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What to do when someone sins?

What follows is some thoughts to get my team thinking but I think it's applicable in a wider context...


Observation - students sin. They do, like the rest of us. Say the words "student sin" and what comes to mind is probably sex, drugs and alchol but that's an error - you'll find at least as much if not more student sin (especially among Christians) in pride, youthful-passions, arrogance, laziness and poor stewardship of resources and time and money, and that's to reflect on my own student life.

A key place to see how to disciple one another is to conversation between Paul and Peter - the day Paul observed Peter standing condemned, out of step with the gospel for breaking fellowship with Gentile believers by re-imposing food laws. (Open up Galatians 2 for what follows)

Peter’s unspoken objection is that if he sins it’ll look like Jesus endorses sin. Paul says no. Christians who sin don't imply Jesus thinks sin is ok. In fact we expect it to happen - believers don't always do what they want to do. Rule-based answers to sin only prove people to be rule-breakers.

Instead Paul boldly and pastorally takes Peter back to the cross of Christ. 

Paul reminds Peter that it was at the cross that these two Jewish Christians had died to their old life. Paul says to Peter "the my life you're so worried about is already dead". It doesn't count any more. What counts is the life lived by faith in the Son of God who loved them and gave himself up for them. Paul’s answer to Peter’s sin is to preach the death of Christ and the life of faith in the risen Son to him.

This is vital because persistence in sin and trust in law both constitute a denial of the cross, to which the only cure is the cross. The cross which is not meaningless but meaningful.

Paul is recalling this account for the Galatians who have wandered into similar law-treatment of sin. He asks that they recall the message he preached to them. Did he publicly portray the meaningless death of Jesus? No, he painted with his words the meaningfulness of the cross of Christ for them. This is where change comes from. This is where new creation began for them, by faith in this. This is where life in the Holy Spirit began. This is the basis on which miracles happened and suffering was inflicted upon them. To turn elsewhere is to depart from the cross and deny it. Discipleship doesn’t happen on a different basis to evangelism. In both cases it takes an engaging explanation and application of the gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring about change. To convict, to transform.

The pattern of the Christian life is not rules and regulations, permissions and principles – it is Christ crucified and raised, and faith in that.

So, treat others in sin as you treat your own sin. Portray before your heart once more the meaningfulness of the cross and resurrection. Let the Spirit impact upon you that your life is lived in union with Christ who loved you – dying is death, rising with him. Everything in him. The only cure for sin is Christ. Subsequent change of life is slow-burning. The language Paul selects in Galatians is that of fruit grown by the Holy Spirit, and freedom given opportunity. There is action to take but it comes as fruit of the Spirit’s work in my heart, it comes from the liberty I have because of Christ and in Christ. It comes from a life that boasts only Christ – where the emphasis is on Christ not on my boasting; life that is looking to Christ – where the emphasis is on Christ not my looking.

What to do when you hear a report of someone "sinning"?

Don’t freak out, don’t be surprised. Take the opportunity to be humbled again by the gospel – for you need it as they do. Let the gospel teach you to love your brother or sister, who with you is in Christ, clothed in him, filled with the Spirit of the son. Go to them, watching yourself and gently restore them by telling them again of the Christ who loved them, giving himself up for them. Day by day let us be taking the opportunity to do this – to be seeking to be in step with the gospel, challenging one another – being challenged by others at least as often as we would challenge them. Stand together at the foot of the cross and feel the joy of the gospel as if you’re hearing it for the first time though in truth Christ has patiently revealed himself to you many times before. Stand together, in the anguish of childbirth for them, and seek changed life flowing from a changed heart. Ask, what will it look like to keep in step with the Spirit in this situation.

And though we care not for our legacy, let us be known as those who care not for reputation or being able to boast in those entrusted to us – but let us be known as people who would always treat others with the grace that is found only in Christ. Be remembered as one who loved them and had only had one note to sing.

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