Christians are not only called to repentance but are also called to call others to repentance. This is often one of the hardest tasks in the Christian life. How do we approach someone who is sinning in a way that will help lead them to repentance?
An Informed Approach
If we want to help a sinner stop sinning, we need to study sin. We can do this by studying our own sinful hearts and the way sin begins, develops, and expands there. Though probably not on our summer reading list, we can also study sobering and searching books on sin.
- John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen
- Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
- Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins
- Jeremiah Burroughs: The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin
A Humble Approach
Remember that you are a sinner. Before we start rebuking sin in others, we must rebuke it in ourself first and most.
A Gentle Approach
Whether the person has asked us for help, we are offering help, or a friend has asked us to help, we need to approach humbly, quietly, and lovingly. Raise the subject in the context of the Gospel of Grace and our own need and experience of it for our own sins and struggles (Gal. 6:1).
A Hopeful Approach
Although the sin may be wide, deep, high, and long, the Gospel is wider, deeper, higher, and longer. The goal is to help the sinner see the seriousness of sin, the misery of sin, and all that God can offer through the Gospel to conquer both.
A Biblical Approach
Phrases to avoid: “I think…In my opinion…I don’t agree…”
Phrases to use: ‘The Bible says…God’s Word tells us…The Scriptures are clear…”
A God-Centered Approach
We cannot fix anyone; only God can. Point the sinner away from yourself and to:
- God’s sovereignty: He is in this, is in control, this is part of His plan, and He can even work it for your good.
- God’s holiness: This is both our model and our motive (1 Pet. 1:16).
- God’s wisdom: God knows all the answers and has a solution.
- God’s power: especially when we feel our powerlessness.
- God’s love: Willing to forgive, heal, accept, restore (1 John 1:9).
- God’s Son: Show them the suitability, sufficiency, willingness, and ability of Christ to save.
- God’s justice: He won’t stand by and see His law broken and smashed to pieces.
A Realistic Approach
Be realistic about the sin. Call it what it is. Don’t soft-pedal or soft-filter it.
Be realistic about time. Rarely will a person change immediately or perfectly.
Be realistic about the difficulty. There’s going to be resistance, pain, failure, and disappointment along the way.
A Wise Approach
Choose the right place (not Starbucks).
Choose the right time for you and the other person (not too little time, not too late, not too busy and stressed).
Choose the right words: take account of the person’s world, vocabulary, education.
A Questioning Approach
It’s often better to question than to accuse, at least to begin with. Try to get the person to supply the answers and draw the conclusions rather than you telling them. Tomorrow, we’ll look at some good questions to ask when trying to help someone stop sinning.
A Prayerful Approach
Pray without ceasing: before the conversation, during the conversation, and after the conversation. Pray for the person and with the person.
What else have you found helpful in these difficult though necessary conversations?
How did Christianity lose its cultural influence and how can it begin rebuilding it again? That’s the question Greg Foster asks in Joy for The World. And his answer is implied in the title – joy! Yes, real, unique, holistic, Spirit-produced Christian joy is THE most vital tool for engaging our culture AND changing it.
Greg begins with memories of his largely non-Christian childhood, in which his most memorable experiences of joy were associated with Christmas when it expressed a truly Christian, Jesus-centered spiritual celebration. None of these brief annual encounters with Christian joy created or resulted from a real Christian faith, but Greg argues that they made him more receptive to the Christian message later on, prepared him for faith, and even made him a better person in the meantime.
Although he doesn’t want to make his experience the rule for everyone, he insists that his experience is quite common.
I don’t think it’s unusual for people outside the church to be powerfully changed by the way they encounter the joy of God through Christians’ participation in their civilization.
He then clarifies what he means by the joy of God:
I’m not talking about an emotion. I mean the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit.
This, says Foster, is what’s so missing from today’s culture.
I think the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit.
This book then is a challenge to Christian to “help our neighbors encounter the joy of God through the way we behave in society.”
This really is quite revolutionary, isn’t it. So many of our evangelistic and apologetic methods are so heady, so rational, so intellectual, so logical…and so miserable and angry and joyless and ineffectual.
But don’t think that this is some shallow and superficial book that just appeals to the emotions at the expense of truth. The author is a Yale PhD, a program director at the Kern Family Foundation, and a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The book itself is a demanding read and will probably become required reading in many Christian colleges and worldview courses.
But for all the intellectual firepower directed at flawed approaches to cultural engagement, the basic message is consistent: the joy of God alone is what makes the church distinct from the world.
The clincher verse for me was when Greg referenced Psalm 126 and asked:
Consider the relationship in this passage between the joy of God among God’s people and the way the nations respond to God’s people. What do the nations notice about God’s people? “The LORD has done great things for them.” And how do they notice that? “Our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”
Time for some laughter, people!
This book will test you but it will also teach you. You’ll learn a lot about the historical and philosophical roots of today’s culture and the church’s disengagement from it. But you’ll also be challenged to re-think your disengagement or your faulty engagement. It’s a book then for the head as well as for the heart.
Although America has long been divided on social issues, the nation has been traditionally fairly united in optimism about the future.
But no longer, according to a special survey commissioned for The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute and headlined in an article Americans Are No Longer Optimists:
- Nearly two-thirds of Americans—65 percent—question whether America will be on the right track in 10 years.
- Most doubt whether American will be a “land of opportunity” in 10 years (33 percent say yes, 42 percent say no, and 24 percent say they don’t know).
- The American Dream seems to be fading with seven in ten Americans cynical about whether working hard and playing by the rules will bring success in the future.
- While 56 percent of parents believe college will be increasingly important in the coming years, less than one third—29 percent—believe they will be able to afford to pay for their children to go.
- Only three in 10 Americans now believe our global standing will be rising in 10 years; 43 percent think it will be declining.
- 64 percent of parents believe it will be difficult for their children to find good jobs in 10 years.
- Only African Americans and Hispanics believe America is on the right track and will remain a land of opportunity.
- Women are even more pessimistic than men.
Those who commissioned the poll conclude: “All we can say, then, is that Americans are full of uncertainty and pessimism about the next 10 years.”
How do you react when you read such statistics? Do you think “We’re doomed, we’re doomed, we’re all doomed!”
Or do you think, “What an opportunity for the church of Christ and the Gospel of grace!”
I hope the latter. There’s such an opening here for the good news, so wide that it’s just about an open goal without a goalkeeper. It’s like a 21st century version of Ecclesiastes.
If there’s any group of people that can offer a wonderful counter-cultural message surely it’s Christians who can passionately and compassionately communicate the Gospel of grace in all its fullness. Let’s stop moaning and groaning with the rest of the culture, and tell our despairing world about all that Jesus offers:
- Truth in a world full of lies
- Peace in a world full of war
- Love in a world full of hate
- Life in a world full of death
- Forgiveness in a world full of vengeance
- Power in a world full of weakness
- Certainty in a world full of confusion
- Purpose in a world full of pointlessness
- Beauty in a world full of ugliness
- Hope in a world full of despair
- Family in a world full of loneliness
- Guidance in a world full of mazes
- Goodness in a world full of badness
- Relationship in a world full of alientation
- God in a world full of the Devil
- Salvation in a world full of sin
- An unshakeable Kingdom in a world of crumbling empires
- A perfect leader in a world full of failed leadership
- And, yes, optimism in a world full of pessimism.
Don’t worry, ladies, this isn’t another foolish and ignorant guy setting himself up as the latest male expert on female emotions. No, I’m basing my headline on a female expert on female emotions. Her name is Sheila Walsh, a fellow-Scot living in the USA, whom the Lord has blessed with a worldwide ministry to Christian women.
I first came across Sheila through two unforgettable interviews (Part 1, Part 2) she gave to Focus on the Family about her father’s suicide in her childhood, and her long struggle with depression, ultimately resulting in her being hospitalized for treatment. What impressed me about these interviews was not only her raw transparency and authenticity but also her ability to understand and articulate what she had experienced and how she was overcoming it with the help of God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s people.
When I saw that Sheila had written a new book, The Storm Inside: Trade the Chaos of How You Feel for the Truth of Who You Are, I was intrigued to discover if her speaking voice would come through as powerfully and helpfully on the printed page, and I’m delighted to say it definitely does.
The book is based upon thousands and thousands of stories, letters, and testimonies that Sheila has received from hurting women all over the world. As she surveyed these, she found that “Time after time, they fall under the banner of the following ten feelings that can become overwhelming burdens”:
Each chapter in the book addresses one of these persistent and devastating issues. As well as describing and illustrating these paralyzing feelings using many touching personal anecdotes and other women’s letters, Sheila demonstrates the suitability and power of God’s Word and demonstrates how to skilfully minister it to hurting women.
So, is this a book just for women? I must admit by about the fifth time Sheila addressed her readers as “Girls” I was beginning to feel a bit guilty. It felt like I was furtively eavesdropping on a women’s Bible Study, or, even worse, looking through my wife’s purse (“handbag” for UK readers).
But I decided to persevere and even managed to finish the book with a clear conscience! How? Because I believe it’s given me a greater sensitivity to the special spiritual challenges that women face. Yes, there’s overlap with male issues too (I’ve had my own Storm Inside recently), but there are definitely some areas that are much greater struggles for women and therefore a tougher challenge for men to minister to.
That’s where I found the most benefit; the book not only heightened my awareness of these spiritual battles, but also showed me how to better serve those fighting them. As such, I hope it has made me a better husband, a better father of my two daughters, and a better pastor to the Christian women I am privileged to pastor.
A good book for women. An even better book for men!