It’s an age-old scenario that’s been played out in countless local churches. It has wreaked havoc in innumerable families, yet is as predictable as humidity in August.

A Christian becomes involved in sin. Brethren try to reason with and restore the wanderer. The Christian, hardened by pride and often bolstered by biased friends and family members, refuses to repent. Finally, the local church withdraws its fellowship from the sinner in an effort to correct him. But instead of having his heart pricked, he has grown selfish enough to persist in his error and is lost to the Lord.

Time passes. More time passes. Brethren forget the actual cause for discipline. The impenitent is still impenitent. There comes a time when the sinful brother, still as selfish and rebellious as ever, begins to tell his tale of woe to any who will listen. But the story is now different. Inserted into the “facts” is information that had nothing to do with the original problem. But as the revised story is perpetuated, brethren come to view the church’s discipline as punitive rather than corrective, and the sinner is suddenly a “victim.”

At last, when the local church experiences a change in leadership, the sinful brother is welcomed back into the fold, without ever facing or acknowledging his sin. All seems peaceful and happy again. But the impenitent sinner is still facing the eternal condemnation of God.

Many years ago a young woman came to my study with the report of serious marriage problems. She was accompanied by her mother – who was the greatest problem this couple faced. As the young wife explained her difficulties, I asked a series of questions trying to determine what advice to offer. When leaving, she seemed hopeful and I was naively optimistic that things would be patched up. I was profoundly wrong.

The problem lay in the fact that this young woman and her mother had no intention of working things out with the husband. They were only seeking a “justifiable” excuse for divorce, which I hadn’t given her. In short order, they resorted to Christians in another local church and proceeded to relate “facts” that contradicted the very questions I had asked earlier. Before long, both churches were in turmoil.

In time, this deceitful young woman rallied a supportive faction, divorced her husband (not for the cause of fornication), married someone else, and is today embraced by her new church family as though she were the very model of Christian virtue. And whenever the story is retold, it is completely different from her original account, having been reshaped to her advantage.

A selfish, impenitent heart cannot afford to deal truthfully. “For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen that they are done in God” (Jn 3:20-21). One who is genuinely penitent will behave as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). He will not be proud of his sin but will readily confess it, recognizing his need for forgiveness. “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight…” To ignore one’s guilt, even though he may be “restored” to a local church, will not make him right with God. “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish!” (Lk. 13:3,5). One’s pride may be spared by avoiding repentance, but at what cost?

Brethren, we never serve the best interests of a wayward disciple by seeking to overlook or excuse his sin. We only embolden him to sin further.

“Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). Cures are often as unpleasant as illnesses, but we admit their necessity. Surely a sick soul is worth healing, no matter how tough the cure.

Article by Steve Dewhirst