My concern is she does not seem to feel remorseful, or perhaps she is in shock. How as her accountability partner should I help her to (1) recognize her mistake as sin without seeming judgmental and (2) generally continue to hold her accountable when she is unwilling to commit to it only being a one-time thing?
My friend, thank you for writing. I’m truly sorry to hear that you are in this situation that must feel like a breach of Christian friendship, leaving you hurt as well as heavily burdened for your longtime friend. She is in a fearful position, and you are right to be concerned — but you are also limited in what you can do to help her. You must not take it upon yourself to do what God calls the church to do, nor to try and do what only the Holy Spirit can do.
Yet there are some things you can do to help her recognize her sin. Begin with prayer.
Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict her of her sin and to fill her with grief over her rebellion against God’s rule in her life. Ask God to be merciful to her, to quicken her conscience that she might realize the seriousness of her unrepentance and willful sin (Hebrews 10:26-27).
It’s not enough to be sorry about getting caught. Such is worldly grief that produces death. Ask God to awaken in her “godly grief [that] produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Confront her sin. Don’t overlook it or pretend it’s not as serious as Scripture says it is. Encourage her to repent and turn (Galatians 6:1-10). God made us, and made us sexual beings, establishing the boundaries of marriage as the only authorized place for sex between a man and a woman. Rather than telling her what you think about what she’s doing, show her from the Bible. Passages like Genesis 2:18-25, Malachi 2:13-15 and Song of Solomon show the beauty of sex rightly embraced and God’s desire that we enjoy it as He intended it. Ephesians 5:22-33 goes further, helping us see that sex isn’t only or ultimately about our pleasure, but about God’s glory. It is only in this context of biblical marriage that sex can lead to human flourishing. When we have it otherwise, we do so to our harm. We may not see that immediately and often do not. But the harm will come.
That’s why passages like Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 5, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Ephesians 5:5 are so necessary. God not only tells us how we may flourish, compelling us to obey Him, He also warns us what will be the dreadful consequences when we don’t.
Scripture is clear: The sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. God not only tells us how we may flourish, compelling us to obey Him, He also warns us what will be the dreadful consequences when we don’t. Hebrews 10:26-27 warns us, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
Plead with her to turn back to Christ in repentance before it’s too late. Acts 3:19 does just that, saying, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” Remind her “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
It’s tempting to think if no apparently bad consequences have happened yet, that they never will. Such delay may be God’s kindness which is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). But where we persist in willful sin, we are at risk of becoming hardened to God, of having seared consciences, and of being handed over to ourselves (Romans 1, 2). The principle of the harvest will play out. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
If she is willing, remind her from Scripture who God is. He is holy. He commands us to be like Him (1 Peter 1:16). This we cannot do in ourselves — for we are frail and fallen — but by the blood of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives us the ability to flee temptation, to resist the devil, and to be made like Christ one degree at a time (2 Corinthians 3:18). He commands us to be pure in heart, for only then can we see God (Matthew 5:8).
It sounds like you’ve talked much about sexual purity given the long nature of your relationship and specifically, its purpose of encouraging one another in dating relationships. What’s lacking, I suspect, is not knowledge of what’s right, but the desire to obey. It’s our low view of God that leads us to trivialize our sin. This is where the Holy Spirit must do His work.
This brings us to your second question: How can you generally hold her accountable when she is unwilling to turn from her sin? You can’t. If she persists in this illicit sexual relationship she will be, by her own actions, unaccountable. To keep meeting with her as you always have, or even to think of your relationship as unchanged, would be a fraud. It would also provide cover for her and might help her silence any stirrings of conscience she might feel. God may use a break in your friendship to wake her up to the seriousness of her situation.
Accountability isn’t mentioned per se in Scripture, but the idea of walking alongside other believers as we strive for personal holiness comes from texts like 2 Timothy 2:22, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” It’s a great help in the Christian walk to have other believers we are close to and candid with about our struggles with sin for the purpose of encouraging one another to repent and seek forgiveness, as well as pray together for power to flee temptation. But as you’re realizing, such accountability only works when you both are willing to acknowledge sin as sin. What happens when one person in that “along with those” relationship stops “call[ing] on the Lord from a pure heart”? What about when one embraces sin and willfully denies it to be sin?
Where does that leave you? Scripture speaks directly to this situation of ongoing sexual immorality within the church. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5,
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord 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.
You say you don’t want to judge. And while I understand that impulse and realize there’s a sense in which you shouldn’t — none of us are good — in another, judging is what’s needed, but not by you individually. Paul writes:
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’ (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).
God calls us, when we are assembled together as the church, to judge. It is not something that is to be done lightly, nor is it something one believer can do to another. This is what’s called church discipline, and though it used to be practiced more widely in faithfulness to the Scriptures, it’s uncommon in our day. As your letter and countless stories of sexual infidelity in the church show, we are as much in need of church discipline as were the Christians Paul was writing to in first-century Corinth.
In a case of ongoing sexual sin, when the people involved are members of a biblically faithful church, the elders are the ones who should raise the matter and seek to restore the believers through repentance. In the case where someone claiming to be a believer refuses to acknowledge their sin and persists in it, in this case, continuing to have sex with a man not her husband, her membership would be ended. All of this is to be done in a spirit of great humility and grief, not for the purpose of embarrassing a church member, but in the hope of waking her from her stupor, showing her the seriousness of her situation, for the sake of saving her soul from death (James 5:19-20).
Your letter is a reminder of why life in a healthy church body is so essential. The writer of Hebrews put it this way:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Life in the body is essential for “pay[ing] closer attention to what we have heard [the Gospel], lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1).
May the Spirit of Christ give you wisdom.
Copyright 2013 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.