Sin, Discipline and Forgiveness in the Church

In a message entitled “Sin, Discipline, and Forgiveness” Pastor Tom Ascol continues his exposition of 2 Corinthians. Centering on 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 Pastor notes the often widespread breakdown in discipline within government, education, and homes that makes the concept of discipline in a church seems foreign. Yet, today’s passage shows Christ calling His church to deal with sin with discipline and grace.

Jesus expects His followers to live together in an orderly God-honoring way. The local church is a group of disciples who have promised to live under God’s authority. A church, meeting these responsibilities, encourages every member to be faithful in obedience. One way the church accomplishes this encouragement is in dealing with sin with both discipline and grace. One of the reasons for this is that sin in the church affects the whole church (v. 5). In our passage Paul is addressing sin that has actually happened. It may be that this sinner had opposed Paul but it is certain this man had publicly sinned. The church’s lack of discipline gave the impression of the church’s support of the sin and sinner. Therefore, when a church member, by his speech, action, or attitude begins to undermine God’s Word, he injures not only himself but the whole body, individually and corporately. The church’s need to have disciplined this member explains Paul’s mention of the “severe letter” in Chapter 2, verses 3 and 4. This discipline is one of God’s divinely ordained methods of nurturing His children and explains the importance of membership in a Bible-believing and practicing church.

Just as sin affects the whole church, sin in the church must be dealt with properly. The church has two responsibilities. For the recalcitrant sinner, one who refuses to turn from sin even after counsel and prayer, the church must administer discipline up to and including removal from the fellowship (Matthew 18:15-18). Of course, the church is composed of sinners so discernment is called for in imposing discipline. We all sin, but a believer walking in fellowship with God should be continually repenting of that sin. Refusal to repent is an indication of recalcitrance. Nonetheless, even discipline as severe as excommunication is to be done in love with an eye toward restoration. Therein is the church’s second responsibility.

Discipline should lead to repentance and the recalcitrant sinner who finally repents should be forgiven and comforted (v. 7). The church is to reaffirm (v. 8) and forgive (Matthew 6:12) as they welcome the person back into fellowship. Forgiveness is not hard for the Christian who remembers the Lord’s forgiveness of their many sins. Just as Jesus Christ extends grace to the believer so the believer can extend grace to a brother or sister coming in repentance and faith. In this case we can see that discipline has had its intended effect, bringing the sinner back to his Lord.

Christ calls His church to deal with sin with discipline and grace. Before that, however, Christ calls individual sinners to Himself and to the church. Recognizing one’s own sins and repenting of those sin and rebellion, responding to Christ, the One whose substitutionary death paid the penalty sinners never can pay, and crying out for salvation results in security for eternity and membership in the church today, the one place where we can be disciplined and nurtured.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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