Human wisdom is always at war with biblical truth. That’s why, as Christians, we need to be careful not to let our biblical worldview become clouded by popular trends and acceptable social conventions. The temptation is often strong to brush aside biblical truth when it assaults our modern sensibilities.
That’s why there’s widespread reluctance in the evangelical church to confront and correct sin. Churches regularly capitulate to the victim mentality and fragile emotional state of our therapeutic culture. And that’s evident by the widespread absence of congregations that practice church discipline. While Scripture is clear on the subject, what it demands flies in the face of all contemporary wisdom.
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 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. 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. (Matthew 18:15–17)
John MacArthur found overwhelming resistance to the practical application of those verses the first time he preached through the gospel of Matthew and arrived at chapter eighteen. John’s message “The Childlikeness of Believers: Confronting Sin” recounts some of the pushback he received.
In my naiveté in those days, I asked some pastors about that passage and if they ever applied it or knew anybody that did. To which I received a universal “No.” No one did it. No one knew anyone who did it. But I said this is the initial instruction to the church. This is where the word “church” shows up—Matthew 18. This is our Lord’s priority concern for the church, that the church be dealing with sin within its own members. If it is the first word of the Lord of the church to the church, then it is not something at the end of the list. It is at the beginning, which makes it top priority. How is it that you can read it, understand it, and not implement it?
I was told by men much older than myself and much wiser than myself that if I tried to do this at Grace Church—if I tried to lead a church to do what it says in this passage—I would empty the place. People wouldn’t stand for that. I was told, “Do you think you can have people in your church walk up to other people in your church and confront their sin without driving them away? Do you think you could possibly get a little group of people to go after a sinning believer without frightening everybody out? And you certainly don't believe that you can announce someone and their sin to the whole congregation and anybody would show up the next week. You just can’t do it. And if you’re concerned about church growth, and if you’re concerned about adding people to the church, forget that.”
That mindset has only continued to gain traction in subsequent decades. There is now overwhelming reluctance to deal with sin in the camp—primarily out of a fear of offending people or losing them to other churches. And while attendance statistics may seemingly validate that soft approach, those same numbers inevitably hide the cancerous growth of rebellion among congregants. Put simply, healthy numbers don’t matter if unaddressed sin is poisoning the Body of Christ.
“The Childlikeness of Believers: Confronting Sin” is a profound encouragement to all believers that Christ’s church actually grows through guarding her purity. Furthermore, John’s message explains how to practically address ongoing sin issues in our local congregations. Matthew 18:15–17 isn’t hard to understand, but it takes some courage to apply.
Ultimately, as John explains, our willingness to confront sin hinges on whether we really love our brethren:
If you, in the church, are not willing to confront someone’s sin, then you don’t see them as having any value. Christ sees them as having value. He paid the infinite price for them, did He not? And He gives us the responsibility like any parent to go after our wandering children. . . . When we were raising our four children, discipline was a regular routine in our family. And it was driven totally by love—our all-consuming love for them. The fear was they would be lost to us and to the Kingdom. And so whatever discipline was necessary to make them feel the pain of their own sinfulness, we inflicted it upon them. And every time they drifted into sin, they were disciplined for the purpose of restoration because they’re so precious. You feel that way about your own children, and our Lord is saying that’s how you should feel about the children of God.
John’s message is a powerful reminder that if we really trust God, we should obey His Word. And if we faithfully apply His biblical commands, He will honor our obedience. Moreover, if we sincerely care about the health of Christ’s flock, we have a duty to confront those members who persist in sinful rebellion. There is no stronger tangible expression of our love for God’s people and our passion for His glory.
Click here to watch or listen to “The Childlikeness of Believers: Confronting Sin.”