Confronting sin is an important aspect of the life of any Christian family. In fact, it is a daily part of living under the same roof with sinners. As part of a family, you see the best and worst of one another, witness each other’s quirks and foibles, and, yes, know the sinful tendencies of every member of the family. And at one level, I think one reason God ordained the family structure is so that these sins may be handled primarily within the context of the family - lovingly, privately, consistently, and patiently. It is a tremendous blessing that Christians live in family units, and it is always ill advised for individuals to live alone except under certain necessary conditions that better promote the interests of the kingdom of Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:7,8). Imagine the consequences for the human race if each person did in fact live alone. Sinful tendencies would be habituated without confrontation, develop without any social and parental barriers, and eventually destroy the individual and society. While it is difficult for multiple sinners to live together, it is a blessing. And for the Christian family, it is an opportunity for spouses and parents to handle directly the sins of the entire family in a context that allows for daily presentation of the gospel, true repentance, and lasting spiritual growth.
But for this blessing to materialize, sin must be confronted. Confrontation must begin within the context of husband and wife, for this is the most fundamental unit in the individual Christian family. It is particularly difficult for husbands and wives to confront each other, for both are adults, ostensibly have the Holy Spirit, and are on equal spiritual footing in Jesus Christ. The tendency may be for the husband to consider himself above confrontation because he is the head of the family structure and for the wife to be reticent to confront her husband because of her submission responsibility. Biblical headship and submission, however, do not negate this important facet of their relationship. They are co-heirs of the grace of Christ. They are help-meets - both of them - for the husband needs his wife as much as the wife needs her husband, and in the Lord they are providentially united to facilitate holiness within their individual lives and married relationship. When sin manifests itself, therefore, love dictates confrontation. The wife is neither a helpmeet nor a home guardian if she does not encourage her husband in holiness. The husband is not a servant-leader nor a lover of his wife if he does not encourage his wife in holiness and display humility and openness to be encouraged and confronted by his wife. Hence, there must be confrontation of sin. This should be undertaken humbly, privately, and with great tenderness. Neither spouse should confront or rebuke the other in the presence of children, ridicule their faults in public gatherings, or share their faults with other friends, which is usually done in a complaining spirit. It is certainly acceptable to seek the counsel of pastors, elders, and trusted confidants when the purpose is to seek sincerely wisdom in responding to sin. But in general, the husband and wife should go directly to each other in confronting sin. If this is done with a loving spirit, kindness, and humility, it should be well-received. Prayer should follow. Accountability should be pursued to facilitate growth and holiness. The husband and wife are walking together to heaven, and the surest path within their relationship to guarantee that blessed goal is to handle sin honestly, openly, and humbly.
Putting Off, Putting On (Eph. 4:22-24)
The apostle Paul summarizes the biblical paradigm for overcoming sin and growing in sanctification, and the Christian family desiring growth in sanctification would do well to apply his teaching to its specific sins. First, we must "put off" or "lay aside" sin. This requires us to consider our new identity in Jesus Christ and the contradiction that sin is to our status as new creatures. We have died and have been raised with Christ; the effects of his death to sin on the cross and resurrection from the dead are efficaciously applied to us by the Holy Spirit resulting in the definitive death of our old man of sin through regeneration and the implantation of a new principle of life within us (Rom. 6:1-6). As a result, sin does not have dominion over us, and we have power in Jesus Christ to lay it aside. Putting off sin requires honest recognition of the sins of our heart for God desires truth in the "inward parts," i.e., the real state of our hearts (Ps. 51:6). We must learn to hate sin, not as an inconvenience or as the harbinger of negative consequences, but as opposed to the righteous character of God and to the enjoyment of fellowship with him. We must then mortify our sins (Col. 3:5). Mortification is literally "putting to death sin" through self-denial, self-conscious seeking of union with Christ in the effects of his death to sin, and prayerful dependence upon his strength and grace to overcome the specific sins of our lives. The goal of mortification is the specific eradication of rebellious heart attitudes and cherished idols that are manifested in outward sins. This is a continuous battle for even the most sanctified believer will find much within him that contradicts the power of grace that now rules in his life. Mortification is painful, for we have indulged ourselves in some sins for such a long period of time that our consciences are grieved and must be rebuilt through prayer and consistent meditation upon the word of God. Personal holiness through union with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection is the power and motivation, however, to mortify sin, and regardless of the difficulty of mortification, every believer must commit himself to putting away the sins of his life so that he might glorify and enjoy God in the totality of his life.
We must then be renewed in the spirit of our minds (cf. Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 10:5). Renewal involves first a change of affection. Instead of loving sin, we must grow to love righteousness. Fear of negative consequences can never provide the impetus for lasting change for its goal and motivation are self-focused. When we are renewed or transformed in our thinking, it is not simply that we begin to evaluate actions differently but that there is a movement of the entire soul away from sin and toward righteousness - in our thinking, attitudes, and religious affections. This renewal or transformation involves and leads to a desire for God’s word (see 1 Peter 2:1,2). Sadly lacking in the lives of most Christians are close study of Scripture, meditation upon Scripture, and saturation with Scripture. Without this, however, we will never be able to "put off" and "put on," for sanctification involves not simply the cessation of sinful actions but the replacement of that sin with pious affections, submission to God’s word, and the desire for holy things. God’s word provides the wisdom and strength to keep us from sinning against God and to direct us in our obedience to him. Accordingly, for the family to fulfill the purposes for which God created and Christ redeemed it, each member must labor to be renewed in its thinking - to imbibe personally and completely the mind of Christ revealed in the inspired Scriptures (1 Cor. 2:10-16). And this requires a discipline that, quite frankly, many today lack. We fill our lives with activities but soon sense that we lack the power and wisdom to balance these with the duties of piety and to make these a part of our piety. We cannot, however, do until we are. We cannot be a Christian family until we are a renewed family, until our thoughts and affections are held captive by the word of God. Fathers and mothers especially must be continually renewed through personal submission and filling with God’s word, for they are the home’s directors, guardians, and teachers. Simpler yet more profound advice for the restoration of the family in our day cannot be found. If you want your family to be godlier, if you desire to respond to sins more wisely, you must come to Scripture daily as a humble learner and hide God’s word in your heart.
The third inspired direction Paul gives is "put on." This involves the practice of righteousness. Concretely the sins of the family must be replaced with their righteous counterparts: laziness with hard work, pride with humility, selfishness with service, entertainment with fellowship. These are only a few examples. Paul works out the "putting on" paradigm in detail in verses 25-29. It is important to recognize that dealing with sins in the home and the pursuit of holiness more broadly does not consist exclusively in stopping sinful actions. Unless these are replaced with holy attitudes, actions, and priorities, the seven worse demons of Jesus’ parable will rush in to fill the void of our lives. For example, a despondent child should not be dealt with by encouraging self-esteem. This is nothing other than the replacement of one sin with another. Despondency must be replaced with a realization of his creation in the image of God, the unique purpose for which God created him, and the reminder that joy and happiness are the result of doing the will of God (John 13:17). Despondency must be recognized as veiled pride, self-absorption, and unbelief in God’s providence. It must be put off, the mind renewed, and the life filled with purposeful service to God and the fulfillment of daily duties in the strength of Jesus Christ. Christian family, the important point to remember is that sin cannot be overcome and righteousness established unless in place of the sins that plague the family holy attitudes and actions take their place. Only when we love and pursue righteousness in the fear and love of God will sin lose its attraction and the power of Christ’s death and resurrection powerfully exert themselves in our lives.
Patience, Perseverance, and Prayer
Knowing these principles is only one part of the battle. This warning is especially necessary in our age, for many of us are like the computer novice who believes himself to be technologically proficient simply because he acquires the top-of-the-line machine, or the theological student that feels smarter because he has purchased some new books for his library. Great patience is requires in dealing with sin, whether individually or within the context of the family. Sin is typically deep-rooted, has deceptive self-preservation propensities, and cannot be overcome other than through Spirit-empowered, Bible-directed, and patient confrontation and replacement. Accordingly, if we find that the application of Paul’s directives do not achieve success in the time we initially envisioned, we must persevere, placing supreme confidence in God’s word and promises. We must also allow for the reality that we will not always be able to do those good things that we desire, or avoid those sinful things that we hate. This is not an excuse but a fact of our fallen condition, a requirement of the discipline of the cross. And behind all our efforts, room must be left for submission to God’s individual providences in our lives, who for good, holy, wise, and just reasons, may allow us to languish in sin for periods of time, in order to humble our hearts, show us the hidden strength of sin to demonstrate the foolishness of presumption, or even to chasten us for former sins. None of these caveats deny the indisputable truth of Scripture that God’s will is our sanctification, and through faithfulness to the God-appointed means, we may attain it. They do remind us to avoid the tendency of modern family-oriented literature, which considers family sins and problems solvable by the application of certain formulas.
This leads to the importance of prayer, for those who humble themselves will be exalted by God. Prayer above all other religious exercises manifests a broken spirit before God, dependence upon him, and submission to one of the primary means of grace he has provided for the sanctification of our lives and families. Husbands and fathers, you must pray regularly for the grace to overcome your sins and the strength to model holiness consistently and sincerely before the watching eyes of your wives and children. Wives and mothers, you must diligently seek from the Lord the prerequisite grace to be a faithful guardian of the home, a blessing to your husbands and children, and a living example in your home of the submission the church should give to her Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Parents, you must pray for your children, for all your discipline, worship, and catechizing will only be effective as God blesses them. They are means, not formulamatic guarantees. The fight against sin is life-long; it will end only at death. God graciously gives seasons of peace and victory, but they will be followed by new seasons of testing and opportunities for further sanctification. He continually tests the faith of the righteous man. Will we trust him and obey his word even if we do not see the results of our faith? Against hope, will we believe in hope that we might see God faithfully fulfill what he has promised?