“Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NASB).
Dealing with sin in the lives of fellow believers is one of the most difficult tasks God has given Christians. It’s much easier to carry out the other injunctions relating to body function. Consequently, many churches ignore this responsibility entirely. Others treat it lightly. Still others deal with the issue of sin only rather than with the individual or individuals involved.
What does the Bible say about the subject? This was Paul’s primary concern when he exhorted the Galatians to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). This should not surprise us since he had just discussed in detail what it means to keep in step with the Spirit rather than to engage in the acts of the sinful nature.
Then Paul came right to the point-“Brothers, if a man is trapped in some sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself; you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
Paul made the matter crystal clear. Christians do have issues they still need to deal with even though they have been born again and are spiritually alive. You can be a Christian and still be carnal or living by the flesh, even controlled by the flesh. “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly [carnal]-mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly [carnal]. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? [that is, as non-Christians]” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Paul’s description of the Corinthians’ behavior with one another-their jealousy and quarreling -correlates, of course, with what he described in his Galatian letter as the “acts of the sinful nature.” They were still “walking in the flesh” rather than “in the Spirit.” Their relationships with each other were anything but reflections of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and fruit.
But back to Paul’s Galatian letter. Here the apostle emphasized that dealing with sin in the life of a carnal Christian certainly was not a task for others who were also carnal. Rather, he wrote, “You who are spiritual shall restore him” (6:1). True, all Christians are responsible to minister to each other, but only those in the body of Christ who are walking in God’s will are to deal with sin in the lives of others. This is why Jesus spoke so pointedly about this matter: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:39, 41-42).
This, of course, puts a very heavy responsibility on pastors and elders in the church. If you are a leader in your church you must constantly make sure you are reflecting Jesus Christ in your own life. This is why James warned: “Not many of you should act as teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
But note when Paul wrote to the Galatians that restoring a person who is “trapped in some sin” was a task for spiritual Christians, he did not mean it was a job only for the leaders of the church. Rather, it is a responsibility for all Christians.
Furthermore, this is not an excuse for Christians to remain carnal. To be in the will of God, we must grow and become like Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter made this clear when he wrote: “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and slander of every kind. Like new-born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:1-2).
In summary, then, spiritual Christians have a definite responsibility to help carnal Christians-especially those who are “trapped in some sin.” But even further, we have a responsibility not to cause them to sin. Paul wrote to the Romans: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:1-2; see also 1 Corinthians 8:9).
Restoration Is a Task for More Than One Person
Paul directed this exhortation at more than one member of the church. He used a plural pronoun when he wrote “you who are spiritual shall restore him.” Jesus Christ outlined a very important procedure when dealing with sin in the life of another Christian. He said: “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).
In this passage Jesus specifically outlined the procedure for handling sin in the life of someone who has sinned against another Christian on a personal basis. In such cases, correction is to be on a one-on-one basis also. You are not to talk to others, but directly to the person who has sinned against you. However, if he will not listen, then take several others with you when you talk with him again.
Carl had spread rumors that Dale was going bankrupt. Because clients were cautious about giving long-term contracts to Dale, they switched to Carl’s firm. Carl laughed when Dale confronted him about the spreading of such falsehoods. But when Dale took two of the church elders and his accountant to see Carl, Carl soon realized his error and asked for forgiveness. He also promised to stop soliciting any business from Dale’s clients and to inform them of Dale’s solvency.
There are also sins that cannot be categorized as sins against another Christian. Rather, they are sins against the whole Christian family. In these cases, Paul indicates that a carnal Christian should be approached by several spiritual Christians immediately. Thus he wrote: “You [plural] who are spiritual should restore him.” This, of course, has some very practical ramifications. This kind of task calls for corporate wisdom and strength. In some instances, as we’ll see, it is dangerous to tackle the problem alone.
Restoration Is a Task to be Done with Genuine Humility
“Restore him gently!” wrote Paul. In essence, he was referring to humility. Thus he wrote later: “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:1, 3).
Christians who approach another Christian about sin must do so with a great sense of their own unworthiness to be called children of God. In fact, Paul made it clear to Titus that we are to even approach non-Christians in this way-“to show true humility toward all men.” Then he explained why.
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy” (Titus 3:2-5).
In other words, Paul was exhorting Titus to remind the Christians at Crete to approach everyone with a true sense of understanding and humility. Christians should always remember that it was only God’s grace that had saved them when they were yet in their sins. Putting it even more specifically: no saved person who truly understands the grace of God in his own life can approach any person with arrogance, pride, or a sense of superiority.
Paul’s concern in writing this portion to the Galatians was how to help Christians who were “trapped in some sin.” He admonished all spiritual Christians to approach that person with an attitude of true gentleness and humility. In so doing they would help carry that person’s burden with the same attitude Christ approached us while we were yet in our sins. This is why Paul himself appealed to the Corinthians-who were trapped in many sins-“by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10: 1).
The Apostle included his most extensive elaboration regarding this concept in his second letter to Timothy. He warned this young man to avoid getting into quarrels with people who were opposing the truth of God. Rather, he wrote, “be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct [with patience and humility], in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
There is no more effective approach than a gentle, compassionate, kind and patient approach when dealing with another person (Col. 3:12). A harsh, bitter, insensitive approach only threatens the person who is at fault. Since Christians in this condition are already weak and very guilty, they will usually not respond positively to a strong, negative encounter. Such an approach may only make the problem worse.
We’ve all made mistakes in dealing with sin in the lives of other Christians-as a parent with his children, as a pastor with his people, or as one Christian with another. I’ve had the best response confronting those who are out of fellowship with God when I acted in harmony with Paul’s injunctions to treat others with gentleness, humility, and meekness. I’ve had negative responses when I was insensitive, too quick to judge, and too harsh in my words. I may have been right in my observations, but wrong in the way I went about seeking to correct the person who had sinned.
But note that some carnal Christians will not respond to this approach-no matter how humble, kind, and gentle you are. Fortunately, most will, but there are exceptions. Paul was on the verge of having to face the exceptions when he first wrote to the Corinthians and dealt with their sins. So, he gave them a choice. “What do you prefer?” he asked. “Shall I come to you with punishment, or in love and with a gentle spirit?” (1 Corinthians 4:21) Some Christians are so caught up in their sins, so self-deceived, and so arrogant that they will not respond to a gentle approach. If they do not, we must then take a second step in church discipline-to break fellowship with that kind of Christian.
Here Paul pulled no punches with the Corinthians: “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolator or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
This was the final step, and Paul’s firmness in love brought unusual results. The Corinthians dealt with the man in their midst who was living in flagrant immorality. Evidently they also came to grips with their own sin. Thus Paul could write in his second letter: “Godly sorrow brings repentance. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11). And then, too, the immoral man who was expelled from their midst also became repentant. In a Christ-like fashion, Paul exhorted them to forgive the man, to receive him back, love him, and encourage him in the Christian faith (2 Corinthians 2:5-8).
In summary, then, spiritual Christians are responsible to help carnal Christians overcome their problems with sin. But we are to restore them gently-with humility and meekness.
Restoration Must Be Done Cautiously
When several Christians, even spiritual Christians, approach someone to help him escape from the trap of sin, it must be done carefully. “Watch yourself,” warned Paul. “You also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
The lusts of the flesh are very deceptive-and very attractive. And some Christians, when attempting to help another believer who is trapped, in some sin, soon find themselves participating in the same sins. This Paul warned against.
Some pastors and Christian counselors have attempted to help women who are having sexually oriented problems and end up as a part of the moral problem. They allowed themselves to be open to temptation – or took advantage of the one who came for counsel. How tragic! And what a warning
to every Christian!
Not long ago, a well-known Christian leader-an outstanding evangelist and president of a well-known Christian college, became involved with one of the women students. Eventually he divorced his wife and left the ministry altogether to live with this young woman. What a pity! And how devastating to the Christian community.
How easy it is for a well-meaning Christian, particularly one who is weak in certain areas of life, to fall into Satan’s trap. This is particularly tragic when the person is attempting to help another Christian overcome his sin. We have a responsibility to carry each others’ burdens, but we must do so very carefully. We must make sure we are mature enough to be able to handle the problem. This, of course, is the primary reason why Paul wrote, “You who are spiritual should restore him gently.” And even then we must watch ourselves, since we may also be tempted.
Yet we must not let a fear of personal failure keep us from fulfilling God’s will towards other Christians. Most of us, even if we are spiritual, know our areas of vulnerability. In some instances it would be wise to have another Christian who is stronger than we are in certain areas help us handle certain problems in the lives of others. Then, too, there are problems where we should always have more than one person involved in the confrontation – particularly when dealing with a sexual problem. We must remember, for example, that a person who is immoral sexually may also be a persistent liar. Some carnal Christians have falsely accused other Christians who have tried to help them, thus marring the helper’s reputation also.
Yes, we must be on guard for temptation in our own lives when we attempt to help a carnal Christian. But thank God for Paul’s promise to the Corinthians-and to us: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Restoration Must Be Done Prayerfully
James adds an important dimension to the process involved in bearing the sin burdens of other Christians. “Confess your sins to each other,” he wrote in his epistle. Then he spelled out why: “And pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
When a Christian indulges in sin, when he “sows to please his sinful nature,” he will from that nature, “reap destruction” (Galatians 6:7-8). Obviously a non-Christian who does not turn to Christ but continues in his sin will end up spending eternity without Christ. But “destruction” also involves Christians who do not keep in step with the Spirit, but rather, indulge in the acts of the sinful nature. There is inevitable deterioration in their lives-spiritually, psychologically, and physically.
James seems to indicate that some Christians were physically ill because of sin. (Note that James does not say that all illness is caused by specific sin. Rather, he wrote, “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” [James 5:15) This, of course, correlates with Paul’s observations regarding some of the Corinthian Christians who were living carnal lives. In this case, they were partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. “That is why,” wrote Paul, “many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep”- that is, died! (1 Corinthians 11:30).
James encouraged believers who were living in sin, and who were sick because of that sin, to confess to other Christians so they could pray with them. Generally, though not exclusively, this was to involve the elders of the church. Earlier in the paragraph, James wrote: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” (James 5: 14-15).
Restoring a Christian, then, should involve prayer. And prayers can be quite particular if the effects of sin have become obvious in the individual’s personality. There is no reason why Christians in the 21st century should not follow the practice of having the elders of the church anoint with oil and pray for the sick-no matter what the cause of the illness. God, of course, does not promise to heal all believers, but He does honor obedience and faith. And in many instances, if it is according to His will, He will actually heal. Sometimes in dramatic ways!
Practical Steps for Dealing with Sin in the Lives of Other Christians
Evaluate your own life. Are you among those who are spiritual? That is, are you ordering your life by the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit? Are you living in such a way, and in relationship to other Christians, that the fruit of the Spirit is obvious in your life?
Check yourself! If you classify yourself among those who are spiritual, you will reflect love and joy; you will be at peace with other Christians; you will demonstrate patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
And whatever you do, remember Jesus’ words, “Don’t try to take the speck of sawdust out of your brother’s eye when you have a two-by-four in your own” (see Matthew 7:4).
Make sure you are evaluating another Christian’s life-style from a true biblical perspective. Some Christians go around compulsively looking for sin in other Christians’ lives. Some Christians are expert at making up “extra-biblical” lists to help them evaluate sins. This, of course, can quickly lead to judging others (see Romans 14:13). Of course, judging person’s heart is sin in itself. It reflects a pharisaical attitude.
On the other hand, Christians are to be concerned for those Christians who become trapped in some sin. In love they are to gently, cautiously, and prayerfully restore such persons. Not surprisingly, just before Paul admonished Christians to “bear one another’s burdens,” he catalogued the “acts of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:19-21). This list in turn became a biblical criterion for determining what is indeed sin in a believer’s life. This is a supra-cultural list, guideline for all time.
Note: There are four lists, representing four translations. This is done to enable you to discover more specific definitions of what Paul listed. Some of the Greek words he used tend to be general and interrelated. The four viewpoints will help you determine more accurately what Paul was saying. [see the end of this article]
Once you have evaluated your own life-style and have made sure you have biblical grounds for evaluating another Christian’s actions as sins, you are then ready to follow biblical procedures in confronting that Christian about his sin.
There are three levels of disciplinary action in the New Testament. First, we are to warn a Christian about his sin, attempting to restore him and release him from Satan’s trap (1 Thessalonians 5:14; Galatians 6:1-2). If a person does not respond and turn from his sin, then we are not to fellowship with that Christian (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14). The final step is removing the person from fellowship – to actually consider this person as if he were an unbeliever (Matthew 18:17).
It has been my experience that when one follows proper procedure in dealing with sin in the lives of other Christians, it is seldom necessary to go beyond the first level. Unfortunately, it is at this initial level that we frequently fail to act.
Furthermore, it is this first level that Paul had in mind when he said we are to “bear one another’s burdens.” And for what purpose? In order to restore the person who is trapped in sin. This is the true purpose of all discipline, no matter on what level we’re operating. Discipline must always be done in love and with the purpose of helping the person turn from his sin and to once again “keep in step with the Spirit” rather than engage in “the acts of the sinful nature.”