Not long ago, a number of adults in my Christian community had the courage to step forward and report abuse they’d suffered as children at the hands of a well-known Christian leader.
Of course they hadn’t reported what happened at the time. They were powerless, vulnerable, terrified children.
Although we tell children to tell if someone if someone hurts them, we often don’t back up our words with our actions.
Sadly, the faith community most of these kids grew up in placed guilt on those who tried to seek accountability for abuse and justice for the abused.
One of the most tragic and sickening aspects of their story is that after suffering torture as children and abuse aftermath into adulthood, they were abused a second time by Christians who castigated them for reporting the criminal offenses perpetrated against them. Christians criticized them as unloving and unforgiving and did so in the name of Christ.
Unfortunately, Christians sometimes teach that it’s unloving and unbiblical to hold Christian leaders, pastors, friends, relatives, and other Christians accountable for sin.
People justify this line of thinking by saying Christians are called to love one another, and love “covers” a multitude of sins. “Covers” as in buries sin, hides sin, conceals sin, and pretends sin isn’t there or isn’t important. Love means we would never expose someone’s sin.
Unfortunately, this line of thinking just isn’t true. Jesus certainly never shied away from calling people out for their sin (the Pharisees, the woman at the well, Nicodemus, etc.). He confront the sin in people’s lives because He loved them, and this is how He expects us to respond to Christian brothers and sisters who are struggling with sin. Jesus’ incarnation in a human body on earth is God’s statement that the price for humanity’s sin is so egregious that it could only be paid for by His Son’s life.
We cheapen Jesus’ sacrifice when we minimize sin’s presence, power, and putrifying consequences.
Imagine eating your favorite meal at a fine dining restaurant with your husband, your best friend, and her husband. The bill comes and you find you owe several hundred dollars for the meal. You’re stunned and horrified because you know you don’t have the resources to pay.
Suddenly, your friend’s hand reaches across the table and slips the check out of your fingers.
“I’ll cover it.”
Her generosity doesn’t nullify what you owe. Her words and actions acknowledge that the debt you incurred needs to be paid. You racked up quite a bill, but she’s will to pay from her own resources.
This is how Jesus covered our sins for us. We’ve all racked up a debt of sin. We have no resources to pay on our own. Jesus paid everything we owed.
He gave up the wonder of heaven to live on a sin-infested planet in a human body with all of its limitations and frustrations.
He took every sin ever imagined or lived out upon Himself so we could be free of sin’s curse.
He gave up His life to torture and excruciating execution so we could experience freedom and life.
So how should we respond when a Christian friend seems to be caught in the grip of sin that’s eroding their life or the lives of those they love?
A few suggestions for how we can help lovingly restore Christian friends who may be struggling with sin:
- Approach them with love and humility. No matter what someone’s struggle, it could be yours or your loved one’s some day. We never know where life may take us. I’m very, very grateful that I’ve not been confronted with many of the life challenges that dear friends have faced. Pray for a heart of gratitude and humility before reaching out to others.
- Acknowledge the sin as sin, which is always accompanied by pain and loss. Sin isn’t making a mistake. It’s not messing up. Sin is violating God’s requirements, breaking the rules He’s implemented for our protection. Sin always comes at a cost–broken relationship with God and with others. Show compassion and grieve with your friend over the pain their sin has caused. Graciously help them count the cost of their actions for themselves and others. But confession must be accompanied by repentance, a change in behavior that demonstrates that the person has established a new direction in living.
- Establish appropriate and biblical consequences. Do they need to offer an apology to the person/s they wronged? Do they need to establish boundaries? Make reparations or restitution? Make lifestyle changes or relinquish habits or behaviors? Step down from a position or relinquish a title? Allow someone physical space and time to heal? Seek professional counseling or treatment?
- Cover the sin with mercy and offers of restorative steps. Offer hope that when we repent and turn from our sin, God promises hope and a future. Pray together and ask for the mercy you would hope for for yourself or a family loved one in this moment. Ask God to provide encouragement and your friend to establish resolve to walk through steps of restoration. Show genuine compassion (sympathy, warmth, kindness).
- Forgive. Forgiveness typically isn’t a one-time act by an ongoing decision to lay down one’s rights to be vindicated or proven right and desire good things for the offending party. We often have to do this over and over again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean a release from consequences because consequences (not retaliation) are the most profitable and therefore loving circumstances that can come into a sinner’s life.
- Establish accountability. Accountability will look different, depending upon the circumstances of the sin. Criminal charges may need to be filed. A pastor may need to be asked to resign from his position. A family member may need to be asked to seek counseling or rehab. Accountability also requires consequences if someone fails to follow through.
In some cases, people choose sin over and above anything else.
A pastor of a Bible-preaching Midwest church recently announced he’d lost his passion for God, the Word, the church, and his family. It was later discovered he’d established a relationship with another woman, but other problems had also overtaken his life. Church leadership removed him from the pulpit and offered a lengthy sabbatical so the pastor and his wife could work on their marriage. The church paid for marriage counseling, They offered to pay for residential treatment at a Christian rehab center. Over a period of months, the elders surrounded him with prayer and offers of medical assessment and various forms of support. He declined again and again. After announcing that he planned to divorce his wife, the pastor was asked to resign and now lives in another community. The church continues to assist his wife as she raises their children.
These are the stories that break our hearts. Wives, husbands, friends, employers, parents pay the price of our sin.
The world needs us to see, empathize with, and love people enough to ask, “What’s going on beneath the gambling/drinking/affair/partying etc?”
Then who are willing to sit down, listen, and love.