Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.—James 5:20, NIV
Over the past several years, I’ve graduated from high school and seen friends and family members make significant life choices. Some of them make me rejoice, some of them make me weep. Out of the choices that sadden me, I find a similar path and theme.
I often asked myself, “What made these people first start to turn aside from what they knew was right?”
Although I found some common factors like caving in to peer pressure, not receiving enough attention, and trying to escape home situations, I finally pin-pointed the reason for these changes. It’s why kids grow up in Christian homes and then rebel. It’s why teens who seem strong in their faith fall away in college. It’s why church members caught in affairs sometimes never return. I call it the sin problem. When our lifestyle begins to tear away from our belief system, one of the two must change.
I have seen it over and over again. Someone starts making decisions that they know God wouldn’t approve of. Then they either have to decide to repent and surrender to God, or they have to change their beliefs about God. Unfortunately, the easier path—in the short run—is a belief change.
To help counselors trying to identify those whose main issue is the “sin problem”, I’ve identified a few behavioral indicators and how to address each one.
(1) Blaming God
Deep down inside, we innately know that God is holy and just. Our sinful nature rebels against that holy, right standard.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.—Romans 1:20
As a result, I hear many people in the sin problem imply or make statements like, “God isn’t fair.” “Why does God get to do what He wants?” “God doesn’t want me to have fun.” Their nature is rebelling; they want ultimate control over their own lives. It scares me when I hear these statements, but people who can verbalize their rebellion are a step closer to surrendering than those who give God lip service while inwardly rebelling.
Once they acknowledge their problem, it’s time to have them think through their choice; God’s way or their way. Ultimately, we cannot change someone’s heart and if they stubbornly hang onto sin, no amount of pleading, sharing, or discussing will change them. At that point, all we can do is pray and continue showing the person God’s love.
(2) Blaming others
Some do not dare admit to blaming God, at least not at first. They settle for blaming others. Those who blame God have no problem blaming everyone else. I barely even need to give examples, but they could be as subtle as, “I was always told…” or as obvious as “____ is a Christian and he’s just a hypocrite”. Our human nature does not want to admit guilt, but we can easily see everyone else’s faults. Without a God intervention, other’s sins become blown up while ours become disproportionately small.
Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things…And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape judgment of God?—Romans 2:1, 3
The best tactic when speaking to someone is to turn it back on them, asking them about their own hypocrisy. Remind them that they will stand before God one day and give account for themselves, no one else. If an individual sees the foolishness of blaming everyone else, they are forced to stare their own sin in the eye. Once again, only God can truly change them. At some point, we can only leave them to decide how to deal with their sin.
(3) The judging clause
Our society views judging others as the supreme offense. On the surface, it makes a great excuse for rejecting a belief system that restricts—even judges—one’s actions. People will say, “You’re judging me.” “That’s nice for you, but I just don’t believe that.” “Christians are so judgmental.” Naturally, we want to sin without guilt. The person is simply expressing a desire to be free of judgment, which will never happen. People will always judge each other. Even if we could be free of human judgment, God is the judge. He created us and has the right to judge our actions and heart.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.—2 Corinthians 5:10
Our response can be similar to the response to blaming others, except we emphasize that God will judge. And there will be consequences.
Many times as Christians we hedge around the sin problem with others, dealing with peripheral issues but never arriving at the core. It’s not primarily about scientifically establishing God’s existence, historically proving the Bible’s validity, or faithfully defending other Christians’ genuineness. It’s about tearing aside the layers of blame and defense to uncover the ugliness of human nature’s rebellion against God. It’s about caring enough to confront and warn;
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.—James 5:19-20