How should we counsel believers who are needing to come out of deep sin? We should treat them as if “God in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” That is, with believers, we should believe them to be believers as we seek to shed light on their disobedience. Of course, more complicated scenarios arise when a hard heart and rebellion are revealed as unyielding to gracious pastoral help; but here, I am seeking to address the simple situation of confronting a sin for the first time. Paul teaches us about this.
If you read Paul’s handling of the sins of Corinth, according to 2 Corinthians, you will find these kinds of encouragements growing out of the text:
– Confront sin with love, even if the confrontation will be painful. (2 Cor 2.4)
– Remind them that God has done a good work in them already (2 Cor 7.1)
– Do not regret the pain that happens in the loving truth of the process. That is, don’t avoid the process out of fear of the pain. (2 Cor 7.10)
– As they repent, and after they repent. show them that this very repentance is a vision of God’s powerful work in their lives, one that gives hope. (2 Cor 7.12)
– Rejoice with them in their repentance. (2 Cor 7.7,9,13,16)
– Expect that bringing scripture and church ministry to bear against sin will sniff out the life or death of the one confronted (2 Cor 2.14-16)
This all comes out of Paul’s interaction with the Corinthian church, a ministry that was established well, where the people were full of faith and knowledge and zeal. They had been eager to help in the support of other churches, and had responded well to the word and wonders of the apostles the first time around.
And yet, in Paul’s absence, they had some committing acts of sexual immorality, and so he had written them with stern words about the truth concerning their error.
For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted.
(2 Corinthians 7.8-13)
Show Them Their Own Salvation – Show Them The Spirit at Work
I find it fascinating that Paul’s confrontation was given in order to reveal to the Corinthians their own continuing earnestness for the apostles. This means that he knows they will repent and end up seeing just how much love they do have for the word of God and the New Covenant ministry coming from the hands of the apostles.
This means further that when they are in deep sin, he confronts them with the confidence that they are honest-to-goodness Christians who are caught in sin. So he goes into the ministry of confrontation with all hope that they can indeed recover to repentance.
In fact let us have hope in the ministry of reconciliation because as Paul says,
“…Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere,” (2 Cor 2.14). We are not merely treating men with some habitual benefit of the doubt, granted because it has good psychological effects. We are covenantally bound to treat a baptized man like a clean man. Paul uses the same exact kind of exhortation all through Romans 6.
If you are baptized, he says, you are clean, and resurrected – so since you are a resurrected man, you must consider yourself as dead to sin and alive to Christ. He adds, since you are are alive, don’t act dead!
Call Them to Be Who They Are
We are to allow ourselves to have enough hope and confidence in God’s Spirit’s power, and faith in his covenantal promises that we are able to see sinning Christians as Christians first, and to call them to be who they already are.<>