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confronting a wandering believer
By Caleb Simonyi-Gindele / September 18, 2017
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8 minutes

6 Attitudes Needed When Confronting a Wandering Believer

Have you ever wished you could have a quick self-check before you headed into a situation where you needed to confront a straying believer about their sin? While it is necessary to be prepared with Scriptures and to be prayerful, what about our own attitude heading into a situation like this?

When I say confront, I am talking about how we approach this person in such a way that we can really be a part of bringing them back to the Lord rather than driving them further away. What are the attitudes, behaviours or perspectives that are within my own control that will influence them one way or the other?

Let me quote a couple Scriptures that serve as the basis for what I have on my heart in today’s episode.

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” Ga 6:1, KJV

Ephesians 4:2 “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (ESV)

1. Restorative, Not Reprimanding

The verse in Galatians informs us how to restore to a believer who is overtaken an a trespass. A sin. He or she is doing wrong.

I don’t know about you but often for me when I see sin like this, the knee-jerk reaction of my flesh is to go and reprimand the person. When something is out of order I feel the need to make it very clear to them what the wrong is and what they need to different. Be blunt, direct, clear…no point beating around the bush, right?

And yet, how fascinating that the Apostle instructs us to “restore such a one”, not reprimand such a one.

Now, I know that Paul instructs Timothy that the word of God is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16, ESV) and so there is place for correction. However, I think we can restore a person in a way that is also corrective without it needing to be a reprimand.

The problem with a reprimand is that you go in with your guns blazing. It’s a one way conversation that will probably come off more like a lecture than anything else.

And how well is that going to go over?

Or maybe I should ask, how has that worked for you in the past?

I know for myself there’s been times I’m all primed with my own little lecture and I go in and find out that I was barking up the wrong tree. I didn’t have all the facts. I didn’t understand the situation. And my approach was not restorative.

The idea of the word “restore” in Galatians 6:1 is to bring something back to its original condition. I understand that it was a term used in the Greek world of medicine when you would set a fractured or dislocated bone .

A great deal of care and carefulness is implied, not just a harsh correction of the situation.

So when I’m going to speak to a wandering believer the first thing I want to do is check in with myself to ask, am I in reprimand mode? Or am I heading in with an attitude of restoration?

2. Gentle, Not Harsh

The Galatians verse also speaks about going with a “spirit of gentleness”.

Sometimes we end up investing a lot of effort into a person: maybe it’s a Sunday School student. Maybe it’s someone we’ve been shepherding for a long time and have spent a lot of hours with. And they have just done something really uncouth.

It’s easy to feel harshness towards a person in this situation because we feel so disappointed. Maybe even betrayed. I know I am definitely vulnerable to being harsh and blunt.

Gentleness is part of the fruit of the Spirit. This means that I have to come to this confrontation as a believer who has, myself, been acted upon by the Holy Spirit.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself because we’re going to talk about some of these attitudes in a moment, but I know that I am harshest when I see myself as incapable of committing the same sin. If I see myself as above committing this trespass, then my self-righteous links arm-in-arm with my harshness and that’s not a good thing.

It certainly won’t facilitate restoration.

So the precautionary note about gentleness is vital. When I’m going to confront a wandering believer, I want to ask myself, can I be gentle with this person? Will they clearly sense that gentleness from me? Will my gentleness be obvious?

3. Humble, Not Better Than

Now, sometimes we are hurt by their actions. We are disappointed by what they have done. We feel let down.

It is not wrong to feel those things.

Again, part of the instructions in the Galatian verse is “considering yourself”.

We have to understand our own feelings as we head into a situation like this.

I think this is vital because we, especially as men, will convert our feelings of hurt, disappointment and sadness into anger or frustration very quickly. It is easier for us to feel and express anger over these other emotions. In fact, we’re socialized as boys to do this.

There’s two problems with this. One is that the anger is going to lead to harshness when we need to be gentle. The second is that when we’re harsh we’re going to come off as if we are people who would be incapable of committing the same sin.

And yet our verse is instructing us to consider ourselves, lest we also are tempted. Which means that we need to be carrying a very real awareness of our own propensity to the same sin that we’re about to confront.

I really think this part is vital: do I see myself as capable of committing the same sin?

If you don’t see yourself as capable of committing the same sin, then consider another angle. If you had walked in this believer’s shoes from day 1 of his or her life until this point, do you have any reason to believe you would have made a better choice? A choice not to do the same sin? If you say “Yes” to that question, you are saying you are on a higher human plane than they are. And you are not in the required condition of being spiritual enough to facilitate their restoration.

No, I need to see their sin through the lens of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says “NO temptation has overtaken [them] that is not common to man” (ESV). In other words, I am perfectly capable of committing the same trespass.

This perspective is the essence of practical humility in a situation like this.

So when I’m facing a confrontation, I also need to be asking myself: do I truly see myself as capable of committing the same sin that I am about to address?

4. Vulnerable, Not Perfect

Following from the issue of humility is that of vulnerability

Do you think that this wandering believer can sense the difference between an overseer who sees himself as above certain sins and an overseer who seems himself as equally capable of the same sins?

You bet.

Huge difference.

You’ll be approaching this confrontation aware of your own imperfection.

But: what about your feelings of hurt or disappointment or sadness because of the trespass?

I think this is where it can be helpful to be vulnerable. Letting someone see past the anger and into your own heart is a good thing. This is being vulnerable: showing them the hurt you’ve experienced. It helps them understand that their actions touch the hearts of others too, and when they see your hurt without harshness or pride that will motivate them towards repentance.

People are surprisingly blind to how their actions (their trespasses) impact others.

I think this is what impacted Peter when he denied the Lord, then made eye contact with Him. Peter saw in the eyes of the Lord Jesus the emotional impact of his denial.

The other aspect of vulnerability is that you’re likely going into the confrontation wanting to understand how this believer came to the point where they were willing to go past their own values and trespass against the Lord. To do that, you’re going to need them to open up and be vulnerable with you.

So modelling that vulnerability yourself is going to make it much easier for them to open up to you.

Again: when I’m heading into the confrontation I am also asking myself: am I willing to drop the masquerade of having it all together and am I willing to be vulnerable? Am I able to model what it means to be imperfect and to equally be in need of divine grace?

5. Patient, Not Pushy

And then Ephesians elaborates on the forbearing idea by adding in patience.

A sinning believer is like a flat tire. There’s never a great time for that. Yet we are called to be patient.

I just want to underscore the shepherd care in this section. We need to be able to stop long enough to take adequate time to really seek the restoration of this believer.

I know as a male I’m super vulnerable to the efficiency monkey that loves to ride my back. Just keep flying from one task to the next. Get ready for Bible reading. Mow the lawn. Shoot off an email to so-and-so who is coming for gospel meetings. Restore that trespassing believer. Change the oil in the van. Did you see how I just fit that right in there?

But that’s not how it works, is it?

We need patience. Patience to stop long enough and really hear their story. To understand the wider set of struggles that led them to a place where they were willing to compromise their own values.

When we are patient like this it opens up the scope of care we can offer. It gives us more information so that we can understand, respond with compassion, and more intelligently lead them back to the Lord. This is the work of a shepherd.

It’s never quick.

Never fast.

Always on.

But it’s a profound honour to be a part of this work. This is the very work of Christ Himself. We work together with him as under-shepherds with patience, without being pushy, just doing His will and following His timing.

Again: if I see an issue arise and I know this is going to take time, I need to consider it fairly. If I say “yes” to shepherding this believer, I have to say “no” to something else (in terms of scheduling). So, how can I make room for this so that I can be fully present, be patient, and willing to work with this wandering believer? Or, do I need to ask one of my fellow overseers to take my place? Do I really have the bandwidth available? Just finding room to be patient is important.

6. Bearing, Not Demanding

Finally, bearing with one another.

The verse in Ephesians talks about bearing with one another in love. And right after our verse in Galatians 6:1 we have verse 2 talking about bearing one another’s burdens.

We can be stand-offish. You know, keep the person and the problem at arm’s length. And just demand that they comply and get back into line.

But this is not shepherding.

Sometimes shepherding means we need to carry their burden with them.

Rarely does a believer break their own value system in a major way without there being a great deal of brokenness involved. I’m not using the term ‘brokenness’ as a euphemism for sin. I mean that there are wounds in their heart from their family of origin, from sinful actions against them, from living in a sinful world — and these wounds are at the root of the sin that you’re addressing.

Unless these wounds are healed, they’re vulnerable to the same thing.

Ask yourself: is it possible that this sin is not the problem, as much as it is a symptom of the problem?

Again, I’m not denying the sin or minimizing or making light of it.

Allow me to illustrate with a fictitious example. A married sister comes to you and she has had an affair. Yes, the sin needs to be dealt with. No question. But you can go and follow the procedure and deal with the sin and then dust your hands off and say, “Well, that’s taken care of!” and you have entirely failed to act as an agent in the restoration of this dear sister.

Perhaps if you were patient and willing to bear the burden of time and care to understand how she found herself completely in violation of her own values, you would see what she really needs help with. Maybe it was a childhood filled with abandonment or rejection. Maybe you would get to see the emotional neglect she experiences in her marriage every day.

Do you see how the sin can just be a symptom of the deeper problem?

This is why we need to bear with one another, not just demand that they stop sinning.

Again, going into this confrontation I’m asking myself: am I truly willing to stop and listen to this person? Will I take the time to understand? Do I have the room in my heart and the emotional energy to explore the full scope of their story?

This is bearing with one another in love.


Stott, John R. W. 1986. The Message of Galatians: Only One Way. The Bible Speaks Today. InterVarsity Press.
About the author

Caleb Simonyi-Gindele

An overseer himself, Caleb's mission is to help other elders lead their local assembly through some of the unique challenges of the 21st century: both doctrinal and shepherding. More about Caleb.