We Must Understand the Nature of Sin if we are to Properly Deal with it in the Church

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2Th 3:10-15)

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1Cor 5:11-13)

One of the most prevalent errors in the church today, one which is causing much grief to the victims of the wicked and bringing shame to Christ’s name, is the persistence of local churches, church leaders and pastors to regard all members of the church as Christians, no matter what the nature of their sin.   This is not biblical thinking. It is not truth. God’s Word plainly teaches us that not all sinners are of the same type, nor are they to be dealt with in the same manner.
Let’s consider the two examples given in the Scriptures above: 1) The sluggard, and 2) The reviler (to select one from Paul’s list).

What does Paul tell us about dealing with the sluggard? He commands the sluggard directly, first of all, to get to work. He tells us not to bail the sluggard out of the consequences of his sin — if he won’t work, neither let him eat. And if the sluggard will not take these admonishments to heart and repent, the strong measure of the church having nothing to do with him is to be taken, in order to shame him into repentance.

But then, Paul says something quite curious: “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Here is a person, a person committing a serious sin, who is still to be considered a brother in Christ. Perhaps we should also take note of the context of the situation at Thessalonica. There seems to have been an “end-times” theological distortion going on there and perhaps this was the reason you had these people there who were not working but rather sitting around waiting for Christ to return. But Paul says to regard such a person as a Christian, at least at that point.

Now, when we come to the second category of sinner, the one identified in Paul’s list in 1 Cor 5 as a “reviler” (a person who uses his mouth to attack, to condemn, to malign, to abuse), Paul’s prescription for dealing with him is different. The remedy, you see, must fit the crime. Once more we are to put that person out of the church, but Paul uses harsher terms: “Purge the evil person from among you.” Paul does not regard the reviler (or idolater or swindler or the rest of his list) as a Christian, and neither are we to do so.

Abusers are revilers. They hurt and murder with their words. Not because they lose their temper on occasion and end up saying something they later regret. No, the abuser is calculated. He reviles in cold blood. And he habitually does it because a reviler reviles.  This kind of sinner is to be put out of the church, and regarded as an unbeliever. He is not a brother in the Lord.

In failing (refusing?) to make this distinction that is plainly set forth for us in God’s Word, local churches today are giving sanctuary to the wicked, providing them with false assurance of the state of their soul, and permitting them to continue to revile and assault the innocent. For such willful disobedience, all will one day give account to the Lord of the Church.

**An Exercise: If you look at the introductory comments (from the editor) to the Epistle of Jude in the ESV Bible you should be able to see a statement in it that is a distortion of what Jude says about the wicked ones who have crept into the church, and how we are to deal with them. Do you see the error? If you spot it, let us know in the comments here.

10 thoughts on “We Must Understand the Nature of Sin if we are to Properly Deal with it in the Church

  1. Hi Pastor Crippen

    I also noticed the Bible actually does not refer to anyone as an “apostate” except in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and Acts 21:21, but in these cases it is not talking about someone who is an apostate, but rather is admonishing those who are trying to make people into apostates.

    This makes sense because there really can be no such thing as an apostate, because if someone is truly born again, God promises He will keep them.

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  2. Pastor Crippen – is the error in that he refers to the false teachers as “apostates”? While Jude clearly refers to those who have crept in as designated for this condemnation; ungodly people. This means they were never Christians to begin with.

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    1. Yes, exactly. You can see the damage this kind of thing does. Enables the wicked to be called Christians and remain in churches.

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  3. The one I noticed which seems off to me is in the Key Themes section “As God grants mercy to those who are called, they must show mercy to others (vv. 2, 21–23).”

    It seems to me that it’s a blanket statement, as if we’re supposed to have mercy to everyone else no matter the context. And the verses they use for that say “And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”

    NKJV:”And on some have compassion, [a]making a distinction; 23 but others save [b]with fear, pulling them out of the [c]fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”

    I’m not sure about all the nuances of these verses, but it sees to me that we’re to show mercy to “some” and depending on who is the recipient of that mercy it’s going to look different.

    Matthew Henry: “We must watch over one another; faithfully, yet prudently reprove each other, and set a good example to all about us. This must be done with compassion, making a difference between the weak and the wilful. Some we must treat with tenderness. Others save with fear; urging the terrors of the Lord. All endeavours must be joined with decided abhorrence of crimes, and care be taken to avoid whatever led to, or was connected with fellowship with them, in works of darkness, keeping far from what is, or appears to be evil.”

    John Gill: “The Alexandrian copy, and some others, and the Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions, read, “reprove”,
    Making a difference; between one and another; using some more tenderly, others more severely, as the nature and circumstances of their case appear to be. The Syriac version renders the whole, “when they repent, have compassion on them”.

    Geneva Study Bible:{13} And of some have compassion, making a difference:
    (13) Among those who wander and go astray, the godly have to use this choice, that they handle some of them gently, and that others being even in the very flame, they endeavour to save with severe and sharp instruction of the present danger: yet so, that they do in such sort abhor the wicked and dishonest, that they avoid even the least thought of them.

    Ellicott’s Commentary makes 3 distinctions:
    (22, 23) Exhortation to treat these libertines with discrimination, making three classes.
    (22) And of some have compassion, making a difference.—The evidence is very strong in favour of a widely different reading: And some indeed convict (Jude 1:15) when they are in doubt (Matthew 21:21; Acts 10:20; Acts 11:12; Romans 4:20; Romans 14:23; James 1:6); or, when they contend with you (Jude 1:9; Acts 11:2); or, when they separate from you.

    Rebuking some harshly can be in some instances the kindest, most loving, merciful, compassionate thing to do. I have also noticed that pastors in many churches have a tendency to assume everyone in their congregation is Christian or that everyone has to be treated with the same gentleness with no distinction. And I CAN’T STAND IT!

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    1. Yes indeed. Good job. You can see my further comments also in my reply to lg. Everyone is a Christian you know!! Yeah, right. But that is what this ESV comment is basically saying as it twists the scripture.

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  4. The NLT translates the “show mercy with fear” as “do so with great caution.” Is that a better translation? I usually like having the ESV and NLT side by side for many scriptures…… and think it would be nice to have a parallel Bible…

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  5. Hi — My Bible is an ESV bible — is the introductory commentary error this? : in the introductory commentary chart it outlines the chapter numbers, the content, and the contribution to the main argument about apostates. In the chart section chpts 17-23 it writes that the contribution to the main argument for those chapters is to “instills hope that the apostates can be defeated,” but when reading the actual chapters 17-23, specifically chpt 23 exhorts us to “have mercy with fear” on certain people,”hating even their clothing” and overall exhorting us to not be drawn in to them. In other words, the section tells us there are two kinds of people: those who doubt and those need saving from the fire, verses those of whom we should hate even their clothing and to whom we should “show mercy with fear” meaning be sensible in how to show them mercy, not to be drawn in by them ….??????? ……???

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    1. lg – this might be what you mean, so pardon if I am repetitious. What struck me is that the intro to Jude in the ESV says “The letter of Jude warns against those who, having gained admission to the church, were perverting the grace of God, denying ‘our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.’ Jude…wrote multiple deninciations of these ungodly people who ‘defile the flesh’ and ‘reject authority.’ He urged Christians to continue in godliness and love toward such people, insome cases reasoning with them, in other cases snatching them out of the fire.”

      Now, this is absolutely contrary to what Jude writes. You can see it in verse 4 – “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” There is NO way in the world that Jude tells us to “continue in godliness and love toward such people” as the ESV intro says. And if that isn’t enough evidence, just read on in vss 10-13. To apply vss 20-23 to that kind of person is crazy. The text doesn’t say so. But you see that it is this very kind of “expert” who laces Bibles with their false gospel that enables the wicked and blasts any of us who call the wicked what they are.

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