One of my dreams and goals for our church is that we become a hospital and rehabilitation center for sinners—a place where sinners like each of us may live in an atmosphere of grace, where we love and worship Jesus our Savior, and continue to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit to live more and more under the lordship of Christ. A hospital for sinners is not only a place where people will always hear the gospel, and be called to come to Jesus for salvation, but also a place for the rehabilitation of our souls when we find ourselves broken and in need of repair.
One of the most compelling books that I’ve read in the past thirty years is Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Dr. Paul Brand was a physician who pioneered the tendon transfer techniques still used today to allow the hands and feet of leprosy patients to function properly once again. In their book, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, they write:
When bone breaks, an elaborate process begins. Excited repair cells invade in swarms. Within two weeks a cartilage-like sheath called callus surrounds the region and cement-laying cells enter the jellied mass. These cells are the osteoblasts, the pothole-fillers of the bone. Gradually they break down the callus and replace it with fresh bone. In two or three months the fracture site is marked by a mass of new bone that bulges over both sides of the broken ends like a spliced garden hose. Later, surplus material is scavenged so the final result nearly matches the original bone. That is bone’s normal healing cycle.
Just as God designed the human body to heal a broken bone, so He equipped the body of Christ with all that is necessary for every member to be involved in the process of restoring parts that have been broken and wounded by sin and suffering. As long as the church is called to be a family that shows the love of God, those who are walking in the Spirit will need to practice loving confrontation. This models God’s relationship to His children and creates a grace-dispensing environment for believers to grow in.
In Galatians 6:1-5, God tells us how to carry out this loving restoration. There are three guidelines.
Restore gently, with grace (v. 1).
“Brothers” immediately draws attention to our familial relationships in the church, which is the most commonly used analogy in the New Testament. Here the apostle makes it clear that those who lead this kind of loving intervention must be “spiritual.” This is a translation of pneumatikos and in this context it refers to “men or women in Christ who walk so as to please God.”
Men and women who are walking and growing in the Spirit are those who are qualified to come alongside sinning brothers and sisters to gently restore them to the spiritual blessing that flows from obedience. Without the Holy Spirit, this kind of loving restoration cannot take place. As we submit our hearts to the Lord, the Spirit not only causes us to grow in godliness, but also equips us to be His instruments of change in the lives of others.
Restoration must be done “in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1). In other words, no allowance is made for a harsh, judgmental, or critical spirit. As we learn to walk in the Spirit, we will display the fruit of gentleness (Gal. 5:23), which in turn will be used by God to reach the hearts of those we are trying to help.
Sadly, there will be times in which the sinning person (whom we desperately want to help) will not respond to the Lord’s correction. And we may have to walk away. Still, Paul encourages the believers to “not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:14–15). The familial bond in Christ dictates how a sinning family member is to be treated—with grace.
Restore humbly, with self-examination (vv. 1, 3-4).
Loving correction must be carried out in a spirit of humility: “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Biblical humility understands that even the most mature believer is still susceptible to the power of the evil one and the temptations which are resident in the human heart.
As we help one another to follow Christ in obedience, we must keep a close eye on our own hearts. Solomon warned his son, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). Until Jesus returns, and we are glorified, we must recognize that sin is ever crouching at our door and its desire is for us (Gen. 4:7).
A helpful passage to prayerfully meditate on prior to confronting another person is Matthew 7:1–5. Here Jesus indicates that the absence of humility and self-examination is an enormous hindrance to the one-another ministry of confrontation. Pride blinds the spiritual eyes of the helper, thus leading to self-deception. In contrast, humility creates an atmosphere of love and patience that is essential for moving toward the goal of restoration.
Restore supportively, with accountability (v. 2, 5).
“Bear one another’s burdens” means that the ministry of restoration involves helping carry the weight of another person’s struggle. The “burden” in this context is the weight of sin or the “burden of temptations” that has trapped sinning brothers or sisters. To bear this weight is to help them carry their sin burden.
Nevertheless, though spiritual ones are responsible for carrying the burden with them, they do not carry it for them (see verse 5 – “each will have to bear his own load”). In other words, whatever help we give to sinning brothers or sisters must not remove an ounce of personal responsibility, since they are, first and foremost, morally accountable to God as creatures made in His image.
While we lovingly confront, in keeping with the goal of restoration, we must remind them of the truth of Romans 8:2; that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” By ministering in this way, we “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), who came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45).
As Christ followers, we need to recognize that we are not the only ones fighting the daily battle against sin. We are all fighting battles. When we notice that someone among us is losing the war and needs extra help in gaining the victory we are called to move in closer, in order to move them one step to the right, a step in the right direction, a step toward restoration.
Recommended resource: Counseling One Another: A Theology of Inter-Personal Discipleship