I’ve been talking about Christians dying with unresolved sin. Today I’ll share about believers being judged by the Lord, and how to prevent that. But first:
Trespass in the New Testament
When I was the Executive Director of a large Bible school in Tulsa, I had a student urgently request to see me. Nervously he began to tell me that he wanted to confess his sin to me as commanded in James 5:16: “Confess your faults/sins one to another, and pray for one another that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
I stopped him before he could go any further, and gave him the lesson I’m about to give you. The word ‘sins’ in James 5:16 is the Greek word, trespass. James didn’t command us to confess our sins to one another, he said to confess our trespasses one to another.
In other words, to go to a confessional or just blurt out what sin you committed on Saturday night to a friend or pastor or other person is NOT scriptural. What IS scriptural is to confess your trespass to the one you trespassed against – that is what James is saying. That is why he said to then after confessing your trespass, pray for one another that you be healed (in the relationship).
The Bible interprets the Bible, and James 5:16 is nothing more than a summary of Jesus’ instructions of Matthew 18:15, where He said if your brother has trespassed against you, go to him alone to seek restoration. That is what James is talking about.
Paul made the same statement in a different way, again expanding on Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15, but in Galatians 6:1-10:
“Brethren, if a person is overtaken in a fault (Greek: trespass), you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering yourselves lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens in this way and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
You will recall from what Jesus said in Matthew 18:15 that if the one trespassed against/trespasser can’t make peace one on one, he is to take 1 or 2 witnesses – meaning those who know of the trespass and difficulty between the 2 of them, and together those 2-3 are to try to restore their friend.
This is what Paul is saying – if a brother is overtaken in a trespass, you who are spiritual – not involved in the trespass but are aware of it, go to him and restore him if he will allow it. If not Paul said, that man “…thinks himself something when he is nothing, and deceives himself. Let him prove his own actions and bear his own burden.”
In other words – you try to make peace, but if the person has shut the door because they want to stand their ground, Paul said let them be proven right or wrong by their actions – time will tell the tale. If you want more on Jesus’ teaching of Matthew 18:15-20 get my Sermon on the Mount series and the forgiveness series.
Consider the authority Jesus has given us. At His resurrection He said: “Whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained. Whosoever sin’s your loose, they are loosed.” John 20:23
That doesn’t mean you can say ‘Father forgive everyone in my nation’ – but following Jesus’ example, He forgave those who directly and personally sinned – trespassed – against Him. Notably His forgiveness of the Roman soldiers assigned to crucifixion detail: “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.”
What they won’t be accountable for
If we play this out, understand that if none of those soldiers ever believed in Jesus, on the last day of all their sins in life, the sin of crucifying the Lord would not be one they would be accountable for. Amazing.
The same example is seen by Steven in Acts 7, who in the middle of his execution requested, ‘Lord, don’t lay this sin to their account.’ That again means, even if none of those men ever got saved, at judgement that sin against Steven would not be on their record.
This means when you say, ‘Father, forgive sister so and so of their trespass against me’ – they won’t be accountable for it when they stand before the Lord. What authority that God would listen to us!
Jesus is on our side
You see, the Lord wants us to come before Him with as little baggage as possible. To that end John says in I John 5:16: “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin that is not unto death and he will ask, and He will give him life for those who sin a sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death, and I’m not saying he can pray for that.”
A sin not unto death is any sin other than rejecting Jesus. He is saying the same thing Jesus, Paul, and James said – if someone has trespassed against you or maybe you are the 1 or 2 witnesses involved - you ‘see’ that sin, then you can ask the Father to forgive them and it will be forgiven.
The sin to death is if a believer rejects his salvation, which is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit for the Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation. Therefore the sin to death is rejecting the Lord. That is a sin you can’t ask the Lord to forgive that person for, because they know full well and of their own free will, commit it.
Walk in what you know
John also said in I John 1:7: “If we walk in the light as He is in the light (our ‘vertical’ walk with the Lord is right), and we have fellowship one with another (our ‘horizontal’ walk with others is right), the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.”
He refers to our vertical and horizontal walk with God, and states that there is an ongoing cleansing process of forgiveness when we walk in the light we have, and walk in fellowship with each other. An ongoing process of forgiveness flows naturally from walking in what you know to walk in. What if you step out of that light?
That is why v9 follows – if we step out of that light we sin; then just confess (admit) it and be forgiven, once again cleansed as in verse 7, “from all sin”. In other words, you confess what you know of, and He automatically cleanses us from the ones we don’t know about.
Folks - we live in fellowship with God. We don’t wake up and have to pray and worship and read and confess your way into His good graces each morning - we live in fellowship with Him. We approach Him as one already having Him live in your heart. We battle the enemy from the position of having already won. We live as one at peace with God and man, and having already won over the enemy. Romans 5:1-2
Judgement and believers
But what if a Christian wants to hang onto someone’s trespass against them, or they want to hold onto a sin in their own heart and lives? What is the process where the Lord deals with them?
There was a problem in Corinth. The rich people refused to eat with the poor people. Yes, it was the local culture for the rich and poor to be separate in life in that day and age, but in Christ all are equal and within the house churches that started in Justus’ house, believers were expected to eat and fellowship together.
( I Corinthians 11:17-22, Acts 18:7-8)
In other words, there was bias and prejudice in Corinth. Doesn’t that seem like a small sin compared to what we would consider ‘big’ sins? But Paul makes this amazing statement about this sin of prejudice:
“For this reason, not discerning the Lord’s body (believers they are to fellowship as well as Christ’s sacrifice), many among you are weak and sickly, and many have died early. For if we judge ourselves we won’t be judged by the Lord. But if we are judged by the Lord it is so that we won’t be condemned with the world. (11: 27-32)
He was asking them to judge themselves of prejudice in their hearts so the Lord won’t have to judge them…and that’s where we will pick it up next week. What is the process when the Lord tries to get us to judge ourselves before He steps in? What happens to a person whom the Lord judges? We’ve already seen that they will go to heaven, just early as Paul stated above – but how does the Lord do this?