The Elephant in the Room: Learning How to Deal with Sin in Your Life and in the Church Family

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The Elephant in the Room

Learning how to deal with sin in your life and in the church family

Tough Stuff 2015

“The elephant in the room” is an expression which points to an obvious problem or risk that no one wants to discuss. It’s an issue that’s being ignored or going unaddressed. Like the Emperor’s new clothes, there are naked issues all around us–yet we pretend those problems are fully clothed. A friend you haven’t seen in years is now totally bald–but you say nothing, to HER. A classmate has TP stuck on his shoe, but you remain silent. A boss has a massive piece of salad in his teeth, but you will not be the one who points it out.

The elephant in the room is all around us. Couples refuse to discuss their struggles with each other. Parents won’t expose their angst created by an older child. And many Christians are unwilling to discuss their sin struggles, and refuse to address the sins they see in believers around them. Sometimes believing friends attend church once a month, never serve anywhere, use raw language, complain about their spouse, get drunk, have out of control children, are not filled with the Spirit, are not depending on God’s Word, are not living by faith–but we won’t come alongside to help, let alone say anything to them.

The priority of our day is to feel good about yourself, so it’s not going to be me who points out their sin problem. So churches are filled with so-called believers who ignore the obvious, avoid reality, live the untrue, embrace fantasy and deny the facts. We ignore the elephant in the room.

Part of the reason why I love our church so much–part of what makes this church so special, unique, and wonderful is this. FBC is filled with sinners who don’t ignore sin, but don’t beat each other up over sin. This church family is filled with people who hate sin, but love people. This body loves God’s holiness, but they also know they’re not home in heavenly perfection—yet.

All true Christians hate sin—it misses the mark and violates God’s law. Sin is the big reason why you turned to Christ for salvation. Sin is what sends unbelievers and so-called Christians to Hell. You know the Savior died for your sins, and Christians realize just how ugly, sick, rebellious, unholy, impure and lawless their sins are. You know your heart is full of sin. Sin is what ruins Christians, and sin is what destroys churches.

Sin is the elephant in the room, yet most believers don’t know how to deal with their own sin. And most believers don’t know how to deal with sin in others. Christians have a hard time knowing what to do about their own sin and the sins of others. Since Adam, as soon as they sin they hide–then when caught, they blame God and make excuses.

The difficulty comes in finding the balance between hating sin, yet creating an environment in the church where people can get help with their sin and truly help others with their sin. If our church over-emphasizes a hatred for sin, then you will often hide your sin from everyone. If our church over-emphasizes God’s grace over sin, then you will often not take your sin seriously. Sin and grace are a normal tension in healthy churches.

Sin is so serious, it required the death of God’s perfect Son. Yet grace is so sufficient, it secures you and me for all eternity. For the Christian, the Bible is clear–though Christ took care of the penalty for, and the power of sin, we Christians can grieve God, quench the Spirit, be disciplined and suffer consequences for our sins and more. We must rely on God’s grace, but take sin very, very seriously.

So how can we hate sin, yet celebrate God’s grace? As a believer, the Bible tells you to reckon yourself dead to sin in Romans 6–believing sin has no more power over you because of the cross. The Bible tells you to confess your sin–1 John 1 says to say the same thing that God says about sin.  It’s your fault and you’re responsible.

Flee from sin–1 Corinthians 6 says to run in terror from immorality, to repent of sin, and Acts 26 says to change your mind in such a way that always leads to a change of behavior. And the Bible tells you to get help with sin in Galatians 6–to humbly come alongside each other and help each other overcome sin in each other’s lives.

In the context of dealing with sin, Paul says in Galatians 6:1-2, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” The context of Galatians 6 tells us, those who are in the Spirit are to restore those in the flesh, and bear one another’s burdens.  This is literally hold each other up, and help each other in our struggles with sin. When someone is battling sin, desiring to obey, but they’re losing the battle, Christians are to come alongside each other and hold each other up–literally help others win their battle with sin. But how do we help each other?

First Step  Changing the tone of our entire church

This is the most difficult, because we must all ask the Lord to grow our church to be shepherded by its elders, cared for by its ministry leaders, and where all of us are overwhelmed by the love of Christ for us, allowing us to work hard at loving each other. This has to be a church where time is created for fellowship–that we actually work hard at fellowship (picnics, beach trips) so that members will exercise the forty-plus one anothers of the New Testament.

This must be a church where we make mutual discipleship, those intentional relationships for the purpose of growth in Christlikeness, a passionate goal for each of us. Only that type of church atmosphere creates an environment where people are more prone to help each other with their sin. Most churches today never even come close to this, because it requires the commitment of the entire family. Ephesians 4:16, ”The whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

Second Step  If and when you should speak to others about sin

The apostle Peter makes a profound statement in 1 Peter 4:8. In the midst of preparing his readers to live in light of eternity, Peter says, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” When you’re passionate to love someone like Christ loves them, sometimes it means you overlook their sin—even sins against you. You cover it, which practically means you don’t let it offend you and you forget about it.

One commentator says, “Where love abounds in a fellowship of Christians, many small offences and even some large ones are readily overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion and every action is liable to misunderstanding.” Love covering sin only works in a gospel saturated environment.

When you come to the place where you realize that you yourself are the worst sinner you know . . . when you own the fact that your very wants, wishes, and words are stained by sin . . . when you live aware of the evil thoughts you entertain, the selfish motives that drive you and the internal desires which consume you . . . when you actually see your own internal jealousy, greed, lust, anger, judgment, gossip, pride and self-centeredness daily—then your love for others is more prone to cover their sin.

When a church truly embraces the Gospel, they realize just how sinful they were and just how sinful they are. They accept that, even though they don’t want to sin, they will. And they know at times their sin will hurt a brother or sister. But when the Gospel is fully embraced, those who’re wounded by sin, out of love often choose to cover it with love–to ignore it. You let it go—you actually get over it. You completely forget about it and move on with joy.

In loving church environments, believers will say to themselves, “That comment hurt me, but I’ve also made similar comments that hurt others as well. And the Lord has forgiven me so much, I can let that hurt go, cover it, forget about it, and still love my brother, no longer thinking of that sin as something between us.” Or they say to Christ, “Lord, that Christian did that sinful hurtful action–but Lord, I have sinned that way so many times, and not only have you forgiven me, but so many of your children have forgiven me for the exact same sin. So Lord, I’m just going to forget about it, let it go, and cover it with love and never think of it again.” First Peter 4:8, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

Other times, because the wound from the sin doesn’t heal and you can’t seem to let it go, you can’t cover the sin of a brother or sister–in other words, you keep throwing the covers off. You covered the sin–so you thought. But every time you see that person, you think of that sin, or a rush of emotion floods your heart, or you sense resentment growing in your soul. You chose to empty the well of the memory of that sin, but you find the well filling back up with bitter water. When you see them, it’s like they’re wearing a “Happy Birthday” button at Disneyland–except the button reads, “This is how I sinned against you!”

So if you can’t cover it, you keep throwing the covers of love off that person and their sin, you keep recalling the offense—then you must speak to that person about their sin. God commands you to go to them and talk to them face to face. Your heavenly Father never allows grudges or resentment to remain between His children in His family.

One of the main reasons for communion is not only to remember Christ and examine your heart, but also to make certain there is no sin undealt with between you and another Christian. Immediately before Paul gives his communion instruction he says in 1 Corinthians 11:17 and 18, “In giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you.”

Paul rebukes the Corinthians for not making things right with each other–for not dealing with sins committed against each other before they partake in communion. And Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 5:23 and 24, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

So when you can’t cover a sin against you from another, then you as the offended party must not say anything to anyone. You don’t tell a soul, but you go to your brother or sister privately and seek to restore your relationship in Christ. Just as Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

One of the big practical differences between a real believer and a non-Christian is not that the real believer does not sin against another believer–we do and we will hurt each other until Heaven. A big difference is this–a genuine believer will either overlook or cover the sin against them, or they will go to their brother and restore their relationship. They will forgive each other. So this morning you will ask, “Which one should I do? When do I cover the sin of a Christian against me, or when do I go speak to them privately? When do I actually address the elephant in the room?”

The second step here is to help you know if and when you should address sin in someone else’s life, so here it is–ready? If that offense can be forgotten, never bother you, and not hinder your relationship with the Christian who sinned against you then it’s covered. You’ve thrown a veil over those sins. Move on–like Proverbs 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”

But if that sinful offense bothers you, causes you to resent them, or affects your ability to fellowship with them, then go to them privately and seek to restore your relationship–if that is possible. Sometimes it’s not, because they refuse to see it—then at that point, Romans 12:18 kicks in. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Then you move to . . .

Third Step  Practice Church Discipline in Humility

Turn to Matthew 18:15 to 17. Too many solid believers do not understand Church discipline–the process Christians use in restoring defiantly sinful believers back to dependent obedience to Christ and to protect the body from defiant, unrepentant sin and sinners. It is described all over the New Testament, making it crucial to embrace.

The most familiar passage is Matthew 18, addressing personal sin, “If your brother sins [against you], go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” There are four steps listed with personal sin, and the variant reading in verse 15, “against you,” should be included in the verse.

#1  Go in private–in humility!

Lovingly speak to them–talk about your own sin struggles first. Then address the sin that was expressed against you. Then, only if they refuse to repent, then . . .

#2  Go with 2 to 3 witnesses

These witnesses are not those who witnessed the sin against you, they are witnesses of the loving confrontation process. But if they refuse to repent after that, then . . .

#3  Go to your elders

Then they will tell the church, but if they still refuse to repent after telling the church, then . . .

#4  The church separates from them

So how do leaders and Christians misunderstand this process? Listen, if you understand spanking as a parent, then you understand Church discipline as a Christian. So how can we apply discipline in a way that pleases Christ? Understand . . .

1  Church discipline is commonplace

Every believer has experienced it in part. You have all experienced the first steps of Church discipline in some form. Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Every married Christian has gone through this. For certain, your godly Christian wife has told you about your sin. All Christians at one point or another have been confronted over their sin–and thankfully by God’s grace, the process stops with your humble admission and hopeful repentance. And just like spanking a child, it’s a healthy, necessary process.

2  Church discipline is directed against defiant sin

We’re not to pursue discipline against those who are battling with their own sinfulness. Christians aren’t supposed to confront you as you struggle with your sin every day–they’re supposed to help you. Every Christian in this room is battling sin–sins of thought, sins of attitude, sins of speech and sins of action. If you say you are not, then you are a liar or self-deceived. First John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And 3:9, “No one who is born of God practices sin.”

Christians struggle with sin, battle sin, agonize over sin–we flee sin, not practice sin, pursue sin, or continually embrace sin. As we battle sin, our brothers are to encourage us, not confront us. But if we know what the Bible says, yet we embrace sin and choose to defiantly disobey what God clearly says, we need to be confronted.

Turn to Numbers 15:27. God began to make distinctions with sin in the book of Numbers, and it’s these verses that lay the foundation for Church discipline. There are different kinds of sin, and I’m not describing the differences between pride and greed, but the differences between any sin which is a struggling disobedience in your life, compared to any sin which is a defiant disobedience in your life.

Listen to Numbers 15:27 to 31, “Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. 28 The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. 29 You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them. 30 But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him.”

There is unintentional sin, and there is defiant sin. And the sins which cause the process of Church discipline to begin, where the process goes beyond a simple private confrontation between two Christians to a more serious process, is defiant sin. It is sin you know is wrong, but you choose to do it anyway, like, “I’m not going to leave this man and return to my husband,” or, “I’m not going to stop slandering that believer.”

The sins we must confront are defiant sins, when a believer despises, rejects God’s Word. And in each case, when this discipline process goes beyond a private confrontation, there is always a passage that is identified as an obvious Scripture that’s being defiantly violated. It doesn’t matter whether the defiant violation is passive, like one who is lazy and unwilling to provide—or whether the defiance is defiantly active, like leaving his spouse for another woman. There is always an identified verse which is being disobeyed. No clear passage means no confrontation–no clear violation of Scripture means no confrontation.

Get this–you only confront someone who claims to be a believer when there is a clear violation of a specific Scripture. Why? It is hurtful and harmful to confront unintentional sin. Only confront defiant sin, and know what verse is violated. But when you do it right . . .

3  The confronter only desires repentance

There is no vengeance, no feuding, and no payback. Confrontation is not so you can put those you don’t like in their place. Confrontation of sin is never to lord it over someone. And confrontation is an action of love, to free a believer from sin. There is only one thing loving discipline desires, and that is repentance on the part of the defiant sinning one.

The hope in confronting is that they would be freed from bondage to any sin, be able to turn from it and follow Christ again. Just like John wrote to the church at Ephesus after they lost their first love in Revelation 2:4 and 5, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”

Repentance is a decisive change of mind always leading to a turning from sin and turning to Christ. It always leads to change. Genuine repentance always demonstrates fruit, not just words. Matthew 3:8, “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” Acts 26:20b, “They should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” Second Corinthians 7:11, “This godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” And genuine repentance results in restoration . . .

4  The goal of discipline is restoration and protection

As Matthew 18 says, “you have won your brother.” Or as Galatians 6:1 says, “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” The goal is to see a brother or sister return to dependent obedience to the Holy Spirit, following the Word of God alone. The desire of every loving believer is to see every other believer restored to an intimate walk with Christ, by turning from their sins and following Christ. But there are times this can’t happen.

The New Testament speaks of wolves and false teachers. When the danger to the church is great, when the flock of God is in danger, the goal may move from restoration to protection. There’re times when discipline is to protect the flock from a wolf. Are you a shepherd of a group of people? If so, never forget, shepherds never pet wolves. Shepherds carry a staff to snag sheep out of a pit, but they also carried a staff to hit wolves. Shepherds protect sheep from wolves.

Speaking to the shepherds of Ephesus, Paul said to them in Acts 20:28 to 31, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 . . . be on the alert.”

What do they look like? Romans 16:17 and 18, “ . . . brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” There are times when dealing with a defiantly sinning so-called brother when it becomes obvious they are a danger to the people of God. They’ll harm a church body and tear up the sheep.

5  The type of sin determines the discipline process you use

There are times in the process of Church discipline where you cannot use Matthew 18 and go through four steps. In fact, when the danger to the church is great, there are passages which teach one step or two steps, so that the church is protected. You don’t want the sheep to go confront a wolf–they’ll get eaten. So God’s Word designs a faster process which protects God’s people. So only defiant sin, a verse being violated, looking only for repentance, desiring restoration, and now using the appropriate discipline passage. It is crucial, in the process of dealing with defiant sin, that you know exactly which passage you’re using in the discipline process.

PERSONAL SIN  Matthew 18:15 to 18 and Galatians 6:1

In Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins,” the variant reading that should be added is this—“If your brother sins [against you]” . . . it’s personal sin. And Galatians 6:1 speaks to those filled with the Spirit when it says, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

SEXUAL SIN, and some other specific sins, 1 Corinthians 5:11 to 13

I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”

LAZINESS and LACK OF RESPONSIBLILTY  Second Thessalonians 3:11 to 15

For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

SINNING ELDER  First Timothy 5:19 and 20

This says to protect them at first. “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. 20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.”

DIVISIVENESS  Titus 3:10 and 11

This moves faster—only two steps. Why? Because the danger to the church family is so great. See Titus 3:10 and 11, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”

DISSENSION and HINDRANCE  Romans 16:17 and 18

Notice there are no steps, just a turning away. Why? Simple–this kind of person will hurt the sheep. How do they do it? They will push back on truth, always having an excuse as to why they don’t obey the truth of God’s Word. Their sinful excuses will sound godly and they will make leaders sound unloving. How? They lie, and are really good at deceiving hearts–so with this type of sin the Bible says the church is to turn away from them.

Romans 16:17 and 18, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”

God commands you, all of you–elders and congregation, to deal with the elephant in the room. Confront only defiant sin. Make certain a verse of Scripture is being violated. Look only for repentance in their life. Strongly desire restoration, and use the appropriate discipline passage. After looking at all these passage, you can obviously draw several applications.

1  God takes sin very SERIOUSLY and so does every Christian

Friends, sin is so serious God had to kill His own Son to take care of it. God hates sin. He hates sin and loves holiness. You see Christ’s hatred for sin in the agony of Christ in the Garden, sweating great drops of blood. And you see it on the cross as Christ suffers under God’s wrath for sin with, “My God My God, why have you forsaken me?” Believers are under grace, but true believers also hate sin, because their Savior hates sin. Every true Spirit-filled Christian takes sin in their life very seriously, because God does.

2  Christians BATTLE sin because they hate it

You RECKON yourself dead to sin in Romans 6–believe sin has no more power over you because of the work of Christ in you. You CONFESS your sin, 1 John 1–say the same thing God says about sin, that it’s your fault and you’re responsible. You openly admit your sin to God and others. You FLEE from sin, 1 Corinthians 6–literally run in terror from immorality and other besetting sins. You REPENT of sin, Acts 26–you change your mind about sin in such a way that it leads to a change of behavior. And, you GET HELP with sin from Galatians 6–you humbly come alongside each other, and help one another overcome sin in each other’s lives. Christians battle sin.

3  Those who battle sin HELP others who battle sin

Only those who deal with sin in their own lives can help others. Paul said in Galatians 6:1 to 2, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens.” The context tells us those who are in the Spirit restore those in the flesh and bear one another’s burdens.

Like carrying a wounded soldier, they hold each other up, and help each other through prayer, encouragement and accountability. When someone is battling sin, desiring to obey, but they are losing the battle, you believers are to come alongside each other and help them win their battle with sin.

4  Dealing with sin in others requires WISDOM and love

Fact–Christians will hurt your feelings. Fact–even solid relationships can get messy. So when someone steps on your air-hose and sins against you, that moment is a test of your spiritual maturity. God allowed that moment for your spiritual good. Don’t read into people’s words or actions. Never listen to accusations made about another believer, but respond by using the principles and truths we’ve discussed.

Unhealthy churches are unloving–they don’t work at covering sins and letting go of offensives. Unbalanced Christians are over-confrontive, sometimes trying to discipline sins which are not defiant. At FBC, we strive to follow the Word of God in everything. We pray you will most often cover sins against you with love–but when you can’t, then confront only defiant sin, make certain a clear verse of Scripture is being violated, look only for repentance in their life, strongly desire their restoration, and use the appropriate discipline passage.

Hear me–if you attend FBC, are a regular attender or member, we will love you enough to confront your defiant sin. For example: if you abandon your spouse, slander others, or divide the body, then this church family will seek to rescue you from your folly through the processes defined in the passages we’ve studied today. Do you have to be a member for this to happen–yes or no? NO! We will pursue regular attenders of this body if they are in defiant sin.

5  Sin is what diminishes a believer’s JOY and influence

Healthy churches must depend on God’s Word and follow it in the fear of God with humble hearts in order to bring Him glory. If you love a Christian, then you hate that which destroys their life, joy and their influence for Christ–confrontation of sin is love.

6  Sin is what keeps you from CHRIST and Heaven

Confess your sins to Christ and have faith in Christ and His work on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Admit your sin. Exchange all that you are for all that He is. You may live a little better than others, but you are still dirty with sin before a holy righteous God. So give your entire life, now and forever, to your Creator, Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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