When a Christian is in the midst of turning a sinning family member, church member, or friend over to their own sin (1 Corinthians 5:5), they are often assumed of being judgmental and harsh – even unloving! In reality, nothing is further from the truth. The disciplinary process set forth in Matthew 18 is not to be carried out in anger or vengeance; it is the most loving thing the Church can do for her own – even the act of putting the unrepentant sinner out of the fellowship as an unbeliever.
Those involved in the process are questioned as to how anyone can know the heart and beliefs of another. How can one truly know if the sinner (in our ongoing illustration “Pat”) is a Christian, and essentially, where do we get off throwing them out of the church?
While it is very true that no ones heart contains a see-through window, and we cannot see their thoughts or intentions, we are called upon to be discerning in such matters. When we fail to repent, it is the obligation of our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us toward that end. All the better if we take the admonition of Scripture seriously when we are told to evaluate ourselves.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?2 Corinthians 13:5 (NASB)
Self evaluation is always preferable to having others do it for you or with you. Self evaluation is the mark of a growing Christian, one who is tuned in to the Spirit’s call through the Word of God. By the time a person gets to the point of the second and third steps of the discipline process (Matthew 18:16-17), it is apparent they have long ago ceased to be self evaluating.
One place in Scripture we can go to self evaluate is Romans 8.
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.Romans 8:5-12 (NASB)
Those who belong to Christ will not be able to live a life dominated by sin. The Spirit of God simply will not allow it to happen, the conviction will be too great to bear, and the misery will be too great. A person like Pat from our illustration this week is demonstrating by her lack of guilt, shame, or conviction that there is sufficient reason to question if she is truly regenerated. Pat is sinning every day by remaining in a relationship with an unbeliever, and adding to that sin by living with him without being married, and adding to that sin by having sex outside of marriage. And Pat says she is happy! Where is the guilt? Where is the remorse? Where is the desire to repent? In the case of our fictitious woman Pat, it is not there. Could someone indwelt by the Spirit of God possessing a conscience that is softened toward the things of God and a heart that is bent toward worship of God live in such deep sin and be “happy?”
This is why I can confidently say that by the time the discipline process in a fellowship or a family gets to the stage of turning them over, there will be enough evidence to support a conclusion that the person has truly not experienced regeneration and is not indwelt by the Spirit of God. Our intention in turning them over to their own sinful desires (turning them over to Satan) is that they would desire freedom from the sinful bondage they are in and turn to Christ.
By no means could I possibly answer every question or address every situation in this short series on such an important topic. I hope I have given you food for thought and perhaps some clarification on this touchy topic.