Responding To Christians Caught In Sin

Text: Galatians 5:25-6:10

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

What is the church’s stance and attitude towards sin?

To be a little more specific, what is your stance towards sin in the life of another Christian?

Should you chase down every single sinning Christian you can find and drop the hammer on them? You know, let them have it, by blasting them with the Ten Commandments and then, as they say, drop your mic and walk away knowing that you have called them out?

On the other hand, perhaps you should turn a blind eye to sinning Christians while pretending the sin does not exist? You know, simply sweep them under the rug with their sin.

Or, maybe you could excuse sin away, by making the person a victim and then blame some oppressive system as the cause of the individual’s sin? In the meantime, leaving the individual in a poor victim status – wallowing in their sin? 

There is a fourth option, though; you could always go to them to help. Yes, instead of staying at a distance, you could go to the sinning person one-on-one to restore them. 

And what about the church’s attitude toward people who are sinning? That is to say; what should your attitude be toward a fellow Christian brother or sister who is caught red-handed in their sin?

Should you laugh and clap your hands with delight because they have been exposed of their sin?

On the other hand, perhaps you could maniacally indulge in the drama that their sin has produced, knowing that you now have something to gossip?

Should you coldly document their sin to accuse, bite, and attack them at some future point?  

Or, maybe could you drop your head and weep for them, saying, “Lord, have mercy on all of us”?

In today’s epistle reading from Galatians, we Christians are admonished by the Apostle Paul to do the latter. Indeed, we are called to ‘go to’ Christian friends and family members when they are caught in sin, and as we go, we are to ‘go’ with ‘gentleness’ and ‘compassion.’ Yes, we are to be gentle and compassionate; we are to have sympathy upon sinners, for we ourselves are sinners too.

But you may be thinking to yourself that this all sounds a little too mushy. It sounds like we might be trying to let people off the hook. And it sounds awfully like that empty ‘love-wins-slogan’ that rolls smoothly off the tongues of celebrities and entertainers these days.

We must keep in mind that the Apostle Paul is not talking about individuals who sin on purpose and work against God’s Word. Paul is not talking about hardened wicked people who have spit in the face of the church, rejected God’s Law, and cursed the name of Christ. You see, as we know from Jesus in Matthew chapter 18, a person who sins is to be confronted with his sin in a loving private conversation. If he repents, he is won over! However, if he fails to acknowledge his sin, well, he needs to be talked to again in private with a witness – a third party person. And if there is still no success with a witness, his sin is to be told to the church publicly. And if he continues in his hardness after the church has been told, he is to be treated with firmness and regarded as a pagan or tax collector. In other words, when people have hardened their heart and have refused to repent of their sins, the attitude of meekness no longer applies. A hardened heart does not need kid gloves, but the hammer and thunder of Mt. Sinai. Pearls are not thrown to swine.

But this is not who Paul is talking about in our epistle reading from Galatians. Paul is talking about another Christian who has sinned not out of an antagonistic hard heart but sinned because of their weakness. Paul is talking about Christians who have fallen into sin due to their weakness or lack of caution. They are caught and ensnared and maybe even trapped in sin without even knowing it. Yes, these weak Christian are not to be treated with harshness, but with gentleness and compassion. We neither slap the pagan label upon them nor treat them like an outsider, but assume that they have been overpowered or ensnared in temptation. 

You see, the world is slippery. The devil is also sly. And we Christians can fall quickly into sin. For this reason, Paul calls you to have sympathy for other Christians. Indeed, a godly Christian has sympathy with sinners and does not delight in digging through their sins. A godly Christian does not press their ear close to the grapevine to gather dirt on someone else to knock them down with condemnation. Christians do not collect sin as a way to enact vengeance upon other Christians, but rather, they go to them to help redeem them from their sin.

You see, if you find joy in hearing about the sins of your fellow Christian brothers and sisters and then you exaggerate their faults, vilify them, and pass the judgment of hell upon them, you are doing the work of Satan. Tragically, more often than not, when we hear the sins of other Christians, we place ourselves right alongside them by not restoring them with gentleness and compassion.

Dear friends, when our brothers and sisters in the Christian faith fall into sin, we must watch ourselves so that we might not be tempted to sin ourselves. Indeed, it is so easy to hear about sin one moment and in the next to be breaking the Eighth Commandment by assassinating another person’s character.

Lord, have mercy on all of us! Yes, Lord have mercy on you and on me. 

Dear friends, when our brothers and sisters sin, we must first of all cry ourselves, because we have either fallen into the same sin before or can fall in ways that are similar. Indeed, we must always remember what we are sinners. We are always beggars before God. Now, after remembering that we are sinners, we go, by God’s grace, to our sinning brother or sister and point out their sin. We do this so that there might be confession of sin and forgiveness of sins applied in the name of Jesus to our loved one.

Indeed, we go to restore them gently. Restoring them is calling them back, and loving them as a fellow-member of the church. Restoring them is helping them to face reality and not allowing them quietly to slip away from us, or from the truth. You see, if we do not restore our brothers and sisters from sin, that sin will ultimately prove deadly to them and often it can damage the whole congregation as well.

All of this is the nature of the church and what it looks like to be guided by the Holy Spirit. That is to say; we do not excuse sin, we do not diminish sin, and we do not celebrate sin, for that is about the most uncompassionate, rude, and hateful thing a Christian could do to another Christian. How could we leave a fellow Christian abandoned in the ditch of their sin? How could we leave a fellow Christian ensnared in sin? Furthermore, we do not use another Christian’s sin to torpedo their reputation behind their back while chuckling in our self-righteousness.  But rather, we Christians go to the person with the hopes of redemption, restoration, healing, and forgiveness in Christ. We go in the spirit of humility to restore them and possibly bear their burdens with them.  

If you think about it, this is exactly what Christ Jesus has done for you and me. This is love: Christ Jesus did not leave us caught in our sins. He did not excuse our sins, He did not diminish our sins, and He did not celebrate our sins, for if He had, He would not have gone to the cross. And if He had not gone to the cross, we would be left in our sins. And left to our sins we would be left in damnation. But because of His great love for us and His rich mercy, Jesus could not leave us in the ditch of our sins but was compelled to the cross – in love – to do something about it.  

Dear Baptized Saints, while we were yet sinners, Christ Jesus came for us and died for us. He could not leave us in the condemnation of our sins. And so, you and I being led by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments are given holy impulses to walk in this same fashion. That is right; we beat our chest, confess our sin, lament at the sins of those around us, and by sheer grace go to those caught in sin for their restoration – restoration that we all need! Yes, restoration that is freely given to you, to me, and to all.
In the name of Jesus: Amen. 

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