What do we do if another believer is caught up in sin? Do we ignore it or challenge them?
James 5:19-20 tells us that we have responsibility to another believer and that we can’t be indifferent to him or her.
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
Now that sounds straightforward enough, but what kind of approach should we take? Should we be stern and harsh with them or should we be more gentle and loving?
Below are 7 steps we can take to confront another believer in sin.
These are based on Gary Inrig’s book Quality Friendship. By looking to how God used the prophet Nathan to restore King David after he had fallen into adultery with Bathsheba, we can follow this example ourselves.
Know the facts
Nathan had full knowledge of what had happened between David and Bathsheba. He was able to bring David’s sin to light based on these facts so that, once exposed, the king could not deny it.
Similarly, we must make sure we know the facts properly. If we merely assume our friend has sinned based on gossip, or inaccurate or false information, we can be more damaging to them, and that can be devastating to the relationship.
Wait for God’s timing
Nathan approached David in God’s timing. It was a full year after David had sinned with Bathsheba. Perhaps God had been already doing things in David’s heart and preparing him to be receptive to God’s message.
Likewise, we must wait for God to work in our friend’s heart. We must also not be quick to cast the first stone as we remember that we are also in great need of forgiveness ourselves.
3. Choose your words carefully
Nathan didn’t speak with condemning words or make David feel humiliated. Instead, Nathan used a clever parable in 2 Samuel 12:1-15 about a rich man who stole another man’s lamb to get through to the king. As a former shepherd, David would have been familiar with the whole experience, and this would have resonated with him.
When we speak to someone about their sin, we must also ask God to give us the words to speak. We don’t want to merely chastise them simply for the sake of doing so. That will make them feel even more discouraged and that they can’t come back to God.
We must use words that will not be condemning or accusatory but affirming and life-giving. These will help restore that believer back to a right relationship with God.
Speak to our friend in person but do so in private
When Nathan met with David, he did so in person rather than via a letter. Additionally, he spoke to him in private and did not publicly humiliate the king.
When we confront another believer, we should not send them an email or text message. Instead, we need the courage to speak to them in person, even if we are unsure of how they might respond.
Likewise, we must also not publicly humiliate them such as posting (even subtly) on social media, or shaming them indirectly through a talk, sermon or blog post. They’ll feel their sin is too great and that even other believers frown upon them.
Point them to God
When Nathan finished his parable, in verse 11 he concluded with “This is what the Lord says”. Nathan helped David to focus on God and on His word.
When we examine ourselves against God’s word and holiness, it is only then that we can fully comprehend the gravity of our sin. This is what Nathan compelled David to do in order for him to understand what he had done.
After this, David’s response was in verse 13 was “I have sinned against the Lord.”
We must adopt a similar approach if we want someone to recognize their sin. If we don’t, they may simply become defensive, refuse to admit or rationalist their behavior.
6. Assure them of God’s forgiveness
After David admitted his sin Nathan assured him that the Lord forgiven him and he himself would not die. However, because David had shown contempt for God, his son would still die.
It’s important to note that although God’s forgiveness restores our relationship with Him, it won’t necessarily remove the consequences of our sin. We may still suffer the effects of our actions. This is something to make our friend aware of so that they don’t take it lightly. They may sometimes lose out on a blessing. However, we can assure them that they can know the joy of walking with the Lord again which is the most important thing.
We can also point them to God’s grace found in Jesus Christ, who has taken the ultimate consequence of our sins upon himself so that we don’t have to suffer what we would rightly deserve.
Affirm both God’s love and your love for them
Although David’s son did die, a year later he and Bathsheba had another son whom they named Solomon. Nathan gave Solomon the name Jedidiah, which meant “beloved by the Lord.” This demonstrated God’s ongoing love for David and also Nathan’s own love for him.
We need to ensure that our friend knows that God loves and values them and that we do as well. This can give them strength to endure and go on rather than losing heart and hope.
By following these 7 steps, we can restore another believer to the truth and back to a relationship with God. We can also help them know that God will welcome them with open arms as He longs for them to walk with Him again.
Guest Post by: Robert Sang
Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel.