To Properly Confront Sin in the Church We Must First Understand the Nature of that Sin

UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2Th 3:10-15)

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1Cor 5:11-13)

One of the most prevalent errors in the church today, one which is causing much grief to the victims of the wicked and bringing shame to Christ’s name, is the persistence of local churches, church leaders and pastors to regard all members of the church as Christians, no matter what the nature of their sin.   This is not biblical thinking. It is not truth. God’s Word plainly teaches us that not all sinners are of the same type, nor are they to be dealt with in the same manner.

Let’s consider the two examples given in the Scriptures above: 1) The sluggard, and 2) The reviler (to select one from Paul’s list).

What does Paul tell us about dealing with the sluggard? He commands the sluggard directly, first of all, to get to work. He tells us not to bail the sluggard out of the consequences of his sin — if he won’t work, neither let him eat. And if the sluggard will not take these admonishments to heart and repent, the strong measure of the church having nothing to do with him is to be taken, in order to shame him into repentance.

But then, Paul says something quite curious: “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Here is a person, a person committing a serious sin, who is still to be considered a brother in Christ. Perhaps we should also take note of the context of the situation at Thessalonica. There seems to have been an “end-times” theological distortion going on there and perhaps this was the reason you had these people there who were not working but rather sitting around waiting for Christ to return. But Paul says to regard such a person as a Christian, at least at that point.

Now, when we come to the second category of sinner, the one identified in Paul’s list in 1 Cor 5 as a “reviler” (a person who uses his mouth to attack, to condemn, to malign, to abuse), Paul’s prescription for dealing with him is different. The remedy, you see, must fit the crime. Once more we are to put that person out of the church, but Paul uses harsher terms: “Purge the evil person from among you.” Paul does not regard the reviler (or idolater or swindler or the rest of his list) as a Christian, and neither are we to do so.

Abusers are revilers. They hurt and murder with their words. Not because they lose their temper on occasion and end up saying something they later regret. No, the abuser is calculated. He reviles in cold blood. And he habitually does it because a reviler reviles.  This kind of sinner is to be put out of the church, and regarded as an unbeliever. He is not a brother in the Lord.

In failing (refusing?) to make this distinction that is plainly set forth for us in God’s Word, local churches today are giving sanctuary to the wicked, providing them with false assurance of the state of their soul, and permitting them to continue to revile and assault the innocent. For such willful disobedience, all will one day give account to the Lord of the Church.

**An Exercise: If you look at the introductory comments to the Epistle of Jude in the ESV Bible you should be able to see a statement in it that is a distortion of what Jude says about the wicked ones who have crept into the church, and how we are to deal with them. Do you see the error? If you spot it, let us know in the comments here.

12 thoughts on “To Properly Confront Sin in the Church We Must First Understand the Nature of that Sin”

  1. Something new hit me in reading the 2 Th passage. There is a biblical principle of sowing and reaping. Considering that principle, it seems to allow for an abusive person to have the appearance of a marriage is to allow a man to eat who has not worked. Shall I say, rather, refuses to work. An abuser is not scouring the want ads or updating his resume within his marriage. He may well leave to go to work but practically speaking he is permanently on the couch demanding to be taken care of. Perhaps this is taking liberties with the text- just a musing that came to mind immediately as I read it. I hadn’t equated that passage in the context of abuse before.

    Jeff, can you re-word your Jude exercise? I don’t quite understand what we are to be looking for. It has been enlightening, though, to examine this buried treasure of a book.

  2. Whoa! Is this it?

    Most of the epistle… is devoted to stern denunciation of the false teachers in order to impress the readers with the seriousness of the threat. But Jude’s strategy is more than mere negative opposition. He urges his readers to grow in their knowledge of Christian truth (v. 20), to bear a firm witness for the truth (v. 3), and to seek to reclaim those whose faith was wavering (vv. 22,23). This prescription for confronting spiritual error is as effective today as when it was first written.

    choke gag “More than mere negative opposition?” So speaking against evil is now “negative opposition”? “Seek to reclaim those whose faith was wavering?” Argh! Must rescue the backslidden brother; Don’t bother to help those he’s trodden asunder! “As effective today as when it was first written.” Well, yeah, but only because the Word of God is effective, but this interpretation in the introduction is far from effective. It’s shameful!

    1. Yes Still Reforming – In fact as you read on in the “intro” it says

      He (Jude) wrote multiple denunciations of these ungodly people who ‘defile the flesh’ and ‘reject authority’ (v.8). He urged Christians to continue in godliness and love toward such people, in some cases reasoning with them, in other cases, ‘snatching them out of the fire.’

      WRONG! Totally, absolutely wrong. So the ESV editors who wrote this are pressing their botched version of “love” on us here. Jude does not tell us to reason with and love and rescue these enemies. We are to help those who are deceived by them, if possible, but Jude’s language all through the letter is final and harsh toward the evil ones whose destiny is secured by their reprobate minds.

      1. Barbara,

        Ligonier Ministries (the one founded by Dr. RC Sproul – not Jr.) publishes an ESV Study Bible. That is the one from which I quoted.

  3. Okay, I think I get it now. I thought you meant in the first few verses of Jude that the ESV took a different rendering than other translations. After reading the literal introduction (not Jude, but the synopsis of it) what I’m reading that doesn’t sound right is, “The description of those who left the faith (vv. 8–16) provides a picture of their character and actions.” Yet as I read Jude he is not describing someone who has left their faith…they never had it to begin with. Jude says they have denied our Lord. We deal differently with those who work against the cause of Christ than those who walking misguidedly (not exactly the right word).

    1. Valerie,
      Indeed. My understanding is that no one can “leave the faith.” They are either saved once saved always or they never were in the faith to begin with. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19)
      I liked this exercise; It helps me see that I must be very circumspect when it comes to even the simplest of introductory statements or footnotes in Bibles (not least of which Bibles by scholars and theologians whom I respect, like Dr. RC Sproul. It is the organization he founded, Ligonier Ministries, that produced the ESV Bible from which I pulled the introductory comments.) And that extends to commentaries, books, and all writings that interpret Scripture for us.

  4. The verse from last Friday’s post comes to mind here also.

    But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8 NASB1995

    My friend (Target) has some wisdom / insight from that verse that I had not thought of before. The abuser masquerading as a Christian is not an “unbeliever,” but is “worse than an unbeliever.” This means 3 categories, “believer,” “unbeliever,” and “worse than an unbeliever.” The distinction between “worse than an unbeliever” vs. an “unbeliever” is an important one. These abusers know the truth and have rejected it / God. They have “denied the faith.” An “unbeliever” doesn’t know, and therefore should be prayed for and evangelized, but there’s no such obligation for someone who’s “worse than an unbeliever,” because they do know and have “denied the faith.”

    1. AMEN! That’s a really important point; please thank your friend for sharing it!

      Three categories, “believer,” “unbeliever,” and “worse than an unbeliever.”
      The distinction between “worse than an unbeliever” vs. an “unbeliever” is an important one.

      This concept is helpful in understanding other passages in Scripture:

      For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:4-8)


      There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. (1 John 5:16b)

  5. The commentators on Jude constantly use the expression ‘false teachers’. But in the text of Jude itself, the words ‘teachers’ or ‘teach’ does not occur even once! This has been sticking out at me for some time.

    Whenever I read the commentators on Jude (and the same goes for 2 Peter) their constant refrain “the false teachers” seems to be accepted unquestioningly by all and sundry. And I think it gives people a notion that these “false teachers” are people who — like school teachers — give lessons, have blackboard and chalk, or whiteboards and pens, and lecture notes, and worksheets for the class . . . and we all know that in OUR churches (sarc) such false teachers never get a look-in, they would never be given a podium or a microphone, so we can complacently relax because these “false teachers” were around in Jude’s and Peter’s day, but not ours.

    Scotch the commentators; read the book of Jude and you will find that he simply calls them “certain people”.

    For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (v 4)

  6. From the original post:

    ……..but Paul uses harsher terms: “Purge the evil person from among you.”…….

    Purging the abusers from my life is FAR easier than purging their twisted words from my mind.

    According to their reviling words, I am making excuses for not earning a living.

    According to their reviling words, I am worse than an unbeliever.

    Their words hurt enough to lead me to tears.

    God hears my prayers.

    The abusers twisted words interfere with my clarity on His answers to me.

    (…..insert net-speak for seeking clarity…..)

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