How to Show Love...

To Someone in Sin

By Kersley Fitzgerald

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Loving someone who is in sin is one of the hardest things we can do because it requires so much with no promise of any return. Not only do you have to love through difficult circumstances, you have to watch as someone you care about makes poor choices and potentially ruins their life. The balance between confronting the sin and loving the sinner is a delicate one.


We recently visited some old friends who recently divorced, and met their young son. He's very bright, and JT and he got along great, although he doesn't get along with his parents as well. In fact, he can be a bit of a monster. He hit them, insulted them, and told them they were worthless and that they never gave him anything. The longer we were there, the more we saw a possible cause. Our friends had no united front. They countermanded each other's decisions, and the more lenient parent usually won. And the kid knew it. The hurt of the divorce showed through their relationship, creating such an unstable environment that, I believe, the kid was uncertain and scared, which came out in outbursts of abusive anger toward his parents. These outbursts were often ignored and rarely dealt with appropriately. It was so bad that as we packed the car to leave, Dev decided to confront the problem and recommend they seek counseling.

Later, as Dev and I were describing what we'd seen and what Dev had said, he questioned whether he should have interfered. MeLissa was listening intently, perched on the edge of her seat. "If you hadn't," she said, "you would have been accountable before God." I'd never really thought about it that way. We saw a problem borne out of sin (the child's rebelliousness and the parents' passivity), and because we witnessed it, it became our responsibility to address it in a biblical manner. Not just for the well-being of the family, but because God put us in that position for a reason, and we had to do the hard work of confrontation.

My sister and her best friend have a policy: if one of them is doing something the other thinks is foolish, they are obligated to point it out once. If the fool continues, the friend has done her due diligence. I don't know if our friends will take Dev up on his suggestion, but I hope so.

The Bible is filled with instances of God confronting those He loves. In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus had to tell Peter to back down and stop trying to put his own agenda on Christ's kingdom. In Matthew 26:30-35, Jesus condemned Peter's bravado and reminded him of the cowardice underneath. Thankfully, Peter listened and slowly grew into the man Jesus intended. But the Northern Kingdom of Israel took the opposite route, eventually succumbing to God's discipline and basically disappearing from the face of the earth.


Over the last few years, Dev and I have been mentoring a — well, the curmudgienne in me wants to say "troubled young man." He is mentally ill, emotionally wounded, and spiritually abused, and is responding in lawful, but sinful and damaging ways. We've sifted through ancient wounds, troubled living conditions, and unhelpful health-care providers. We've struggled through conversations about God's love and grace and forgiveness. For a spell, we felt our job was simply to keep him alive long enough for the Holy Spirit to work. He understands that we don't approve of the path he's on but that we still love him and want to support him.

For the analytical side of me, it's been an interesting journey. He's very smart and analytical, despite having a mental illness that often amplifies his emotions to unreasonable heights, and I've occasionally provided a voice of logic in the storm of emotion. I've tried to remind him of the truth he knows. Some of it, he's misinterpreted. Some of it the world and his pain have twisted, perhaps making him think our concern for what he's doing is not as strong as it is. But we can't control influences — or how others interpret the messages the world inundates us with. And we can't control the path another takes. But as his decisions accumulate, I realize it's had the effect on me.

We don't just disapprove. We don't just sit in judgment and shake our heads. We mourn.

The emotional reaction seems to start with considering how it impacts me. Doesn't he see how his actions affect those around him? Then it moves on to a type of judgment. His actions are biblically wrong and he knows it, so why won't he stop? Mixed in there is a thread of understanding. Life happens, and a messed-up brain doesn't help.

Like the Prodigal Son's father, we don't love him only when he does the right thing, but when he's in the middle of continued sin. Real love doesn't stop when the object becomes unlovable. Showing love to someone in sin is hard, and, if you're doing it right, it will affect you. Jesus wasn't being coldly calculating and reasonable when He cried out, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34). He was mourning. Mourning is essential because, like Dean Revell says, unfulfilled mourning can lead to depression. It affects us, physically and mentally, and by dealing with it, going to God with our pain, we not only help ourselves, we set an example of faith for the other person.

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Published 5-23-17