Featured Hot Button / Hot Button

Church Restoration – The Grace of Restoring Those Who Fall

Going to someone blinded by sin in humility, truth and grace to see them repentant, restored, forgiven and living for the Lord once again is never easy. It takes courage and Christ-centered love. But will most of the time prove rewarding, healing and profitable for the entire church. Why? It has the blessing of God (James 5:20).

Going to other believers that you know and that know you and whom are your friends and long-term members of the same church can even be more nerve wracking stretching ones spiritual constitution to the cliff’s edge. But this is precisely what the faithful under-shepherds of Christ are called to do. Doing all things without partiality; preferring to honor Christ over personal convenience; caring more for the purity of the church than for individual comfort; and ultimately, giving all—forsaking reputation, opportunity and station of life to present every man complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28-29; 1 Timothy 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 2:3-6; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5). One of the greatest acts of love a pastor can ever demonstrate to his people and one of the most Christlike examples he could ever model for the body of Christ is when he and the other elders of the church confront someone in unrepentant sin, seeking for their repentance, restoration and reconciliation (Matthew 18:15-20).

The antithesis of this is also true: like a well-meaning parent who gives strict rules to their children, but rarely, if ever, lovingly disciplines when they disobey, is akin to the pastor who from week to week preaches a biblical sermon, but fails to hold the congregation accountable to its truth. The end result is they may agree with the message and even like the messenger, but they never learn to fear the Lord. They have grown accustomed to rhetoric without righteousness. This is what Paul means when he says “bear another’s burden…” and “…thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-3).

Church Restoration – A Loving Act of Worship

The purpose for church discipline is not for retribution or personal revenge. It is not a “spiritual witch-hunt” against someone you have it out for. It is to protect the purity of the church 1 Corinthians 5:9-13); to assure the purity and testimony of the individual believer in Christ (Galatians 6:1-3); to guard against future sin (Acts 5:1-11); and to bring glory to God so that our worship is unfeigned (Leviticus:1-3). It is an act of love (1 Peter 4:8), done in humility (Galatians 6:1), bathed in grace and forgiveness for the repentance and restoration of another (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). It is no cause for rejoicing or pride among anyone in the church when the table of grace must be turned into a table of correction. Oh dear under-shepherd of Christ, you are never acting more like the Lord, than when you are ‘winning over’ a sinning brother or sister to live for Christ through a repentant, broken life as a result of church discipline.

This is why it is deeply disturbing to hear, without exception, that the most forgotten duty today by local church leadership is the failure to lovingly restore those fallen into sin. It is estimated by some that only one out of a thousand churches in America practice any kind of church discipline whatsoever. This has left the church venerable and susceptible; for God can never be glorified where sin is pacified—and He can never be exalted in praise where sin is entertained and practiced! Matthew Mead, that powerful Puritan expositor insightfully instructs pastors with these profound words when saying, “If sin be as terrible as you say it is, why then are our lives not lived more holy; and if sin is not as terrible as you say it is, why then do you preach against it with such fury?”

Sin’s consequence causes the precious Holy Spirit to be grieved (Ephesians 4:30); our prayers to go unanswered (1 Peter 3:7); disqualifies us from ministry (1 Corinthians 9:24-27); causes our praise to be unacceptable (Psalm 33:1); withholds God’s blessing from us (Jeremiah 5:25); forfeits our joy (Psalm 32:3-4; 51:12); hinders our spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 3:1-3); causes our fellowship to become polluted (1 Corinthians 10:21; 1 Corinthians 11:28-29); our lives to be endangered (1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 John 5:16); and most paramount, our holy God dishonored (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Sin causes the whole church to suffer (1 Cor. 12:26); it provokes discipline (Matthew 18:15-20); has as its roots the “doctrine of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1); and as its father – the devil himself (1 John 3:8)!

Is it any wonder that the great Puritan preacher, Thomas Watson, said  

“that a sign of sanctification is a hatred of sin…one who not only leaves sin, but loathes it.” That is precisely why Solomon wrote in Proverbs 28:13, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes [repentance] them will find compassion.”

He who covers his sin, God will uncover; he who uncovers his sin, God will cover!

Playing Politics with God

Why does this occur? What turns brave men of God in the pulpit into cowardly ineffectual leaders in the pew? I believe that pastors fail to exercise church discipline for four fundamental reasons: 1. Fear and the fear of man; 2. a low view of sin; 3. failure to tremble at the Word of God; and, 4. a vanishing view of the transcendence of God.

Firstly, is fear and the fear of man. I hear pastors almost on a monthly basis express to me that they are fearful of being sued, black-balled in the church, or possibly even losing their pulpit if they honor the Lord in their churches and discipline sin. No question that congregations can turn against faithful men of God for holding fast the faith preferring their own sinfulness over holiness. Fear usually stems from a lack of knowledge, by the greatness of evil or by the inability to overcome the evil. We are all plagued by this aren’t we? But the man of God must be tempered with the steel of righteousness In his breast and has Paul has said, “by the terror of the Lord I persuade men.” He must not give in to a spirit of timidity; but with firm resolve rely on God’s provision of love, power, and a sound mind. When Better to fear the Lord, honor Him and do the right thing, than to fear man, be paralyzed in ministry and forfeit the blessing and favor of the Lord on their church. It is a dangerous thing to play politics with God!

Secondly, they have developed a low view of sin. The reasoning goes something like this, “who are we to judge… we all make mistakes don’t we? After all, we’re only human? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” But sin is so powerful and so fatal that it took nothing less than God the Son to give His life as a ransom for many, as our Divine Substitute, High Priest and sacrificial Lamb; to propitiate the holiness and justice of God so that we may have peace with God forever. “He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). How can we treat sin so lightly in light of what it cost our Savior and Lord?

Sin strikes at God and says, “I don’t care what You said, I’ll do what I want.’ It is God’s would be murderer. Sin would un-God God if it could. Sin defiles the conscience. Sin is irrational and forfeits blessing. Sin is painful—it hurts. Sin is damning. Sin is degrading it mares the image of God and man. Like Samson, it cuts the locks of purity and leaves men morally weak. Sin poisons the springs of love and turns beauty into leprosy. Sin defeats the mind, the heart, the will, the affections and it has made a whole world of people—all of mankind—children wrath by nature; objects of God’s wrath. Sin brings man under the domination of Satan and his sick sin system, which he controls. Man and the world is a slave to sin, open rebellion and defiance to God and a slave to Satan.”

Thirdly, they fail to tremble at the Word of God. This is foundational to all genuine ministry. A low view of Scripture leads to a high view of self, a low view of sin and a diminished view of God. To not tremble at the Word, as Isaiah puts it (Isaiah 66:2), is to show a lack of contrition, humility, and to live in arrogance against the Lord. The battle for the sufficiency and authority of Scripture is as great today as it was in Luther’s time.

“This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrine is holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be saved, practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here heaven is open, and the gates of hell are disclosed.

Christ is the grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet.

Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, health to the soul, and a river of pleasure. It is given to you here in this life, will be opened at the judgment, and is established forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and condemn all who trifle with its contents.”–Author Unknown

Fourthly, the loss of the transcendence of God. This is the most disconcerting and troubling. When we speak of worshipping a transcendent God what do we mean? Transcendence means that God is lofty and divinely other than who we are. He is holy—I am sinful; He is Eternal—I am created; He is omniscient—I am inadequate in my knowing, etc. When a pastor lives daily in the presence of His glory and has as his supreme objective and pleasure to please the Lord in all things, then he is transformed from being a professional churchman to a worshiping servant- leader in whom God finds favor.

The Catastrophe of Compromise

Several years ago I was privileged to teach a weekly Sunday School class at a local church in Nashville. One night after a concert, I received a heartbreaking phone call from a woman whom with her husband had founded the class. Through tears of brokenness, she told me she had just learned her husband had been unfaithful to her. She was obviously devastated. She asked if I would meet with him as soon as I returned home from the weekend of concerts. I was more than willing to do so.

Over the next few days of painful conversations with this man, he finally revealed that he had had not one, but seventeen affairs over six and half years. This was not a “David” situation, but a lifestyle with him. He asked me if I thought he was a Christian, I told him no, for the practice of his life was one of adultery and those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). The road to repentance is never an easy one—whether for salvation or sanctification—and in this case it wasn’t going to be either.

Miraculously, his wife still wanted him back even after all of his infidelity. If he was going to have any hope of restoring his marriage and family he needed to do four key things (for the scope of ones influence demands the scope of ones repentance) :

1. Confess and ask forgiveness from his wife;
2. Confess and ask forgiveness from each of his families;
3. Confess to the Sunday School class that he had started and to step down from any future leadership position for due to his lifestyle he was disqualified forever in serving in any kind of local church leadership role, and
4. Go with an elder of the church to every one of these seventeen women in the Nashville area and ask for forgiveness as well.

His wife needed to know, as well as the church, that he had not left any stone unturned, but was willing to do whatever it took to demonstrate true repentance and a new heart in Christ.

What Ever Happened to Sin?

He did the first three with me and with others present to give proper accountability. When he was about to begin the fourth and most crucial area, I received a phone call from the senior pastor of the church. He said he had appreciated my leadership in this situation so far, but things needed to change now. He informed me that this was too much adultery for him as a pastor to deal with and what this man needed was to attend a series of “sexoholic” meetings. I thought to myself, what in the world is a sexoholic and they even have meetings? The pastor recommended ninety sexoholic meetings in ninety days as the way to deal with this tragic situation. (Mind you in these groups you cannot be challenged, you cannot be called to repentance, you cannot be told your views are wrong or out of bounds regardless of the filth that may be shared in those settings. You are simply allowed to vocalize your struggle with what ever sexual perversion is crippling your spirit.)

Long story short, this man came back to me after thirty meetings and said the following, “I have a medical problem. There is an endorphin that my body secretes that forces me to uncontrollably satisfy its impulse by having sex with other women. I also have parental issues: Dad not hugging me enough as a child; Mom not being as nurturing as she could have… I’m sick. I have a disease. And these people can help me.” I immediately thought, he’s bought the lie and the church helped him do it.

I reassured him that he wasn’t sick, but a sinner; he didn’t have a disease, but was disobedient; he wasn’t addicted, but was an adulterer. He didn’t need therapy, but church discipline. He didn’t rehabilitation, but repentance from sin. Unfortunately, the pastors and elders of his church never disciplined this man for his adultery—they didn’t believe in it and to this day still do not. The pastor told me they would never do that (church discipline) because many of them had left “those kinds of churches” to build their church so to be more “grace based” in ministry. What fools! I have never seen that man since then. Sadly, we were left without option and our family had to leave that church over this situation.

Grace Doesn’t Wink at Sin, It Confronts It and Seeks Restoration and Reconciliation

Though we have entered into our eternal rest by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) – grace never leads to the fulfilling of further ungodliness and worldly desires (Titus 2:12); that grace never indulges the flesh (Romans 6:1-2); that grace does not cherish lust or seek its pleasure (Psalm 66:18; Hebrews 11:25-26); but that grace hates sin and calls all who know its voice to turn from their sin and to turn to God. That is what repentance is: an abrupt about-face, in the face of sin.

Grace doesn’t wink at sin; grace doesn’t tolerate sin or turn a deaf ear to its ugly seducing voice. Grace confronts sin, disciplines sin and restores one trapped in its clutches. In the tragic account above, she needed grace for forgiveness; he needed grace for repentance. Regrettably, neither ultimately occurred because the spiritual malpractice of the leadership of that church.

The Evidence of Saving Faith—A Notorious Repentance

The truly repentant person will not put any prohibitions or conditions to what he has to do to demonstrate genuine repentance. He will want to do whatever it takes not as little as it takes. As Spurgeon says, “when ones repentance is more notorious than their sin—then you know it is genuine.”

One of the foundational evidences of a truly regenerated man or woman is their repentance from sin and their hatred of it. Unfortunately, repentance is a forgotten word in the church today! That powerful, truthful word has been exiled and excused from most church pulpits, elder meetings, prayer gatherings, and worship services all under the guise of glorifying God the Father and exalting our Lord Jesus Christ.

Repentance means a change of mind, a turning away from, a reordering of the entire life, an about face, turning from sin and turning to God. It is the amputation of sin from our lives; the cutting away of the gangrenous so the healthy tissue thrives. None of us can negotiate with sin—we’re not strong enough. We must “cut off our hands, pluck out our eyes” and be done with it, or it will be the undoing of us. The young man depicted above thought he could negotiate with three deadly sins: unguarded pleasure, unbridled passion and unbroken pride. He was sorely mistaken.

Paul gives this same encouragement to a young timid Timothy when he says to his true son in the faith, “flee youthful lust and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). John the Baptist said, “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). Our Lord Jesus said, “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Paul talked of a “repentance without regret” and a “godly sorrow that leads to repentance” (2 Cor. 7:9f). And finally Peter tells us that, “the Lord…not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Am I Christian? Evidence That Demands Fruit

How do I know that I am truly saved when my life is constantly being bombarded with sin and its luring? A.W. Pink makes this outstanding observation, “How may I know I’m elect?:

First, by the Word of God having come in divine power to the soul so that my self-complacency is shattered and my self-righteousness is renounced.

Second, by the Holy Spirit convicting me of my woeful, guilty, and lost condition.

Third, by having had revealed to me the suitability and sufficiency of Christ to meet my desperate case and by a divinely given faith causing me to lay hold of and rest upon Him as my only hope.

Fourth, by the marks of the new nature within me – a love for God; an appetite for spiritual things; a longing for holiness; a seeking after conformity to Christ.

Fifth, by the resistance which the new nature makes to the old, causing me to hate sin and loathe myself for it.

Sixth, by avoiding everything which is condemned by God’s Word and by sincerely repenting of and humbly confessing every transgression. Failure at this point will surely bring a dark cloud over our assurance causing the Spirit to withhold His witness.

Seventh, by giving all diligence to cultivate the Christian graces and using all diligence to this end. Thus the knowledge of election is cumulative.”