Counsel for those engaged in continuing sin?
What counsel do you offer someone who is engaged in continuing sin? I face that question now, with a couple in our small group Bible study. They live together, but are not married. They claim that grace allows this. I disagree. I believe that sexual immorality is a crime they commit against themselves, and I wish to help them stop hurting themselves. They wear grace as an excuse for their sin. Any thoughts on how to penetrate that? anonymous
This will be long, but it has everything to do with your question.
Brethren, even if a man is caught up in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1
An often-used verse, to say the least. Every preacher has a sermon about dealing with those who are caught up in sin, huh? But somehow we read the words and we're still left wondering how to deal with those who are breaking the law. By the way, did you notice that Paul used the phrase caught in any TRESPASS as opposed to saying caught up in sin? It is a VERY important distinction to make in the understanding of the verse, in the same way the word, "even" is crucial. "Brothers, EVEN if a man is caught up in any TRESPASS ..."
There is something else that is just as important. Whereas we think these are Paul's instructions on how to deal with those people we see breaking commandments, it has as much to do with we who are noticing the problems.
...looking to YOURSELVES, lest YOU too be tempted. BEAR one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone THINKS HE IS SOMETHING when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his OWN work, and then he will have reason for boasting in himself ALONE, and NOT in regard to another. For each one shall bear his own load. Galatians 6:1-5
So, why does he say trespass? Simple, Paul's whole argument up to this point was all about what happens when the freedom of Christ is set aside in favor of living by the same old principles of the world, which are the same as those found in the law:
the weak and worthless elemental things Galatians 4:9
These believers had fallen for the lies of the law-preachers and as a result had begun to demonstrate the only possible effects of such a perspective: the works of the flesh. Instead of the former miraculous love that had been operating among them they were now tearing one another apart in legal contentions designed to prove who was more spiritual. They had turned grace into something else, their freedom had become an opportunity - a welcome mat for the flesh. Their whole life had become infected by the same bondage they lived under before the promise came to them. The problem was not with grace, it was what they had turned grace into. There is nothing to fear regarding freedom, but with the turning of freedom into law. Both grace and freedom have been maligned because we really think that the legal redefinition of them is valid. It was simply that they were still using the GUISE of grace and freedom, but it was nothing but a life of bondage as one requirement led to another. And with the more rules and regulations (even Biblical ones) came more trespasses. And this is how we still view and react to one another in most Christian circles.
So, EVEN if any man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; In saying, you who are spiritual do you think he is suggesting that some believers are spiritual while others are not? Bogus. Instead, I see a double sense in his use of this word at this juncture. First, based on Paul's constant insistence, ALL these believers were of the Spirit, and in bringing this calling into play here he has caused a dramatic tension. If we are indeed of the Spirit (as we have been previously convinced) then what does this demand of us when we consider a man caught up in breaking laws? That since trespasses have to do with law then the real problem here is LAW.
But I also see a twist to this as I am sure that along with holding to the form of grace and freedom that they also rated their spirituality by comparing themselves one with another. And so this turned the tables on those who CONSIDERED themselves spiritual in the battle of comparisons. Are you following? "For if anyone THINKS he is something when he is nothing". To see oneself as spiritual within a legal grace-framework, as was true in their case, was a "nothing" position. It was a bogus concept. This is why Paul said to "let each one examine his OWN work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and NOT in regard to ANOTHER." This idea of spirituality is only possible under the fleshly structure measurement. But if one were to discover the REASON to boast "in regard to himself alone" then he has not found a premise based on performance, but that which is only in Christ!
...just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord 1 Corinthians 1:31
Which means that as we are seeing the truth in this...
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but CHRIST lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me, Galatians 2:20
...we are boasting in Christ, who IS our life.
What is the "law of Christ"? Love. That is, REAL love from the very life of Christ, who is in us. How is it fulfilled in this case? By BEARING one another's burdens. How does this fit here? It's obvious once you keep it in context. The usual approach of those who see themselves as being "something" is to use some kind of rule they live by, or method, or Bible verse, or Biblical principle, or Biblical doctrine, etc, etc. And this does anything but to BEAR the burden ... it ADDS to it! The real problem is NEVER addressed by this approach.
What is it to "restore such a one in a SPIRIT OF GENTLENESS"? It's really not about the method of approach at all. Paul was in the process of restoring them in a spirit of gentleness even though many of the things he had written are not gentle in the sense we assume. Oh, we can learn the psychology of a gentle confrontation, but as long as we are offering the thing that brings DEATH it is NOT a spirit of gentleness. There IS only one Spirit of gentleness, and it is the very life of Christ as presented in the good news of the cross. If you are afraid that this approach avoids the real stuff that needs to be dealt with I can guarantee you that I have never had so much raw real-life dealings with people in my whole life. Bearing the burdens of law-bound believers through Christ alone will cause them not to be afraid to tell you what is REALLY behind most of the stuff you only assumed to be the real problem.
"Looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted." Another bogus notion is that this refers to being cautious and strong lest you fall into the same sin. While it is true that the usual approach of counseling results in the counselor often falling into the exact same sin, this is just opposite what is being presented here. Law produces such a result, not life. He is indeed suggesting an examination ... but of what? Here's the simple bottom-line: believers who approach another with some principle of the flesh-based life - which usually appears very godly - will find that they are forcing themselves to operate under the same premise. In other words, consider YOURSELF, because if you go to your brother in view of his trespasses then that same law will appeal to you and pull you under.
This couple you refer to already knows what you think about their situation, and have already taken the defensive since they have justified themselves under the premise of grace. Is your ultimate concern for them simply that they either get married or stop living together? Do you question grace simply because of how they use it? Are you afraid that more grace will only strengthen their resolve to stay together in spite of not being married? Do you find yourself reluctant to deal with them in grace since it may cause them to keep trespassing? Are you approaching them with principles of more blessing if they stop sinning? Do you approach them as if you have your act together in this area because you ARE married? If so, then you have only given them a basis upon which to view the areas of your life in which they see themselves as more spiritual.
Brother, if they have indeed turned grace into something that it is not then their problem is law and even in this they need to understand the reality of Christ in having removed us from the bondage of law and freed us into the freedom of Christ. If you hit them with principles then you are only adding to their burden and not bearing it ... and you will find yourself falling into the same mindset of so-called grace rules. If they are operating as under law then any kind of a detailed study of their particular failing meant for their benefit will be of no effect.
Christ is the answer, for His life is our freedom ... and that's freedom FROM sin, not freedom in trying to get out of it. Preach Christ and let the good news of His freedom break through all bondage!