What to Do If Someone Claims to Be a Christian But Refuses to Repent of Sin

It’s celebrity pastors that make the headlines for no longer believing in Jesus. But the ones who hurt the most are our loved ones—those we’ve discipled and worshipped and served with; maybe even ones still living in the room down the hall.

The time we are living in is not a time that has surprised God. After all, Jesus promised this in Matthew 24:10-13

10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

We’ve been in the time of the end ever since Jesus ascended into heaven. What Jesus said continues to come true. But knowing what He said and knowing what to do for those who are falling away are two different things. Certainly we shouldn’t throw our hands in the air as those we love turn from their only hope in life and death!

So then, what does God’s Word say we should do? Here are four things:

1. Ask the Father to keep them in His name.

That’s exactly what Jesus prayed in John 17:11b:

“Holy Father, keep them in your name,”

Pray the same thing. Why not fast and pray for them one meal a week?

2. Seek to share God’s Word with them.

Consider just a few of the many, many warnings God’s Word gives to professing Christians about the dangers of living in sin:

Revelation 14:9-12
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
Galatians 5:19-21
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Hebrews 10:26-27
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

This person’s soul is in jeopardy. God may use you to bring back their soul from the brink of destruction. Nathan was the one who talked to King David about his sin. What if Nathan didn’t do that?

Use wisdom in how you approach this person. You want God’s Word to do the work, so avoid offending them without reason. (Nathan was very clever with how he confronted David!) Do it privately, in person, and keep it in as small a circle as possible (Matthew 18). Consider also the level of relationship you have with the person. There may be only a few people we all know well enough that this applies to.

3. Stop associating with them.

This is a complicated one, but it’s still true. I’ve tried to be thorough enough here, but if you still have a question about how to do this practically, talk to me about it.

(This step assumes that you’ve done steps 1 and 2.)

The word translated as “associate” in the verse I quote below is literally translated as “with up mix.” A phrase we might use is “mix up with.” It means we are not to spend a kind of quality relationship time with that person.

Does not associating with them seem a little harsh? Then God’s Word is harsh, because I’m almost quoting it from 1 Corinthians 5:11:

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.

Notice who this person is referring to. First, the person “bears the name of brother.” That is, they claim to be a Christian. Second, this person shows patterns of behavior that reveal their identity as an “idolater, reviled, drunkard, or swindler.” This is not a Christian with remaining sin that they acknowledge as sin and are repenting of. (There’s a big difference, and what an important difference!) They’re someone who is living in sin and know that the Bible says what they’re doing is sin, yet refuse to repent.

The Corinthian church was rebuked by Paul because they were “arrogant” (1 Corinthians 5:2) and “boasting” (1 Corinthians 5:6), presumably about their tolerance and acceptance of a professing Christian man who they knew was having an open affair with his step-mother (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)!

Granted, not all sin by professing Christians is this shocking (thankfully!). But the principle given in 1 Corinthians 5:11 applies to every professing Christian who understands that their behavior is sin and still consistently refuses to repent of it.

Practically speaking, and assuming they’re not close biological family, don’t invite this person over for a barbecue while you watch the game. Don’t go shopping with them. Don’t go up north with them during Spring Break. Do so with repenting sinners (Christians) and those who don’t claim to be Christians that you’re seeking to win to Christ (1 Corinthians 5:10), but not unrepenting “Christians.”

4. Trust Jesus’ promise.

Jesus said this in John 6:37:

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

If they truly have been born again, they can’t keep on sinning and will return to the Lord if they are straying. See 1 John 3:9:

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God

Ultimately, salvation is God’s doing from beginning to end. We can trust that He will do what is right even while we do the part He wants us to play.

5. Cast your cares on Him.

It’s a burden when people we love turn from the Lord! Our hearts are rightly broken and our spirits are unsettled. I have been there many times, and I’ve only been pastoring under 10 years!

Pour out your heart to the Lord. Give Him your worries. He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22).