I believe that the Word of God clearly calls us to “speak truth”, “confront sin”, and “call one to obedience”. And for years and years I taught and practiced it as a Dean of Students and Discipleship Pastor, believing it was to be done in love, with grace, and for restoration. Some did feel loved and their rebellious spirit was squelched, some did receive grace and indeed repent, and yes, restoration occurred in certain instances. But there is more to the story …
Part of the human Biblical solution is also part of the dilemma a “caught in sin” or “young in their faith” believer faces. As I lay out Biblical truth before them and try to tenderly call them to repentance, they are faced with a few externally conforming options that most likely will not be recognized by others, or even by themselves until later. Option #1 – They change because they respect (or fear) the person doing the confronting which can lead to a people-pleasing obedience, OR Option #2 – They change their external behavior out of respect (or fear) for God which can lead to a duty-filled obedience. People-pleasing morality vs. God-obliging legalism … Not so different. In our best efforts to help, we can actually turn them down a Gospel-less road that undermines their confidence in the Word, the Spirit … and us.
Confronting Sin or Conforming Behavior
Make no mistake, Biblical change can be manipulated and mis-centered, and we who are the disciplers/counselors must know where our leadership ends, lest we be guilty of setting people up for moralism or legalism. We must know where our laying out of Biblical Gospel truth ends, and trusting the transforming work of the Spirit of God in people’s lives takes over. It is indeed our responsibility to call out sin and humbly plead for repentance … It is NOT out role or power to produce the obedient behavior. What does that mean? It means new believers who are still living together unmarried need to be taught what the Bible teaches, but they don’t need your demand of instant obedience. If they are soft-hearted people, they will do what you say either because they genuinely want to please God or please you … but not necessarily because the abhor their sin, have recognized the idol of their heart, or embrace God’s way as their path to greatest joy. We either trust the Word and the work of the Spirit or we don’t. And that may mean we actually have to step back and quit trying to be the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. How inconsistent it is to preach and teach the sufficiency of Scripture, and then give people the do’s and don’t we expect of them by next week. Is your repentance instantaneous? Do you know the depth of your own heart? Doesn’t the work of the Word often take some marinating in your soul, some prayerful reflection that then leads to genuine spiritual decisions?
The Biblical call to confront sin – separate from – the Spirit’s conviction to change
Don’t back up from being a purposeful discipler in people’s lives, and don’t hedge on Biblical truth, but do separate your role in speaking the truth from the Spirit’s role in changing the heart. If true, lasting, Gospel transformation is what we aim at (and it is), then be as confident of Philippians 1:6 as Paul was. HE who began a good work … HE will bring it to completion! We have far too many “Christians” filling our churches that do what they do because the “mature believer” told them to, or because they think they can earn something from God by their duty-filled obligatory behavior. Can we please stop that? Those of us who most trust the authority of the Word, must also be the ones who most trust the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
Absolutely Confident of the Word and the Spirit,