If you have been in consistent Church fellowship for any amount of time you have come across some precarious situations. Brothers and sisters in Christ have issues. Those issues are sometimes dealt with before they get too big in consequence or they turn into disastrous situations. Sadly, both situations require a good counselor. Therefore, every Christian brother or sister in Christ will need to come alongside one another and give Biblical wisdom. So what should we say and do? Here are four lessons for someone who is counseling a brother or sister caught in sin:
- Remind Them to Confess All Their Sin to God – David confessed his Sin to God and received a blessed forgiveness (Psalm 32:5). When we tell people ‘God forgives you’, that is not true unless the person acknowledges their sin to God. They also must not hide their iniquity from God and at the same time confesses their transgressions to God (Psalm 32:5). David used three words to convey his sin in Psalm 32: sin, iniquity, and transgression. He didn’t hide anything. We have to be careful to not promise something only God can give (e.g. forgiveness), especially when there is a resistance to complete confession. For more on Psalm 32 see my previous article: 5 Ways to Fight Sin With God.
- Don’t Lessen the Conviction – Often times we want to be there for our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are going through the consequences of their own actions. We can often say things like, ‘Don’t worry…Christ is gracious… it’s ok, God will forgive you…we’re all sinners.’ None of those are wrong in and of themselves, but they don’t honor the person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit plays out in the activities of convicting us concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-9). That’s a promise. Remember, God is not responsible for their temptation and sin. The sinner is guilty of letting their thoughts (e.g. lusts), lead to unbiblical beliefs (conceived in their heart), and then that leads to the birth of sinful actions (James 1:13-15). When we see a brother in sin we are to be there for them, remind them of their offense against God, and pray that the Holy Spirit guides them to godly repentance and sorrow (2 Cor. 7:9-13).
- Mediate Restoration if Possible – It’s sad, but often there are others involved that are hurt or a part of the problem. Our goal in Biblical counseling is to attempt restoration. The Bible is clear that brothers and sisters in Christ should be able to work out their differences and not get into long-lasting sinful behaviors against one another (Matt. 18:15-21). This includes disunity (1 Cor. 1:10-17), immorality of any kind (1 Cor. 5); lawsuits (1 Cor. 6:1-9), selfish conflict (James 4:1:12), a lack of hospitality (1 John 3), or even a boss who is to forgive a fleeing worker who needs to return to their labor (Philemon). In fact, restoration is so important to our faith that James ends his epistle with the theme of the truth restoring others from their sins (James 5:19-20). If one party is not willing to seek restoration, then it becomes a discipline issue and may even reveal their true spiritual state (Matt. 18:17). Sadly, many jump from Church to Church avoiding accountability and dealing with prior situations that demanded restoration. Perhaps this is a part of what Jesus had in mind with his parable about the tares among wheat. Ultimately, God will deal with the final judgment (Matt. 13:24-28, 36-42). For more on Church restoration and discipline see my previous article: Is Church Discipline Biblical?
- Pray with Purpose – We often leave prayer out of our counsel. We can say too much without leaving time for prayer. Prayer allows us to seek God for the results of sanctification and signifies our trust in him to deal with the process. Sometimes prayer can reveal more than our advice. Jesus gave us a purposeful plan in prayer. Some use the ACTS acronym or other helpful resources. Whatever the plan is, make sure you help the person order their prayers purposefully by seeking God’s wisdom and will before they seek specific answers to personal circumstances (Matt. 6:7-13). It is helpful to remember that prayer and forgiveness for others and from others works hand in hand (Matt. 6:14-15).
Bring these four lessons with you the next time a brother or sister in Christ comes to you with sin. I pray that you will be filled with Biblical wisdom as you come alongside others in their walks with God. Amen!
David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.