: 3,4)
The tragedy, that he never thought would happen, was brought about in the life of Jonah, who disobeyed and went away from the Lord. This tragedy caused him to obey the Lord there after. Therefore when we go away from the Lord he will bring us back to Him through these kind of agonies and sufferings (Heb. 12:10, 11).
- Through His great Love (Lk. 15: 20; Jn: 21: 15-17)
When the lost son lost everything that he had, he returned to his father. The father ran to his son, threw arms around him and kissed him. Our heavenly Father is patiently waiting for his children, who have sinned and gone astray, to return. Jesus the great shepherd loved and entrusted a great service to Peter, who betrayed Him. The Lord Jesus is waiting for believers who have sinned to return just as Peter returned. The great love of Jesus would compel the sinning believer to return to Him.
Therefore may the Lord help us to discipline a believer who has sinned, according to God’s righteousness and without partiality. Let us forgive and forget his dealings when he repents and returns to the Church.