In this series, I’m looking at the topic of sin and the church. Primarily, I’m asking the question, “What should the church (that is, believers) do when they discover that another believer has sinned?”
In the first post (“Sin and the church – Part 1“), I suggested that neither the holiness nor the purity of the church is dependent upon our actions or inaction. Instead, these are determined by God, in his setting us apart from the world (holiness) and giving us the righteousness of Christ (purity).
To me, this is very important, because as we read through Scripture, we are continually indicted and convicted of being sinners. Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to teach from Matthew 5:27-32:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:27-32 ESV)
In the previous passage of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-26), Jesus convicted everyone of murder. He says that if you have hated your brother, then you are guilty of murder. Similarly, in Matthew 5:27-32, Jesus tells us that we are all guilty of adultery in our hearts. While the physical acts of murder and adultery are certainly sin and while they certainly bring about bad consequences in a person’s life, the lust and hatred in a person’s heart is sin, even if the person does not act on the lust and hatred.
For a moment, consider only Matthew 5:31: “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery.” Imagine a situation where a wife does absolutely nothing wrong (yes, an impossible situation, but imagine it anyway). The wife has no “sexual immorality”, so the “exception clause” (whatever that means) does not apply. Yet, if the husband decides to divorce the wife, Jesus says that the husband has made the wife an adulteress. We can “explain away” Jesus’ words if we want to. But, to me, his pronouncement demonstrates the pervasiveness and inevitability of sin. Primarily, he demonstrates that none of us are innocent. (By the way, this does not get the husband off the hook. I think Jesus had some very negative words to say to those who cause others to sin.)
Of course, even if someone suggests that they have never had lust for another person or never hated another person, James 2:10 makes it clear that we are all both murderers and adulterers:
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10 ESV)
Remember that James is talking to believers. He is writing to the church and reminding them that they are guilty of breaking the entire law. We are all murderers, adulterers, liars, and thieves. We all dishonor our parents. We all fail to love God. We are all idolaters.
The question from the beginning of this series was, “what should the church do when they discover that another believer has sinned”? This question now becomes the following: what should sinners do when they discover that another sinner has sinned? Putting the question in this light makes it seem different somehow, and perhaps it better demonstrates how we should deal with those who sin.