One of the things I've been struggling with the past couple days is how to keep fellow Christians accountable when they are in the wrong, while trying to not come across as being judgmental or offensive. This is one area I've never really quite been able to get good at. My problem is I know the Truth, I'm passionate about the Truth, and in that passion for standing for the Truth, I can sometimes come across in a negative light. I get criticized by the person I'm trying to help for "being judgmental" or "holier-than-thou" or "making too big a deal out of it." My guess is that if you've been a Christian for a while, you know exactly what I mean. It's incredibly slippery ground.
When I see that one of my friends is about to make a bad decision, I naturally only want to keep them from doing that. It's like pointing out the snake that's about to bit them or the car that's about to hit them. I don't want to see them hurt. I'm a leader and a fixer-upper. I like setting things straight, organizing, and making sure that everything is running efficiently. It runs against my nature to let my brothers and sisters in Christ shoot themselves in the foot and do something they'll regret. But instead of letting my nature run its course, I choose instead to follow Scripture. And here is one very helpful Scripture:
Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17, "'If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector."
This is a very clever system. First, you confront the person. In private, let the other person know that what they're doing is wrong. If they agree and repent, "you have won them over." But if they are stubborn and won't listen, go back to the person with two or three others so that "matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." Jesus says to do this for a few reasons. One, to keep both parties accountable, and two, to have some witnesses to make sure nothing goes downhill (such as the two people getting into a fight, saying mean and terrible things, etc). And even if that doesn't work and they persist in their sin, Jesus says to take it to the church and to treat them as you would a non-Christian. (But before I move on, I want to make something very clear: you should only take something to the church if it's serious enough. Affairs, dishonesty in business, illegal issues, drugs, that type of stuff.)
Keeping each other accountable can be very tricky. I tend to be stubborn and hard-headed, so when a friend or family member tries to correct me, I usually get mad, upset, and bitter. But once I sober, I see that they were right. Over time, I've gotten a lot better at that. I've started to try to listen to people when they criticize me to see if there's merit to what they have to say. I may not like them, I may hate them for it, but generally, when a friend takes the time to tell me I'm doing something wrong, that means I probably am. So I listen with open ears. And good friends will do that for you: they'll keep you accountable. My three closest friends do that. One rarely fails to point out my pride or outlandish thoughts; he's always right, too. My other two friends do a good job of reminding me to keep a tighter reign on my mouth (sometimes my sarcasm and pokes and prods go too far). And my brother, bless his heart, never fails to point it out when I'm mean or unfair to him. Good, Godly friends do that. If a friend never points anything out to you, you'd do well to re-evaluate how much that person cares for you.
Granted, just being friends with someone doesn't mean you can point all their sins out to them. That's what Jesus was saying when He talked about removing the plank from your own eye before pointing out the speck in your brother's (Matt. 7:5). And in some circumstances, it isn't appropriate for me to be the one to point something out to a person. For instance, I can't tell my immodest sister in Christ she needs to put clothes on; a sister in Christ needs to do that. And my sister in Christ shouldn't tell our brother in Christ that he needs to stop ogling women; that would be my job, since I'm a guy. And in some relationships, it's wise to say nothing at all. For example, let's say my boss cusses and my teammate cusses (For the record, my boss doesn't cuss and I don't play sports anymore). I can approach my teammate about his foul language, but it wouldn't be smart to approach my boss. See what I'm saying?
Hopefully, the person who is doing wrong will heed your advice and turn from that sin. But it doesn't always happen. Sometimes, you have to let the other person make his or her own decisions. And that's hard. But it happens. And you can't force them to change. Jesus says this in Revelation 22:11, "Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy." In other words, you can't force people to change. You can try to keep them accountable. You can quote Scripture right and left. You can pray daily for them. Your closer Christian friends can try to persuade them to change their ways. You can love them to death. But they don't always repent. Some people are stubborn enough that they have to see for themselves why something is bad for them. Some people just learn things the hard way. I can be like that. When I was a kid, I learned the hard way why playing with matches is a bad idea. I learned the hard way why knives don't go in electrical outlets. I learned the hard way why you should treat girls with respect and honor. I learned the hard way that encouragement motivates people better than sarcasm. I learned the hard way that life is not all about me.
So yes, there are times when you have to let people make bad mistakes. My parents are obviously good examples of that. All you can really do is pray that when they do sin, their conscious will beat them up so bad over it that they'll never do it again. That's how I learned. And then you pray that they'll repent and turn to God for forgiveness and restoration, because He is the only one that truly provides that.