How To React When a Christian Friend Falls into Sin

Many of us know situations where a Christian friend fell into sin. These friends typically respond to the resultant shame by distancing themselves. They fear that everyone is judging them. So church members have often been left wondering where so and so went. The sin story eventually comes out. So, how should Christians react when we discover that our friend has fallen into sin? 

We, as Christians, often tend to avoid the brother or sister in Christ who has sinned. We fear being associated with the sinner. In other cases, a Christian leader may publicly expose someone’s sin and justify his actions as aimed at encouraging the rest of the congregation to be holy. Such public announcements will not restore the Christian brother or sister (Galatians 6:1). Shame will not drive anyone to holiness. Hence, none of these reactions are actually biblical. The following segments highlight how Christians can biblically respond to such instances. 

Restore Them, Don’t Shame Them

Consider Romans 5:8, which says, “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Here, we see that God calls sin what it is, but as a response, he demonstrates his love, not shame. His goal in calling out our sin is reconciliation (Romans 5:9-11). Christian love must indeed call out a brother’s sin for what it is (Luke 17:3, Matthew 18:15), but this must be done only with the aim of restoring the brother (Galatians 6:1).

We also see in Ephesians 2:1-9 that God knew that we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2), and children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Despite this fact, he treated us with mercy, love and grace (Ephesians 2:4-5). Moreover, he saw the good works we would do after we have received his grace (Ephesians 2:10). When we find out that a brother or sister is walking in sin, we, like God, ought to treat them with mercy, love, and grace—encouraging them unto good works through the power of God’s grace. 

We know that whenever a Christian brother or sister falls into sin and is unrepentant, we’re to confront them following the steps listed in Matthew 18:15-20. But as we do so, we’re not to treat him or her like an enemy, but as a brother or a sister (2 Thessalonians 3:15). We’re also to reason frankly with them, in love and not take vengeance or hold a grudge against them (Leviticus 19:17-18). Whenever we do confront a brother or sister who is in sin, we’re to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and not let corrupting talk come out of our mouths (Ephesians 4:29). We also are to let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, malice, and slander be put away from us (Ephesians 4:31). We’re to do our best to maintain unity (Ephesians 4:1-3) and to live at peace with all men (Romans 12:18), especially those who are brothers and sisters in Christ, even though they may be in sin. Lastly, we must be kind and tenderhearted and be accepting of them upon their confession of sin (Ephesians 4:32). 

What if They Don’t Repent?

There are times in scripture when brothers or sisters will seemingly not repent of their sins. What are we supposed to do in such scenarios? The apostle Paul has a sad example of a man in the Corinthian church who was sexually immoral with his step-mother (1 Corinthians 5:1). This was a violation of Scripture (Leviticus 18:8). The man obviously was not repentant of his sin to the point that Paul said he needed to be delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5). This sounds like a harsh statement, but Alexander and Hymenaeus were also turned over to Satan in 1 Timothy 1:20. The goal of such actions are not to destroy Christians, but to restore them. Paul wanted Alexander and Hymenaeus to get delivered from blaspheming (1 Timothy 1:20). The goal of turning the sexually immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5:1 was also restoration: that his “spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). 

In the New Testament, we see that unrepented sin has physical effects on Christians. For example, Ananias and Sapphira died because they lied about giving all their money from their sold land to the church (Acts 5:1-11). We also see that the Corinthians took communion without repentance (1 Corinthians 11:27-29), leading to judgment that led to weakness, illness, and even death (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). This is what being turned over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh looks like. Whenever God agrees with us to turn an unrepentant Christian over to Satan (Matthew 18:18), it is not something that he does in hate but in love (Hebrews 12:5-6). The goal of God’s discipline is not to destroy an unrepentant child but for them to share in his holiness, which is a good thing (Hebrews 12:10). Praise God that he is merciful, even in our indiscipline.

How do we know when it is time to turn someone over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5)? Matthew 18:15-20 teaches us to confront the unrepentant brother or sister three times. Confront them one-on-one, then with another believer, and then with a representative of the church (Matthew 18:15-17). If they refuse to repent after these three attempts, we are to treat them like tax collectors or gentiles (Matthew 18:17). We treat them like they are not members of the church and turn them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. This does not mean that you cannot say hi to them or eat dinner with them. What it means is that they are not welcome to fellowship with you personally or at church anymore until they repent. You would not pray for their comfort in the destruction of their flesh but for their repentance and deliverance, for them to stop living in sin. Remember, it is better to enter the kingdom of heaven without an eye or a hand than for one’s whole body to be thrown into hell (Matthew 5:29-30). 

Welcome Them Back After Repentance

When your Christian friend finally repents of their sins, welcome them back to fellowship with you and in church with thanksgiving (Ephesians 4:32). Celebrate with them that they have repented as the prodigal son’s father did (Luke 15:20-23), and as God does (Luke 15:7, 10). Also, the newly repentant Christian friend will most likely have consequences to bear because of their sin. Please don’t avoid helping them carry these burdens. We do this because we love them, and love bears all things and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). 

Confronting a friend in their sin with the goal of restoration is an act of mercy (Jude 22-23), not hatred. If you stay silent and never confront them because it would be awkward or potentially end your friendship, you are not showing mercy but the opposite. You usually succeed in letting your unrepentant Christian friend feel your merciful intentions when you use few words in private as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery. He said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). 

True love rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6) and hopes all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). Therefore, a loving Christian will tell an unrepentant Christian friend the truth, though it hurts. They do this with the hope that they will be restored. So, will you confront your sinning Christian friend? Don’t avoid or shame them unnecessarily, but be wise and merciful as you confront them.



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