If our church is not a safe place to be honest about their sin, then people will try to hide their sin and problems, trying to solve them by themselves. It's like they have fallen into a pit and desperately need rescue. Yet they have to hide from people walking by rather than being able to call out for help. How do we help them?
Sometimes — though not always — people's problems are a result of sin. There are two sides to this coin — not two faces, but two sides. We don't want to be too casual on the issue of sin, but we most certainly want to offer restoration and fellowship for those who have sinned and have truly repented.
When any of us sins, true repentance is necessary:
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:7-10 NKJV)
Repentance is not just being sorry that we got caught, feeling bad or just being miserable because of our circumstances. Repentance is a heart-felt commitment to turn from our sin and to turn to God, while resisting the devil. Jesus was protective and tender, but he also firmly told the woman who was caught in the act of adultery, "Go and sin no more." (John 8:11)
We must not be casual about sin. Our sin hurts us and those around us. Our sin has very real and dire consequences. Our sin hurts God. (Joshua 7 tells about the sin of Achan. Each of these principles is at work in Achan's story.)
Part of our human weakness is our own hypocrisy when it comes to sin. When it pertains to another's sin, we often want judgment. When it pertains to our own sin, we want mercy. God, however, demands that we forgive as we have been forgiven. (Ephesians 4:32) If someone is truly repentant we must offer mercy, forgiveness, and restoration to them. God reminds us, "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13) Jesus clearly taught that our sins would be treated with the same mercy and forgiveness that we used in dealing with others' sins. (Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:21-35)
I hope our goal is to restore people from sin rather than trying to keep score of people's sins. The apostle Paul reminded the Christians of Galatia, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:10-11) He told the Corinthians that they must forgive the repentant sinner and receive him back into their fellowship with love. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11) God's goal is always the return and restoration of fallen sinners. (Luke 15) This must be our goal as well!
While we never want to be soft on sin, we also don't want to be people without compassion and who withhold mercy for the sinner. Let's be a place where people can be honest about their sin and can return to God. Let's be a people where the broken can come and find a place to be re-made and restored.
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