Monday, April 11, 2011

The Restoration of the Repentant

Hello everyone.  I am going to take a short break from our study from the Sermon on the Mount.  It is a rather long study and so from time to time I will be taking these breaks as God puts issues on my heart.  Today I want to talk about something I have not really addressed much in this blog.  I have talked much about church discipline and the church's failure to cast out members who live in sin.  That is not to say that anyone who sins should be cast out otherwise churches would have no members.  They would have no pastors either.  Sinning is telling a lie. Living in sin would be case where you are a drunkard or having a continued adulterous affair.  The issue I want to address today, though, is equally as wrong as not casting out one who lives in sin.  Today I want to talk about the church's failure to welcome back and restore one who repents of the sin they live in.  
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  Galatians 6:1-3 NKJV
Sadly there have been many scandals in the Christian church involving all sorts of worldly sin.  There have been drug scandals, adultery, divorce, homosexuality, money laundering, and more.  Each and every time it happens, it hurts the whole church body.  The scandal is big news in and out of the church and that minister is many times left to a life of obscurity.  What we rarely hear of is any kind of restoration.  Not that all of these fallen ministers repent of their sin, but many do.  Some are actually restored and some are never accepted again. What we hear even less about are the countless other Christians not in the spotlight who are never heard from again.  Sometimes those people never want to repent.  Many, though, do want to repent yet are abandoned to the world with no lifeline ever outstretched.  That should never be so.

The whole goal of any kind of church discipline needs to be restoration.  That is God's desire and it should be ours as well.  Unfortunately, churches in large part seem to just want to forget that whatever scandal was ever part of their body.  They would rather just let the sinner shrink away and if he or she ever does return to a church, better it be someone else's problem.  That is not what the Bible says.  Paul begins this passage with " Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness."  I do understand that there can not be restoration without repentance, but once there is repentance there needs to be restoration.  What trespasses should people be restored from?  Paul says "any trespass."  That includes them all.  Whether it be any kind of scandal that someone commits, if they repent, they need to be restored.  Considering there is no other sin other than not accepting the grace of Jesus that is not covered by the grace of Jesus, we certainly can not put even higher standards on who we restore to fellowship or ministry.

We are also told to restore someone with gentleness.  This is an other area where the church seems to lack today.  I know of people who got caught up in sin, repented of their sin, yet were sent to endless counseling meetings where they had to admit the wrongness of their actions over and over again.  There was no humility in how the church handled the person.  There was no meekness.  It was just to constantly bash someone about doing something wrong who knew he did something wrong and repented of it.  There is another case I know where the person was offered to be restored into ministry, but first he was to "prove his faithfulness" by volunteering for the moving ministry.  Now please do not think I am putting down a moving ministry.  People move and they always need help.  But to force penance through hard labor is putting burdens on someone that not even Jesus does.  Did Peter have to carry rocks before Jesus restored him?  Paul does not say "restore after penance" nor does he say "restore after the person is sorry enough."  Paul just says "restore."  We must not add to Scripture and that is what so many churches do.  If the person repents, we need to restore that person.  That is the example of Jesus and that is what we are called to do in Galatians. 

Paul then goes on to say "considering yourself lest you also be tempted."  This is where humility comes in.  People involved in church discipline sometimes like to think themselves above temptation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is not by any strength on anyone's part that they have not fallen into sin, but it is only by the grace of God.  Righteous living is something we are all called to, but not something any of us can achieve on our own strength.  If you are involved in church discipline, always keep that in mind.  The sin that you counsel someone about today could be one that overtakes you tomorrow.  The most dangerous place you can be is one where you think that you can not fall. 

Next Paul says "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." This again goes to ministering to the repentant one.  Coming under church discipline and even more so the chastisement of God can leave someone shattered.  As they pick of the pieces of their faith as God restores His fellowship with that person, it is important that we help in that healing process.  It is not a time to tell someone that it was their own fault and that what they were feeling was the result of their own sin.  They know full well the truth of all that you are saying.  Reminding them is like reminding a starving person that they have no food without offering any to help the situation.  We must come around that person, again with the understanding that it is only by the grace of God that we did not fall into that same sin. We must encourage them on their path to full restoration and not put up more hurdles for them. 

Finally, Paul says "For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself." This again goes to our humility.  There is a temptation to think ourselves better than the one who fell into sin.  That arrogance has no place in the church.  Again, it is by the grace of God that we did not fall ourselves, so there is no place for pride.  One of the worst things we can do is to take a holier than thou attitude to the restored brother or sister.  We must love them and restore them not keep them at arms length looking down on them.  Peter, after his restoration, became a great leader in the early church.  To think yourself better than the one who sins means you are deceiving yourself.  The fact is that you aren't.  You are a sinner saved by the grace of Jesus just as the restored brother is.  While on the subject of arrogance, I need to address the issue of gossip.  One of the worst ways this arrogant attitude takes form is in the way of gossip.  That is when the church members always seem to remind everyone just how badly that person sinned.  What they do not realize is that now they are living in sin themselves.  Jesus has separated that sin from that person as far as the east is from the west, who are we to try and bring them together again by our gossip?

Someone being cast out from the church should never be a happy occasion and so long as that person is gone, there should be a sense of loss.  If that person is saved, he is a sick part of the body we all belong to and so those effects are felt by all of us.  The idea of discipline is always restoration. We must always keep that in mind.  We must never turn back a repentant brother.  Remember the Prodigal son who returned to his father.  Remember the lady who found her lost coin.  Remember Peter who denied Christ.  Remember the lost sheep.  We must always have the goal of restoration no matter the sin.  It is not for us to ask for penance or to look down upon the fallen brother looking to be restored.  We are not above that person, but should welcome him back as the brother he is.  Someone coming back into fellowship should always be a time of celebration.  The next time a brother or sister comes back to church after having to leave for a time, please do not whisper behind their back, do not wait for them to prove themselves, do not remind them the pain they know full well their sin caused, and do not look down upon them as though you are better.  We need to reach out with the same grace and love that Jesus gives us whenever we tall into temptation.  We must be like the father of the Prodigal son who rejoiced at the return of his fallen son and not act in envy and bitterness as the self righteous brother. 
Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:11 NKJV

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