I have been reading Thabiti Anyabwile’s book The Life of God in the Soul of the Church. He has some really helpful points in his chapter “Restoration and Encouragement.”
First, Anyabwile says that Paul assumes that Christians will at times fall into sin (cf. Gal. 6:1). Anyabwile points out “the term translated ‘sin’ has a wider range of meaning than sin. The word indicates all the ways someone may not ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:25)” (p. 112 see also Sande, The Peacemaker, 154). Second, we see that if someone falls into sin then they need loving correction. We need each other. We need brothers and sisters to speak truth into our life (Heb. 3:13). “Our privatized ideas about the Christian faith do not square with biblical Christianity. Christianity is a family religion. We live the faith dependent upon brothers and sisters” (p. 112).
Next, Anyabwile wonderfully illustrates that the gospel itself restores and corrects. “God speaks a strong rebuke in the crucifixion of His Son. Through the cross, the Father proclaims, You are wrong for how you live. You are wrong for turning from me… But in that same act of hanging upon the tree, God also says, ‘Come. Come to me all you who are bruised and battered in sin, who have strayed to a different path, who have nearly ruined yourselves” (p. 113). He goes on, “As Christians, we have received God’s correction, restoration, and reconciliation… now we are called to live lives of restoration and reconciliation” (p. 113).
Next, he explores how it is that Christians get caught in sin. We know that sin often starts out small but in the end produces death (cf. James 1:13-15). The first step in the process is spiritual dullness. Second is compromise. Third is rationalizing. “It’s not that big of a deal,” “I can stop whenever I want,” we say to ourselves. Fourth is avoidance. This is a very scary step in the process because if the person continues to love darkness rather than light then they will show that they are not of the light (cf. Jn. 3:20-21; 1 Jn. 1:7). The last step in the process is exposure. This step, however, often requires a brother or sister to lovingly confront the person that has been ensnared by sin. After they have been confronted they can either continue in sin or repent (this procedure is outlined in Matt. 18:15-17).
The truth is that we all have the tendency to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and at times need the loving rebuke of a brother or sister. This is a grace that God has given to the church. Yes, it is true that we should evaluate our own lives, yet, though redeemed, our hearts have the tendency to show that they are desperately wicked, and thus we welcome the grace of a loving brother or sister’s eye.
As we warn others about their sin, we must remember a few things: 1) We must guard ourselves against temptation (Gal. 6:1). 2) We must remember that we are not above sin, that is, we must not be prideful (v. 3). 3) We should test ourselves (v. 4a). In the language of Jesus, we should make sure there is no log in our eye while we seek to remove the speck from someone else’s (Matt. 7:5). 4) Finally, we see that we must ensure that we are doing our part in helping others with their sin (Gal. 6:2, 5).
So, after we have done all of the above and made sure that our motives are pure and restorative then what? The first step to restore brothers and sisters in Christ is to accept that it is our responsibility to do so. Second, we act in gentleness (v. 1). Third, it is good to use the Bible when correcting someone. When possible just showing them a few verses to read can be helpful. This allows the Spirit to work on them and it also shows that you do not come to them on your own authority. However, at times it is not that simplistic. Fourth, we must, as Anyabwile says, focus on the correct goal: restoration.
I end with an extended quote from Anyabwile:
Restoration cannot be achieved a hundred yards away from the burdened. We cannot restore people by shouting across a football field, ‘Hey! Get it together!… The idea of carrying burdens requires proximity, intimacy, and teamwork….
If you have you have ever moved house and tried to get a sleeper sofa in the house, you have a picture of what carrying burdens requires! The brother caught in sin labors under the heavy load of guilt and shame, wrong thinking, action, and consequences. Those things lie on his back like a sleeper sofa. He cannot carry it alone; he will be crushed. So, others come alongside him, place their hands and arms under some part of the sofa, and carry it with him. They may even hoist the sofa up on their shoulders to lift the crushing weight from his back. Burden-carrying requires close, intimate work together. God calls us to do this with the aim of restoring, or returning to wholeness (pp. 120-21).