Is it unloving to tell another person he/she is sinning?
Modern culture tells us that to disagree with a person is to inappropriately judge or condemn them. We are taught to be "tolerant," meaning we should accept and affirm what people do. People have different "truths" and what is right for some may not be right for others, or so we are told. Evidently if we disagree or think something another person is doing is wrong, we don't love them; and to voice our opinion would be decidedly unloving. But is that really love? If we know a person is about to walk off the edge of a cliff, yet they seem happy to be walking where they are, is it loving to allow them to continue in their behavior? Confronting sin in another person is difficult, and unfortunately it is often done in a very unloving matter. But ignoring sin is not loving. Sin separates people from God. Romans 6:23 says that "the wages of sin is death." Apart from Christ, we are condemned to an eternity separated from God in hell. But, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16–17). Even for those who already know Christ—whose sins have been forgiven and whose eternities are secure—sin still separates us from God. First John 1:8–9 says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Sin causes a relational distance between us and the source of true life. Telling someone they are sinning is a loving act to help restore them to God. That being said, there are certainly loving and unloving ways to go about doing so.
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In the case of an unbeliever, a specific sin is not the issue—not having a relationship with God through Jesus is. God does not want unbelievers to "clean up their act." He wants to give them new life through Christ. All people need to recognize that we are sinners (Romans 3:23), that sin brings death (Romans 6:23), and that the only means of forgiveness and life is through Jesus (Ephesians 2:8–9). Confronting sin in unbelievers is really about sharing the gospel message. We need not concern ourselves with specific sins, but with the overall call from death to life. Paul told the Corinthians, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside" (1 Corinthians 5:9–13). Behavior modification in unbelievers is not our goal. Sharing the good news of forgiveness and life in Jesus is.
Confronting sin in believers is a bit different. The goal is the same—helping people experience life in Christ. But in this case we do bring up a specific sin. James 5:19-20 says, "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." Galatians 6:1 says, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." We raise our concerns with fellow Christians out of a desire for them to be able to experience the fullness of the life God has for them. The writer of Hebrews instructed, "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13). James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." Telling another believer about sin in their lives should not be about pride; it should not be done in an effort to control them or to humiliate them. Rather, it should be done from a heart of love, a heart that desires to encourage, a heart that is also open to correction. Believers are meant to help one another live the Christian life. Jesus has called us to obey Him. In doing so we bring glory to God and bear fruit that will last. It is by obedience that we abide in Christ and can fully experience His love and joy (John 15:1–17). When we help other believers who are in sin—and remain open to others helping us when we are in sin—we are helping one another live the life God intended for us.
In confronting sin in the life of another believer, it is important to recognize that we need not tell people about every sin. First Peter 4:8 says, "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins." First Corinthians 13:4–7 says, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." Even Jesus did not point out people's every sin. Rather, He came "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). He did not shy away from confronting sin, but always did so with love and pointing toward God's forgiveness and grace. We are not the sin police. Our job is not to convict others about what they are doing. Our job is to care for one another enough to point out blind spots and journey together in the process of restoration. We should also "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24–25). In love, we do not just point out sin, we encourage one another toward righteous living.
It is not unloving to tell others they are sinning. In fact, helping restore others to right relationship with God is one of the most loving things we can do.
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