Living in a small town can be great. It can also have its challenging moments. For instance, if you see someone you don’t know and ask a friend about them you might hear, “Oh, that guy. That’s so-and-so,”
You still look cluelessly into your friends eyes.
He shakes his head. “Don’t you remember he was the one who got drunk and rode his lawnmower into the police station last year?”
You reply, “Oh, it’s that guy.” Yeah, that guy. Or in other cases it’s that woman.
Public Sin & the Community
I’m talking about people who have committed a public sin that was ingrained on our consciousness. Their actions was apparently enough for us and the rest of the community to define their whole lives by. For some reason, their single public sin gave us an insight into what their soul is made up of.
And what do we do? We bring that sin up every time we see that person. We gossip about it, spread the story, and never really give that person a chance to explain or change.
But what if we’re wrong? What if a solitary sin doesn’t reflect the truth of a person? Should one sin define us?
Public Sin & Scripture
Let’s step back and look at at least one Biblical example. How about Saul/Paul? Persecutor of Christians. I would mark that up as a sin. But something happened on the road to Damascus and he was changed, forever.
A few things happened after that experience. First, God changed Paul. Sin has no power over the Christian and Christ saved Paul. Second, Paul spoke of his previous sin, but in the past tense (Galatians 1:13). He put it in the past where it belonged and he believed in the sanctification of Christ.
Finally, Paul gave notes to the church on how to handle someone among us who sins: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)
When we talk about Paul, we don’t concentrate on what an amazing persecutor of Christians he is. We talk about his letters, his expositions on grace and his writings. Why? Because we know that regardless of one act, God still rescues people and causes all things to work together for His glory.
How Should We Treat Public Sin?
Sadly, it’s difficult to see it in our own society. I often see pastors or church leaders who sin and they are forced to wear that sin like a scarlet letter. Should there be repentance? Yes, but also restoration back into the body of Christ.
I still hear murmurs of people who look at fallen pastors and say, “he’s the guy who was a pastor and committed adultery.” Or I’ll sit in church and hear people say under their breath about a person across the room, “that’s the woman who was a drug addict and had her kids taken from her.”
Friends, this kind of language does not promote grace. In fact, it promotes the idea that we will forever be labeled with the sin we commit. It expects that we will always be trapped in a sin.
Thanks be to God that He does not view any of us that way after we repent. He’s not hiding in the church foyer saying, “Look, there goes that one guy who used to be an alcoholic…..oh, and there’s that lady who was married three times.”
God doesn’t do that to His children. He forgives then forgets. The same Apostle Paul wrote: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)
I encourage you to forgive the same. To look at people the way Christ looks at them. Not by keeping a record of their sins, but by looking at what their future can be when grace abounds.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
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