First of all, we must begin with our own propensities toward sin. God’s Word tells us that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and that includes you and me. That knowledge of ourselves should create a sense of humility in how we respond to others. You see, if I realize my own struggles with sin and am broken by that fact, I will tend to be much more compassionate in how I respond to others in sin. I will find it easier to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) because I am all too aware that I am also flawed.
However, should a knowledge of our own sinfulness cause us to remain indifferent to sin and sinners? Since we are flawed, should we sit back and allow sin to run amok? Of course not. If so, what did Jesus mean when He told us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16)? To be salt and light means that we are to hold back sinful decay and expose it wherever it may be. There is no room for indifference.
So, as we are salt and light, do we treat saved people who are engaged in open, known sin the same as we do lost people who are engaging in the same exact sins? No.
Look at 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 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.’”
If someone who claims to be a believer is engaged in sexual immorality, is greedy, has a lifestyle that shows he worships anything other than God, slanders others, is an alcoholic, isn’t honest in his financial dealings, or any number of other known, open sins, I’m not supposed to even eat with him. However, if someone who is unsaved does those same things, I can absolutely spend time with him as I seek to tell him the message of the Gospel.
Quite simply, unsaved people are going to act like unsaved people. How else should we expect them to act? They need the Gospel. So spend time with them!
But someone who claims to be a follower of Christ? Now, that’s a different story. He should know better. He claims to already have the Gospel. There’s nothing else besides what he already claims to have. So, measures are to be taken. Out of love for him and a concern for his eternal destination, we are to remove him from the protective blessings of the church (1 Corinthians 5:2) and avoid any interaction that would show acceptance of his behavior (1 Corinthians 5:11).
Why is this loving? Because in being removed from the protection and blessings of a church fellowship, he may come to the end of himself and come back to Jesus! “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:5). The desired end result is not negative. It’s restoration!
Can it truly be said that we are compassionate Christians if we don’t lovingly confront our brothers and sisters-in-Christ when they are in sin in the biblically appropriate way? Can it truly be said that we are compassionate Christians if we ostracize unbelievers who so desperately need the Gospel that we can share with them?