A Rescue Mission – A Look at Sin and Repentence of a Wayward Family Member

Mr. Tim Snyder, Media Services Coordinator for Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, WI

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

The sordid account of King David and Bathsheba is a familiar one (1 Samuel 11 and 12). In the aftermath God sent the prophet Nathan to King David on a rescue mission. Nathan called the king to repentance and, by God’s grace, the mission was a success.

If a brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. (Luke 17:3)

Like Nathan, we are to speak out in love when we see a fellow Christian tangled up in sin. It can be a difficult task, especially when it involves a family member.

No Christian family is free from the effects of sin. It may be brother Joe who decides to move in with his girlfriend, or cousin Jane who gets pregnant and has an abortion, or nephew Bill who is carrying on in a homosexual relationship. We need to be like the prophet Nathan, but how do we carry out a rescue mission? We simply speak God’s law and proclaim His gospel.

Joe needs to hear the law. Like many in our society, he doesn’t see the need to be married. He and his girlfriend are in a committed relationship. Isn’t that enough? Only through the mirror of the law will Joe see his sin.

“The law is a mirror.” That reminds us of catechism class. But Joe’s situation is real life, not a classroom. How do we approach it? The prophet Nathan told a story. It was simply a thinly-disguised account of David’s sin, but it was just the thing to prick David’s conscience. Nathan’s example teaches us to find ways to overcome barriers. Simply barging in and accusing a person of sin may only result in a quick ticket back out. To be sure, none of us are Old Testament prophets who come with a direct revelation from God, but we have God’s Holy Word and we’ve been asked to deal with an erring brother or sister in love. Preaching the law can be as simple as sitting down with someone and lovingly using our own words. Finally, like Nathan, we may have to speak bluntly: “You are the man!”

The law has done its job when it crushes our sinful hearts and brings us to our knees, but it’s not the last word.

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

Convicted by his sin, now Joe needs to hear the gospel. And so does cousin Jane. She has been overwhelmed with guilt since the abortion. She doesn’t think God can forgive such horrible sin. Preaching law to her will only deepen her despair. Jane needs the promises of the gospel, not the demands of the law. Our approach must mimic the Apostle Paul’s: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

The gospel is God’s love in action. It’s big, beautiful and powerful. It’s God’s Son voluntarily stepping in front of a runaway freight train on our behalf. We rightfully should have been obliterated by the locomotive of the Almighty’s righteous hatred of sin. Instead, both God’s love and justice are present on Calvary’s cross. What a joy to tell someone that God loves them and forgives them completely, no matter what they’ve done!

When we speak to the sinner we dare not mix law and gospel but, can we lead with the gospel? In John chapter 4, Jesus provides a lesson on overcoming barriers: “Jesus knew this woman was living in a sinful relationship, but instead of blasting her with God’s law, he held out hope. He said, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ [John 4:10] It’s striking that Jesus didn’t begin with the law but with the gospel… Jesus instilled in this woman a desire for living water. But before he could give it to her, he had to deal with her sin… Jesus didn’t tiptoe around the issue. He addressed it directly. He spoke to a sinner about her sin. And through his words the woman saw her sin.” (John D. Schuetze, Marriage and Family, Northwestern Publishing House)

Hopefully this brief article will provide encouragement as we deal with a wayward family member. We have barely scratched the surface, and this is not intended as comprehensive how-to but simply a reminder to speak in love. A few important points to remember:

  1. Be in the Word. The Word and Sacrament are the means the Holy Spirit uses to produce renewal in us.
  2. Seek forgiveness. We can’t effectively deal with the sins of others until we attend to our own need for forgiveness.
  3. Be bold. God will bless our efforts. His law and gospel will not return empty but accomplish his purpose.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)


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