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The best way to counsel believers in sin

counsel believers in sin
Glennon Doyle Melton and Abby Wambach

There’s terrible confusion regarding what is and isn’t loving when it comes to correcting people. This makes it difficult to counsel believers in sin. Take for instance homosexuality, which draws almost immediate hostility when criticized. The most disheartening situations occur when believers defend sinful behavior. Take for instance author, speaker, and professing Christian Glennon Doyle Melton announcing she is in a relationship with soccer star Abby Wambach.

How would I counsel professing believers in sin, such as Glennon Doyle Melton?

Before Katie and I were married, she looked for a job doing massage. We were excited when the professing Christian owner of a local barber shop offered her a room. After Katie’s first day of work she told me, “I don’t know how to say this, but the woman who owns the shop…is a man.”

Genesis 1:27 says God created us male and female. “She” was a man despite the physical changes he made to his body. Since he claimed to be a Christian, we decided to speak with him about living such a lifestyle while professing to follow Christ.

A Christian friend of ours was angry with us saying:

“How can you think of calling ‘her’ a ‘him’? How can you think of confronting ‘her’ about this? This is so unloving!”

I think her sentiments capture the way a number of people feel about confronting sin.

Counsel believers in sin by having them read the Bible aloud

If I simplified counseling, this is what my approach often looks like:

  1. Find verses dealing with people’s sin.
  2. Have them read the verses aloud.
  3. Ask them what the verses mean.
  4. Invite them to share what application the verses have to their situation.

I do this instead of saying, “This is what Scripture says…” or “The Bible says what you’re doing is wrong.” There are multiple reasons for this:

  •  It’s much better to let Scripture speak to people and convict them.
  • There’s something powerful about people reading aloud verses that condemn the sin they’re engaging in.
  • When people feel criticized they’re tempted to become defensive and hostile. It’s much harder for them to do that when Scripture – as opposed to a person – is telling them their actions are sinful.
  • Sharing Scripture can save you a lot of time, energy, and frustration. If people will argue with God’s Word, there’s little you can say.

If you counsel believers in sin by having them read the Bible, they can still feel loved

Katie and I invited the man to our house and he came with a Bible in hand. We had him read two passages clearly condemning homosexuality: Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. We asked him what the verses meant and he responded humbly. Had he argued, we wouldn’t have seen much value in continuing the conversation. Again, if Scripture doesn’t convince him, what chance do we have?

We tried to be gentle with him, but also honest. He broke down toward the end and started crying. He said:

“Nobody has ever treated me like this. People always seemed like they didn’t want to deal with me. Nobody ever seemed like they cared about me like this before.”

I don’t like mentioning his words, because it seems prideful. But I think leaving them out compromises an important part of the account. When people feel like God’s Word is confronting them – versus you – they’re less likely to take it personally.

He didn’t say he’d repent. He said he’d think about what we shared with him and pray about it. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed this response is usually code for, “I don’t want to argue with you, and I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, but I want to appear spiritual so I’ll say, ‘I’ll pray about it.’” Way too many counseling sessions have ended with the words, “I’ll pray about it,” only to find out later the individual made no changes.

We invited him to church and back to our house the next week, but he never returned. Hopefully God’s Word took root in his heart and he repented. Katie and I felt like we had done what we could, and we were glad he at least learned what God’s Word said about his situation.

Discuss

How do you counsel believers in sin? What advice do you have? Are there some situations you’ve experienced that you care to share?

If you’d like to read more, check out this post by my wife: “If my child ever says, ‘I’m gay.'”

 

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17 thoughts on “The best way to counsel believers in sin

  1. […] can’t help them because they’re unreasonable. They don’t listen and can’t be counseled. It’s similar to dealing with […]

  2. I think this is so important and was just having this convo with a friend the other day about Jen Hatemaker and thinking surely someone is counseling her in what she has recently come out and shared. While I know it’s not my place, I hope someone is stepping up to the plate!

    1. Caroline,
      We’ve had a number of conversations about Jen Hatmaker too. This post could’ve just as easily been about her.

      Yes, hopefully someone is showing her what the Word of God says.

  3. I do think we have to come from a place of love and compassion and often times that is found by having a relationship with the person. God’s word is the only thing that can convict someone of their sins. That is the only thing that convicts me. It breaks my pride down even when I don’t want to hear it. It might take a while and I might not want to see that person for a bit, but if I come to receive God’s truth in my heart then I later become thankful for that person stepping out and guiding me back to the truth. Treating others in the way we want to be treated when being convicted of a wrong is a good way to approach this type of situation.

    1. Hi Kristi,
      I agree that it’s best when we can have a relationship with the person, because then – hopefully – they know they’re being spoken to out of love. But I’ve found that’s not always the case, and we still have the same responsibility whether we feel close to the person or not. Unfortunately, as a pastor I’ve had people in the church tell me about some compromise in another person’s life and when I’ve said, “You need to go to the person,” the response has been, “Welllll, I don’t know them well enough.” Of course Scripture doesn’t deal with “knowing the person well enough.” It simply tells us to go to the person.

      This is one reason I recommend letting Scripture speak for itself, so it’s not personal.

  4. I love what you have to say Scott. To have them read the verses and let the Lord do what he needs to do. I think at times people and myself are guilty of the idea “if I share scripture after scripture and debate it’s now not about Jesus but it’s about me and my feelings if I am really honest about it.” We are called to plant seeds and let God determine if it grows or not. I shouldn’t of read Katie post at 11:30pm at night. I was so disheartened, angry, sad all these emotions for the person, for the comments of the people and their scewed view of God’s word and all the people who will read her blog that may or not be believers and what their minds will be like. All I could do was weap, and pray. God is sovereign and good and HE will prevail. My family has had to go thru this a few times and it’s so heavy and close to our hearts. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Summer.

      I agree with you: sometimes it becomes more about me being right and the other person being wrong, and then I know it’s an issue of pride instead of concern for the other person. One advantage of having the person read Scripture is it keeps the tension between the person and God’s Word, as opposed to the person and me.

      Yeah, what a way to go to sleep last night, right? Reading something like that causes enough sadness – as much b/c of people’s responses to her sin – to keep you up at night!

      Miss you and Wesley and glad to stay in touch through Facebook…and blogging :).

  5. Love this Scott! And to add, our words are only words but there is POWER in the very Word of God that can bring us to repentance. Thank you for sharing this! This is the loving thing to do…

    1. Janell,
      Great point! We want to keep talking and talking sometimes when we’re trying to persuade people, but there’s more power behind just a few words in Scripture than hours of things we’d say.

  6. I couldn’t like, love, and choose the sad face in regards to this, but this is good and the situation sad. It was very disheartening and sad to read all the people’s comments in support of her. Sad how lost and backwards people are in regards to God’s word!

    1. Hi Jessica,
      Jessica, you’re right. As sad as her behavior is, just as disappointing is the positive response from others claiming to be Christians.

      It is so clear in Scripture, so like you said, the only way to describe it is “backwards.”

  7. Great thoughts Scott. It’s only God that changes the heart and his word is life changing.

    1. Thanks Keelie.

      Exactly. In a sense, it’s about trying to remove ourselves from the situation – not being an obstacle – letting God do the work. Simply being a vessel through which Scripture can work should be the desire in counseling.

  8. These are really great ideas. I love the idea of asking them to read the Bible aloud and just encouraging them to study the Bible!

    1. Thanks Kay.

      Yes, we’ve found this to be an effective approach from our counseling experiences.

  9. This is good advice. Counseling someone in sin is such a hard thing to do, that I think most of us just avoid it. I know that is not right either. I admire your bravery and willingness to follow God’s lead. I love that you went straight to the word. Those professing to believe really can’t argue that! They may try to explain it away, but at least they must wrestle with it and hopefully come to the conclusion God wants them to.

    1. Hi Tara,
      You’re right: the temptation is definitely to avoid it!

      I think the saddest thing I’ve experienced has been professing believers who explain away God’s Word. We expect unbelievers to disagree with it, discard it, etc but when we see that from individuals claiming to follow Christ it’s very frustrating.

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