Reposted from Rooted Thinking.
This is the second of three articles exploring these truths:
- Those who endure to the end are true believers (first article).
- Church discipline reveals true saving faith.
- Levels of growth vary between believers.
- Life “Baggage” and hindrances can make change difficult.
The goal in pondering these four truths is to better understand what our responsibilities are and are not when striving to make disciples for Jesus. All of us try to discern genuine saving faith among those that profess Jesus Christ in our ministries. But how much can we know if they are true believers? What responsibility does the church have in ensuring genuine faith? If we don’t understand what God’s Word says about certain aspects of disciple-making, we may carry unnecessary guilt and be weighed down with discouragement without good reason.
Let’s consider the second truth:
Church Discipline Reveals True Saving Faith.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 commands us to judge one another, to assess one another’s faith. If someone among us continues in sin and is unrepentant, we must do something. If they continue in the types of sin this and other passages describe as deserving church discipline, we must urge our brother or sister to repent. God commands us to lovingly show them how to change. If they don’t respond and repent, God says that they must be “purged out from among us.”
Church discipline is the breaking of fellowship/association with someone. We are to stop fellowshipping with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister in Christ but continues to live in unrepentant sin. They claim to have and want new life in Christ but will not obey Him about very clear and serious sin issues.
If people like this are disciplined, and then later repent, they must be restored to full fellowship with God’s people. If they do not repent, we are to assume that they were never converted to begin with. I believe that some people get saved when under church discipline. Why? Because church discipline helps them understand that faith in Jesus Christ includes a desire to obey Him and a desire to have new life in Him.
Passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 show us that church discipline is very important. People who continue unrepentant in these types of sins must face the fact that they don’t really know Jesus at all—they are still condemned in their sins unforgiven. This is extremely serious!
A Fatal Mistake
Did you know that many, many churches do not practice church discipline at all? Many Christians worldwide skip over the passages that talk about this. This is tragic. Church discipline clarifies the Gospel. A person does not have genuine faith in Jesus Christ if they do not want to follow Him. Jesus makes disciples, not hypocrites.
If local churches don’t urge professed Christians that live in sin to repent, if they don’t discipline those that won’t, they are sinning against those unrepentant believers. More than this, they are sinning against the Lord.
Church discipline is hard–it is never easy if we love people. As hard as it is, the process is extremely valuable to the person being called to repent, and also for the local church. Discipline urges the one in sin to prove their genuine faith. It places them under God’s chastening to drive them back to God and restored fellowship with God’s people.
The Motive of Church Discipline
True Christian love for God and others will lead churches to use church discipline when necessary.
Christians! Don’t avoid church discipline! Pastors! Don’t feel guilty for teaching and leading God’s people to take this step when needed. The purpose of church discipline is salvation and restoration, not punishment. Church discipline helps rid the church of hypocrisy. If the person disciplined knows God, he will eventually respond to chastening. If not, God will keep chastening him/her. God sometimes puts to death some who are His that refuse to respond to chastening (1 Cor. 11:27-32).
In our ministry in Cambodia, we have had to use church discipline multiple times. Of those cases, sadly only one has repented and returned to the Lord—so far. It is hard to see people refuse to repent and get right with God and His people.
Aun (real name) was a man that needed church discipline. Aun had a hard life. This man was an alcoholic. His body was covered with scars from work related injuries and old bullet wounds he received in crossfire during the war. He was poor, ignorant, and illiterate. He professed Christ with others in his family and appeared to be growing in Christ and changing. However, Aun was a hypocrite. He put on a bit of a show of faith, but he was the same man, still an alcoholic. His family was embarrassed and did not tell of his sin. When confronted lovingly, he refused to repent. He was then asked to leave our church fellowship.
I kept visiting Aun. I loved that man, and my heart broke for him. He would hide when I visited his home and even asked his kids to warn him when they knew I was approaching on my moped. Sometimes I caught him at home, and he had to receive me :<).
One such time, he asked me up into his traditional village home on stilts, and he was ready to repent. He openly confessed Jesus and his desire to start living a righteous life. He confessed before the church. From that day, he never drank a drop of alcohol. He hungrily listened to the Word of God at church and on the radio and MP3s. He grew fast. His repentance was clear to all, and he became a pillar in that struggling little church. The Lord took him to heaven just a couple of years later.
What If They Don’t Repent?
What about the others that were church disciplined that did not repent? It is our hope that some, or all of them, are believers, that they will someday repent and be restored to us. If they don’t, it tells us that they probably never knew Jesus, for they did not endure. I say “probably”. Why? Some of them did not return to their old religion or idolatry or demons. They still profess Jesus, but they refuse to repent. God tells us to count such people as unbelievers until they prove to us through repentance that they are genuine.
We must remember that our battles with false teaching, false faith, sin issues, etc., is NORMAL for Gospel ministry! Just think about Christ’s words to the 7 churches in Revelation. Think about all of the sin issues that Paul had to deal with in Corinth and Galatia. All who serve Jesus Christ are in a toe-to-toe all-out battle against evil. Satan is committed to handicapping the church, so that it won’t give God glory. But we know that Christ is the Builder of His Church, and the gates of hell will not hold out against Him or defeat Him (Matt. 16:18)!
Forrest has served as a missionary in Buddhist Cambodia in Southeast Asia for the last twenty years. He presently serves as the Asia/Australia/Oceania regional director for Gospel Fellowship Association missions. He enjoys writing and teaching on missions and the Buddhist worldview. He and his wife, Jennifer, have 4 children.