What If Someone in The Church Has Caught a Fellow Believer Unawares Committing Sin, Then How Would Forgiveness Be Applied in This Case?

Before we attempt to answer this question let’s ask ourselves, what have we learned about forgiveness so far?

     We have learned that:

●When Jesus was apprehended, beaten, mocked, put on a cross he said to the Father, forgive them. In other words, don’t exact punishment on them. Instead use me to fulfill your plan and bring about for each of them an opportunity for salvation.

●If we are being persecuted by unbelievers, we should pray to Jesus that he would forgive (not punish) them, and provide opportunities for their salvation.

●If we have been injured by a fellow believer in character, person, or property, we should to go to them alone in order to resolve the matter. The hope is they will admit their sin, which will bring about reconciliation. Furthermore, we should provide the offending with instruction which would help them in thinking with divine viewpoint in regard to the area of sin (weakness) they had been operating in. In this instance, the victim will forgive (not to bring the incident up again) the offending believer. If the offending believer does not admit guilt, then they will not be forgiven (to not give up a debt).

1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, …

     Now we will look at another instance relating to forgiveness that is found in Galatians 6:1. This talks about a believer being caught by surprise, in the act of committing sin before they could escape. It appears that the sin was committed by a sudden temptation which was urged on by headstrong passion. In other words, it was not a sin that the believer had been committing in a habitual manner.

     I’m sure that for some of us, if we are a first-hand witness of a fellow believer committing sin, then we probably might just decide to walk away from the situation and mind our own business. This mindset of walking away could be based on the teaching of the church we are attending. Mind you own business and don’t meddle in other believers affairs. I do understand that this is not a comfortable position to be in especially if we have a weakness in the area we are witnessing another believer sinning in.

     What do you think our response should be, walk away or try to restore our fellow believer?

1 …ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness;…

     The scripture says that those believers, who are spiritual (filled and governed by the Spirit of God; under the influences of the Spirit; spiritual experts in mending souls) should go to the believer in order to restore (used of one, who by correction, may be brought back into the right waythem. Hopefully, as the sinful issue is discussed the believer will admit guilt.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

     Admitting one’s guilt is analogous to confessing one’s sin to God the Father as mentioned in 1 John 1:9. This verse says that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive [signifies the remission of the punishment (chastisement) in time due to sinful conduct; to not remember the offense; to recover fellowship with God the Father] us of our sins.

…considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)                                         

       Here’s another question to consider in this regard. What if I am the only first-hand witness to a believer’s sin and I have a weakness in this area, then what should I do? The scriptures state that we should consider our self. This means to examine our self before we attempt to correct someone else. If we realize that we could be attracted to doing wrong and yield to the attraction, then we should not go to them to restore.  

For every man shall bear his own burden. (Galatians 6:5)

     Some would say that in this case you can’t go any further. If you are the only one privy to this believer’s sin, you can’t tell someone else about it, because this would be exposing their sin. My response is, if we believe that this is the scriptural way to handle this then what are we here for? You might say, I don’t know what you mean. The purpose of going to a believer is not only so that hopefully they will admit their sin, but also so that they can be taught by using the scriptures as to how to be an overcomer in this area of weakness of their life. If as a result of being approached they start to apply the instructions they have received, this should help them in being able to examine their own way of feeling and acting, aims and endeavors, so that they can judge themselves and be able to express the form of truth they are abiding in, in their habits of thought and modes of living.

     With this in mind, if we consider our-self and determine that going to our fellow believer could get us caught up in their sinful activity we should go to another believer, who is spiritual, and let them know that a fellow believer needs help. I didn’t say that we should tell them what the sin was that we allege we caught them engaging in. Hopefully the believer, who has learned how to deal with temptations, being under the influences of the Spirit, will visit this believer and ask them if they are ok. Whether they choose to talk about their transgression and receive instruction is another matter.

Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.                                                                                         

     The scriptures declare that if a fellow believer is restored from the error of their way, according to James 5:20, this will save their soul from death (the misery arising from sin) and will hide (their sins are blotted out before God; to cause to be forgotten; to bring about forgiveness) a multitude of sins. Here is another rendering of forgiveness. A believer who has been restored will have their sins forgiven (blotted out before God). And by the way let me add one more thought to this.

     What is we observe a fellow believer committing a crime, then what should we do? In this case I believe that we should report this immediately to the civil authorities and let them handle this.

     I would like to leave you with a personal story of how I came upon a fellow believer committing sin, when I was attending bible school. At this time my family and I were living in a three decker building, which had six apartments in it. Most of the other apartments were either rented by pastors or people who were on staff at the bible college. On one particular day as I was heading out of the building I was approached in the hallway by a fellow believer, who asked me if I had a minute in order to discuss what he said was a serious matter. He included in this declaration the fact that he was just getting ready to have lunch, and offered me to partake of it with him. I never turned down food. So I proceeded to enter his apartment and enjoy lunch.

     As I was enjoying the food he mentioned to me that he had evidence of someone on staff stealing money from the ministry. He told me who it was and proceeded to hand me some bank documents. He asked me to read the documents over and tell him what I thought. The first thing I did was look for the name of the accused person on the bank documents that he gave me. The name he mentioned didn’t appear on any of them. Then I looked at the various transactions of deposits and withdrawals to see if anything out of the ordinary stood out and I found nothing. I told him that the documents in hand did not identify the person who he referred to, and neither was there any evidence of stealing funds. As soon as he heard this he became extremely upset and asked me to leave. I told him that if he had clear cut proof that this person committed wrongdoing he should go to him alone and discuss the matter. Otherwise, he should drop it. He didn’t want to hear what I had to say any more. So after I left I sought out someone, who I knew followed the Lord, and let them know that this person needed help. I honestly don’t know if any follow up ever took place.

     Well do you think that letting a fellow believer know that another believer needs help without saying what the sin was, exposed their sin?

     Even though the word forgiveness was not used in these passages it was inferred by the word “restore”. Restoration involves forgiveness, which suggests the idea of restoring one’s fellowship with God, thus indicating that the punishment in time due to sinful conduct had been removed.

   What follows next is another instance in which forgiveness was implemented. However, in this case the protocol for addressing sinful behavior was not in going to the offending believer alone. Why do you think this was the case?



What If a Church Member Is Living in Public Sin, Then What Would Be the Appropriate Response in Regards to Forgiveness?

     This is another example of where forgiveness comes into play. However, the protocol that is to be followed is different. Please go to 1 Corinthians 5.

1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.

     In 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Paul has received a report concerning someone in the church, who was involved in an illicit sexual relationship with his step mother. The sin is so public that it cannot be concealed, and it is so certain that it cannot be denied.

2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

     He tells them that they, the believers in Corinth, were living in pride, because they were afflicted and troubled in taking the proper means for removing the offender. If he (Paul) was present, he would know what judgment to administer to him that has committed this sin.

6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

     A single sin corrupts the whole church. Therefore, they should address this matter with this believer immediately. Just about everyone was an eye or ear witness of this person’s sinful behavior. Those who were appointed to address sinful behavior should call for an emergency meeting with the offending believer along with at least two eye or ear witnesses being asked to come before them in order to render judgment in this regard.

     These scriptures clearly indicate that in this case someone in the assembly needed to step up and get the ball rolling in regard to this egregious behavior being judged [used of the disciplinary judgment to which Christians subject the conduct of their fellows, passing censure (to find fault with, to criticize harshly2) upon them as the facts require], when the sin committed is commonly known by the church assembly. In the time in which we live this process has become difficult for many to agree with, especially for those in leadership. Church has become a place where everyone becomes tolerable of each other’s sins. Holiness or godliness is replaced by volunteering in the church. Helping each other to overcome our weaknesses is replaced with the proclamation that we are to love one another, and according to this mindset love doesn’t intrude in other believer’s private lives.

12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

     I agree that we should volunteer in the church and love one another, but we should also help one another to overcome their weaknesses. Unfortunately, many church goers along with those in leadership believe that the focus of the church should be on the outward performance of the attendees. Helping to restore a fellow believer is replaced with toleration. Any mention of restoration is considered as being intolerant against a certain lifestyle and therefore is characterized as being unloving.

13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.  

     As we have become aware in this instance, there were plenty of witnesses (one who can or does state as the truth what he himself has seen, heard, or knows)to the egregious sin. It is pretty obvious that the sinful behavior was committed. Once the proceedings had followed their course the rendering of guilty would be declared. What should follow is a public statement of the nature of the offence before the entire church, and such a censure as the case demands3. A censure would indicate that the accused would be removed from the fellowship for a fixed period of time. If the accused refused to admit guilt, then they would be removed from the assembly indefinitely.

11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

     The believers in the assembly would therefore be instructed to not have contact or fellowship with the offending believer in any capacity during the allotted censure.

     Why was there a need to impose a censure? The censure was imposed for three reasons.

5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

     The first had to do with God permitting Satan to attack the offender’s body so that he might be corrected, humbled, and reformed by these sufferings, and recalled to the paths of piety and virtue4.

7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump,…

   The second was so that the whole church would not be contaminated.

Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. (1 Timothy 5:20)

     And thirdly, so that the other members of the congregation would be deterred from committing the same offense.

     Where does the idea of forgiveness come into play?

Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. (2 Corinthians 2:6-8)

     The idea of forgiveness concerning this particular matter is brought up in 2 Corinthians 2. Paul wrote a letter to the church and told them that the censure (the estimated time concerning this believer’s removal from their rights and privileges in the assembly) was up. The believers were to forgive (to free from further punishment; to restore) the excommunicated brother. A public declaration would be made before the church assembly letting them know that this believer was allowed back into the fellowship and that love was to be shown toward him.

11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.

     If the church neglected to forgive (restore), then Satan would have gained an advantage. The idea being that if a church implements a censure which imposes a fixed period of time where the believer would be removed from the fellowship and decides not restore them when the time is fulfilled then the punishment could be looked upon as wanting to destroy this person. Of this the devil would use as an opportunity to discredit this ministry.

     Well, we have learned that forgiveness has various applications depending on the situation at hand and who is involved. The next case involves the leadership of the church who believe they are exempt from any discipline, their reasoning they say being that the scriptures support their view. This hits home to me. In my early years in the ministry this was the mindset of a church I was attending. Were they right, do the scriptures support the view that anyone in leadership who has committed overt sin is exempt from being brought before the judicial body of the church? Let’s find out.




3The Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989, 03 Jan. 2014˂>.

4Barnes’ Notes.Pc Study Bible version 5, 2006, 05 Jan. 2014˂>.

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What if a church member, including the pastor, is living in public sin, then what would be the appropriate response in regard to forgiveness?