“…church discipline is about nothing more or less than assessing repentance.” -Jonathan Leeman
Just as we wouldn’t reuse a soiled tissue we shouldn’t accept a person’s misused apology. It’s dangerous to turn a blind eye to church members who continue to sin, falsely apologize for it, and show no signs of repentance. The danger lies in them ruining Christ’s reputation as a believer, persuading others that Christians can continue to sin without repercussions, and openly abuse the grace that God freely gives. It’s infuriating! Before we place every fallen church member in the same boat, we must use discernment on how to counsel each one based on repentance, and here are the best three ways to know the difference.
Godly Sorrow vs. Worldly Sorrow
We’ve all seen those court shows where the guilty would go as far as throwing themselves on the ground in an attempt to convince everyone of their remorse, only to be convicted of the same crime later on. Whether a person is sorry for what they’ve done (Godly sorrow) or sorry for getting caught (worldly sorrow), it evokes the same emotion but, God judges the heart. As the Body of Christ, we have discernment to help us know the difference, and what’s truly telling is the efforts the guilty make after being confronted for their sin. “Sorry” is an action word, and when we can see the life changing efforts of a brother or sister in Christ, we can honor their walk with God and continue to support them. When the opposite happens, when there is no fruit of change for the better, we’ll know that member has chosen the shallowness of worldly sorrow, ignoring the Godly sorrow that brings about repentance. (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)
Nature of the Sin vs. Nature of the Sinner
As heartbreaking as it is to learn of a brother’s sinful behavior, we have to discern when they themselves are also heartbroken. Family dysfunction, addiction, the loss of a loved one, can all be triggers for a Christian saint to fall back into a life of sin. It is up to us, as we apply discipline, to know, through discernment, when a brother or sister in Christ is hurting. Pain can make us do terrible things in order to cope, there’s a way we can confront the sin and still apply grace to the soul. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) We all come to the Lord with our own pasts that need to be washed away, we come to the feet of Jesus with our own hurts and bad behaviors. While we are walking it out, Jesus is working it out for us; this is the reason for living. Salvation doesn’t immediately change our habits or lifestyles but, it does suddenly give us the power to change as Jesus takes residence in our hearts.
Weakness vs. Rebellion
There are so many church members who struggle with sin out of weakness, as oppose to those who commit sin freely and openly out of rebellion. Again, it takes discernment to know the fruit of repentance and the boldness of a carnal Christian. Just as we wouldn’t stand for a member to openly disrespect God, we should also secretly counsel those who succumb to their weaknesses. Sometimes, when a member says, “I didn’t mean to do it.” it’s true, just as Paul confesses in the bible, “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:19-20) As long as we live wrapped in this flesh our sinful nature will ALWAYS be our number enemy, and so we must discern when members are rebelling against God or struggling with weakness. Just as we would never push someone who is walking crutches, we must never discourage those who need our help, not our harsh judgement.
Thank God for the Holy Spirit who never fails to give us the tools that keeps The Body of Christ healthy and whole. There can be no discipline within The Church without discernment, and it makes all the difference to know when a “sorry” is spoken, if it comes from an empty mouth, or a heart full of repentance.