14 Sobering Reminders When Confronting Sin

The last couple of days we’ve been looking at the important, difficult, and oft-avoided duty of confronting or rebuking sin. We looked at the general attitude we should have when approaching someone about their sin and then listed a bank of 30 questions to ask when challenging sin.  Today I want to suggest 14 truths to remember throughout this process:

  • Remember the depth of sin: This is not some shallow simple matter. It has deep origins and roots in the unfathomable depths of the human heart.
  • Remember the width of sin: Sin impacts every part of our beings – bodies, minds, emotions, desires, imaginations, personalities, relationships, and so on.
  • Remember the length of sin: Long-term habits are not easy to break – they create default pathways in our brain that we all too easily and automatically travel down.
  • Remember the height of sin: It is against God, the Holy and infinite God of heaven and earth.
  • Remember the power of sin: The person’s whole life may be dominated and consumed by it.
  • Remember the damage of sin: The destructive consequences for the person, his relationship with God, and his relationship with others.
  • Remember the love of sin: He is not doing it because he hates it but because he loves it and gets pleasure from it – no matter how temporary.
  • Remember the confusion of sin: It is illogical and irrational and makes those committing it illogical and irrational. You cannot rely on reasoning to defeat sin.
  • Remember the context of sin: Without absolving a person of responsibility, consider some of the factors that may have contributed to this person’s sin – genetic, social, providential, relationship factors. Other people’s sins may have triggered this sin.
  • Remember the memory of sin: Even when a person is delivered from it, the memory will often remain and continue to tempt.
  • Remember the deceitfulness of sin: We deny, downplay, shift blame, minimize, excuse, etc.
  • Remember the despair of sin: A person be hopelessly overwhelmed with shame and guilt.
  • Remember the ignorance of sin: Through ignorance, custom, context or seared conscience, a person may not realize what they are doing is sinful.
  • Remember the companions of sin: it rarely comes alone but brings lots of “friends” with it.

These reminders keep us serious, humble, and prayerful throughout this process.

But we must also remember the encouraging wonder of Christ’s glorious person and saving work. His redemption is deeper, wider, longer, and higher than any sin. His salvation is more powerful than sin and can heal the deepest wound. His love can expel and replace the love of sin. He can straighten out the most confused situation. He can overcome the most handicapping of contexts. He can produce total honesty in the most deceived and deceiving of hearts. He gives hope to the despairing, light to the ignorant, and sends many powerful and friendly graces along with His salvation.

Where sin abounds, there grace much more abounds!

30 Questions To Ask A Sinner

In How Do Sinners Help Sinners to Stop Sinning we began to look at the kind of approaches we need to take when trying to help a sinner stop sinning. Personal experience and the Lord’s dealing with sinners teach us that it’s often better to question than to accuse, at least to begin with. It’s usually more productive if the other person supplies the answers and draws the conclusions rather than us telling them.

So what are good questions to ask? What questions are most likely to produce honest answers, contrite conclusions, and repentant action? Here’s a bank of questions that I’ve built up over the years, some of them from my own experience and some of them I’ve learned from others.

NB: I’m not suggesting that you ask every question every time or that this is the order to follow! That’s where prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit comes in as we ask THE Counselor for His wisdom and blessing. So much depends upon the person, our relationship to them, and the situation.

DOUBLE NB: Ask yourself the questions first!!

  • Do you have any spiritual/mental/emotional/physical/moral/relational difficulties?
  • What did you do?
  • When do you do it?
  • When did you start doing this?
  • How often do you do this?
  • How long have you been doing it?
  • When do you find yourself doing this or wanting to do it?
  • What has this sin cost you/others?
  • How has this sin damaged you/others?
  • What do you gain from this sin?
  • What do you think about this sin and its consequences?
  • Do you want to stop?
  • What have you tried?
  • Have you ever succeeded in stopping?
  • Is the problem getting better or worse?
  • What are the usual steps that lead you into this sin?
  • Are there any common factors/places/people that lead to this sin?
  • Have you taken any precautions?
  • Do you know what God’s Word says about this sin?
  • What are you trying to achieve/attain through this sin?
  • Is there anyone else involved in this sin with you?
  • Where and how do you think I can help you?
  • Do you see a way out of this sin?
  • Do you know where this sin will take you?
  • Are you a Christian? Are you a believer in Jesus Christ?
  • What do you understand by “Christian”?
  • How were you converted?
  • What resources do you depend upon in your life? Family, friends, colleagues, Church.
  • What does your devotional life look like?
  • Do you have any other spiritual struggles and temptations?

And remember, people answer questions with their bodies as well as their tongues! Watch for changes in facial expressions, posture, and eye-contact. Listen for changes in tone of voice, volume, hesitation, etc.

What other questions have you found useful in speaking to people about sin? Please add them in the comments.

How Do Sinners Help Sinners Stop Sinning?

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.

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?

Check out

Weekend Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman ($2.99)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Kain ($2.99)

The Elements of Style by William Strunk ($2.99)

First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by J Hansen ($1.99)

Thomas Jefferson (Author of America) by Christopher Hitchens ($1.99)

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever ($0.99)

How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem by Matt Perman ($4.99)

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew Davis ($0.99)

I Am Hutterite: The Fascinating True Story of a Young Woman’s Journey to reclaim Her Heritage by Mary-Ann Kirkby ($1.99)

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The Foundation of Christian Joy

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So Your Child Is Dating a Non-Christian

A Word To The Introverted Pastor: Be Extroverted on Sunday

Thinking About Vocation (not Vacation)

Finding Hope for An Often-Fatal Genetic Disorder

Who Is The Most Important Person In Your Church

The Pastor’s Wife Who Went Crazy

Life As An Ordinary Pastor’s Kid

The Pastor’s Kid: My Happy Childhood

Special Friendship Between Preschooler and WWII Veteran

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Two outstanding podcasts on Faith and Mental Illness from Michael Horton.

Podcast 1: Faith & Mental Illness

Podcast 2: Darkness is My Only Companion

See Michael’s recent blog post on the issue and also this Faith & Mental Illness Study Kit.


Inspire Her Mind

Unique Surf Photographer

Triple Lightning Strike On Chicago’s Tallest Buildings

Technology Cannot Replace Love

“The Greatest Failing of The American Church Today”

Notice I put that headline in quotation marks. That means two things. First, I didn’t say it; Greg Forster did, in his book Joy For The World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. Second I may not agree with it; quotations marks around a headline often say, “Hey, we’re not necessarily agreeing with this, just quoting it.”

These qualifications out of the way, what is “the greatest failing of the American church today?” Greg Forster says it’s “the failure of the American church to affirm the goodness of civilizational life” (p. 89). Quite a surprising claim isn’t it?

The context for this remarkable assertion is Greg’s passion for sound cultural engagement which, he says, integrates two things:

First, we must begin with affirmation of the God-given goodness of civilizational activity. Second, the special transformation of our hearts by the Spirit must flow into our civilizational activity, so that we stand against all that is sinful and wrong in the world and pursue a more excellent way. We must integrate these two commissions into a single, unified civilizational life that expresses the joy of God. (88)

Affirmation of our civilization is first and fundamental “for the simple reason that creation comes before fall…Christians say good is primary and evil is parasitic.” Thus Greg concludes, “when we approach civilization, we must always be careful to keep the affirmation of the good in the primary position and let transformation of the bad follow.”

Do you see why I said yesterday that this might make some VanTillians’ hair fall out? Van Til and his followers, (including some of them in the nouthetic/biblical counseling field) start out with antithesis rather than affirmation. They begin by highlighting the evil in the world, the fallenness in the world, the enmity in the world. The world is bad, bad, bad, etc. Slash and burn, fight and critique, expose and ridicule, and so on.

Then, when they’ve wasted the field and strangled every last breath out of any “worldly” thing or idea, they quietly creep back onto the battlefield and start breathing some life back into the massacred corpses via the doctrine of common grace. ANTITHESIS is upfront in big, bold, capital letters. Affirmation is whispered in small (and often contradictory) print (that hopefully no one notices).

It’s always struck me as an extremely strange way to try and win an argument or win people over to your side.

Affirmation First
Greg Forster insists that, without affirming everything or toning down our opposition to things that are sinful, we should should put AFFIRMATION up front in big, bold capital letters, and that prioritizing it rather than antithesis “will actually help us bear witness more powerfully against sin, strengthening and empowering our transformative impact.” He present five reasons for this (p. 89):

1. Within a framework of affirmation for the good our opposition to the bad will be more accurate. I agree with Greg that when we pretend that evil is primary when it’s not, we will end up saying things that are not true, the world will notice, and we’ll lose credibility.

2. Affirmation of the good will also make our opposition to the bad more meaningful. You have to start with the good to help people feel the badness of evil.

3. It will make our opposition more graceful. This is what’s baffled me most about Van Tillian apologetics and the way it’s been applied in some nouthetic/biblical counseling. I would have thought that counselors of all people would grasp the basic human psychology of keeping opposition within a framework of affirmation, indicating a desire to build up our neighbours rather than look down and tear down.

4. It will allow us to criticize aspects of our civilization as members of it, rather than as outsiders. “If we don’t place ourselves within American civilization before we criticize it, we’re just busybodies. sticking our noses into other people’s societies.”

5. It will make our opposition more effective. #1-4 will make our opposition more accurate, meaningful, graceful, integral, and therefore more effective in pushing back evil.

A Great Failure (But Not The Greatest Failure)
I don’t agree with Greg that “the failure of the American church to affirm the goodness of civilizational life is our greatest failing today.” That’s overstating a good case. I do agree with him that it’s a great failure, even a very great failure. And I also agree with him on the need to prioritize affirmation for all five reasons that he gives.

That’s going to give many of us painful whiplash, because we’ve been barreling down the antithesis road for so long. But where’s it got us? And where’s it taking us? Isn’t it worth at least considering if we’ve got this wrong and if it’s worth trying another road or direction?

Joy For The World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It by Greg Forster.

How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence (And Can Begin Rebuilding It)

How did Christianity lose its cultural influence and how can it begin rebuilding it again? That’s the question Greg Forster 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 Forster, is what’s so missing from today’s culture.

I think Christianity is losing its influence in contemporary America because people outside the church just don’t encounter the joy of God as much as they used to.

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.

Tomorrow I want to look at the most radical proposal in the book. It’s going to make some VanTillians’ hair stand on end, if not fall out.

Joy For The World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It by Greg Forster.