As Christians trying to maintain meaningful relationships, we often talk about accountability, but do we really realize what it entails? Accountability includes enjoying good Christian fellowship and supporting each other through temptations and struggles. But what about the tough parts of accountability? What about when we have to confront fellow believers in sin?
We’ve probably all known a believer in sin—not just the occasional stumbling and repenting, but the repetitive, habitual actions and lifestyles that dishonor God and are directly against Scripture. Maybe you have a friend who has anger problems, or who is dating an unbeliever, or willing to cross the line when it comes to sexual purity. Sadly, I’ve encountered my fair share of these behaviors in friends and fellow believers. These compromises seem to grow more common over time. Even a good friend of mine who was once a close accountability partner was recently in an ungodly relationship for almost a year. It wasn’t easy to see him going down that path while ignoring truth for so long. But just because our friends accept these behaviors when they’ve strayed from the truth doesn’t mean we have to accept them too. Here’s how we can be truly good friends when it comes to believers in sin.
- We don’t enjoy confrontation. It’s not easy or fun to have to tell someone whose friendship we value that they’re wrong and must repent. Sometimes we think that if we just ignore the sin for a while, God will convict the person and He’ll work things out without our help.
- Or we’re worried that we’ll come across as too judgmental. Granted, this concern can be valid. The Bible does warn against being hypocritically judgmental, so it’s important that we check our own hearts first. We’re familiar with Matthew 7:4, telling us to remove the plank from our own eye before judging someone else, but we often forget about the follow-up in the next verse: “then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5 ESV). While we should deal with our own faults first, correcting sin in others is something that we’re still called to do, as long as we do it with clear vision guided by Scripture.
- Once we’re sure that our own hearts are pure, we should not avoid confrontation, but should go forth boldly and decisively.
- Speak truth in love. I almost made “truth” and “love” into two separate bullet points, but I don’t think they’re meant to be separated, and I didn’t want to make either one seem subordinate to the other. Speaking truth in love is a hard balance to achieve, but it’s essential when confronting others.
- Sin is serious, and we must not downplay its weight when speaking hard truths. We should be careful about trivializing stock phrases like, “Well, God forgives you” or “I’m sure you’ll do better next time,” without emphasizing the seriousness of sin and the need for genuine repentance. Of course, we don’t know people’s hearts and we can’t make them repent, because it’s the spirit of God that ultimately brings conviction to believers. But we can help lead them there by pointing them back to the righteous standards of Scripture.
- However, as we confront and speak of repentance, we must do so gently and lovingly. We can become too harsh, judgmental, or proud when someone else sins differently than we do, but Scripture warns against this attitude as well (Galatians 6:1). We must let Christ’s love guide our words and actions and not emphasize condemnation, but point back to God’s grace and mercy instead.
The Authority of Scripture
- When confronting someone on sin, we must act with biblical authority, not merely with our own opinions about certain behaviors.
- However, we should also follow Scripture’s model specifically for the act of confrontation itself. Matthew 18:15-17 contains direct instructions for how to deal with a believer in sin, beginning with private confrontation and then gradually getting others involved as needed. In the sad event that a believer refuses to repent, we are told to treat them as an unbeliever. This does not mean casting them off completely, though, but rather continuing to reach out in love as opportunities come up, just as we should toward any unbeliever.
- Following Scripture’s instructions and consistently being led by God’s love will help ensure that we’re confronting others in the right way.
Prayer and Perseverance
- When we do have friends who refuse to repent and who continue to live in sin, the situation can seem hopeless. It’s easy to get discouraged when believers walk away, and we can feel like we’re alone in truly trying to live a holy life. But we must not neglect to pray for our wandering brothers and sisters and still reach out to them when possible. Prayer and perseverance really can accomplish change.
- Initially, I wasn’t sure how to end this article on a positive or hopeful note. I too was feeling discouraged about believers who have walked away. But around the time I was writing this, I saw my prayers come to fruition. The friend who I mentioned above got out of a bad relationship, started attending a good church again, and told me he was hoping to make some long overdue life changes. As glad I was to see his positive progress, I’m sure God gave him an even warmer welcome back into the family of faith. His kindness does indeed lead sinners to repentance, if we’re patient and faithful to wait for it.
It’s never easy to see a friend make bad decisions or walk away from the truth. But when it does happen, it doesn’t have to be the end of the story. By following Scripture’s instructions, speaking truth in love, and never giving up on the prodigals in our lives, we can ensure that we’re being the best representatives of Christ we can be to our fallen friends.