We at Engage love receiving feedback and questions from readers. One reader contacted us after reading an article about Matthew 7:1.
In essence, his question was how should Christians address sin in the lives of lost people? How do we show them what is wrong without causing them to put up defenses or use “Judge not” as a weapon against us?
Scripture does not give us a formula to follow, and so neither will I. However, it is replete with examples we can study and apply. And fortunately for us, there are faithful Christians with public platforms who use these biblical approaches we can examine as well.
The first biblical example is that of Jesus. It is a beautiful truth that Jesus is a friend of sinners, but we can easily take that truth and go too far with it, forgetting that He confronted the sinful lifestyles of lost people.
While Jesus never shied away from people because of their sins, He also never shied away from addressing their sins but continually called them to repentance. John Piper has a great podcast about this reality.
After Jesus ate in the house of Zacchaeus, the tax collector repented and vowed, “Half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8).
That type of repentance does not come about because he and Jesus had a fun chat. It happened because Jesus, in a conversation we are not privy to, confronted his sin.
In John 4, Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He told her she was prostituting herself out for rent. I think that is a solid rebuke of her sin, but it resulted in her repentance and evangelizing her entire town.
In Luke 7, Jesus was eating at Simon’s house when a woman came to wash and anoint His feet. Simon balks that Jesus would allow her to touch Him. He gives Simon a blunt and straightforward scolding.
There are many other examples; Jesus shows us again and again that He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:10). Whether His engagement was with religious elite, lost sinners, or His own followers, He treated sin the same: He exposed it, named it, and called the person to repentance.
Certainly He did it with grace, and He was clearly driven by love. But He never refused to do it.
There is a different scriptural approach when it comes to dealing with a group of people and the Book of Acts is full of them.
Peter’s first sermon is to a Jewish crowd. He traces their shared history up to the point of Jesus’ death. He tells them the entire Old Testament pointed forward to, “Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:14-36).
Peter was able to address a particular sin this particular crowd was guilty of.
When Paul and Silas addressed the crowd at Mars Hill in Acts 17, Paul recognized their idolatry, although he did not name it as such. Instead, he drew their attention to the fact their wrong worldview was ultimately empty and void. He deconstructed their religious understanding to reveals its faults. He then contrasted their created statues with the Only Uncreated One.
Christians have the opportunity to address crowds today through the use of social media. It would be easy for us to stand on a soapbox and proclaim how evil everyone is.
But look to the biblical example. Paul and Silas took time to understand the worldview of the people they were speaking to. They also drew the attention of their hearers to Jesus. Both ended their sermons on who Jesus is. Often when we have an opportunity to confront sin, that is all we want to speak on. Let us never be guilty of talking so much about sin we have no time to point to Jesus.
In these cases there are themes we can see and apply. Jesus welcomed sinners as they were. He did not ask nor expect them to clean themselves up before coming to Him. We should follow those steps. Driven by love for God, then for people, we should pursue sinners in their sin. And we should love so much that we have no choice but to call sin what it is.
That does not give us the freedom to knock someone’s door down, scriptural guns a-blazin’. Love requires that we handle every conversation in a way that will bring honor to our King.
There is no formula to follow, but we are blessed in this modern age to see people put these approaches in action.
Ray Comfort has some of the best videos in dealing with individual people. He walks up to them and simply begins asking questions. In one of my favorite videos he gets people to confess they are blaspheming liars who steal and commit adultery. And they do this without putting up defensive walls (some are even smiling while they say it). He tells them they are in sin. Like Paul and Jesus, he then calls them to repentance.
James White is an interesting example because he speaks to individuals in front of crowds. He is a well-known Christian apologist and debates atheists, Muslims, and others.
In a debate with Imam Mohammad Musri, White exemplifies time and time again how well he understands the Muslim worldview. He consistently points out the inconsistencies of the Muslim religion and uses the conversation to present the gospel.
I am a fan of both these men and believe they take the approaches used by Jesus and Paul to confront sin and present the gospel. While you may not want to use their exact words, you can learn from their approaches and apply them to your everyday interactions and conversations.