How to Help People Repent

Few sorrows can match the heartache of knowing someone you care for is lost in sin. Christians can agonize over the proper way to deal with it, often coming up with vastly different answers. Sometimes the thought of a loved one being lost paralyzes people, keeping them from saying anything at all and sometimes even causing them to deny the severity of the spiritual situation altogether. Others approach those involved with such fierce animosity that any sign of love remains too hidden for even other Christians to see. While the speed required in each situation deserves its own consideration (Jude 22-23), the principles involved in helping people repent remain the same.

For those who love souls deeply, the pain at watching people struggle with sin creates an ache that does not fade rapidly. Instead, the drive to help those who do not always appreciate the help searches desperately for the right words to say and the proper approaches to make—anything to convince a loved one in sin to repent. When Ezra found that many of the people, especially among the leaders, had taken pagan wives and fallen into the same error as their forefathers, he did not wait around to see if the problem would correct itself. He took action. He confronted the sin swiftly and appropriately in order to restore the integrity of the people and rebuke those caught in sin’s webbing. As such, he serves as a model for us today. When people we love fall into temptation and do not find their way back, we must take the responsibility upon ourselves—not just to reach out to them, but to do so the best way possible (Gal. 6:1-2).

  1. Let them feel the weight of their sin (Ezra 10:1-3). Do not ignore it. Do not sugarcoat it. Do not make excuses for them. They need to feel guilty.
  2. Encourage them to take responsibility through your presence, your motivation, and your exhortations (Ezra 10:4). Do not withdraw your influence; make the most of it. They need to know you are there to help.
  3. Hold them accountable (Ezra 10:5-9). Remind the erring of their original commitment to God. Take them back to that day so they can find the strength to commit again.
  4. Make sure they stay focused on the problem of sin (Ezra 10:10-11). Sometimes people begin to make correction but then stall out when people do not see them through it until the end. Repentance requires focus, and the weak require our help in order to stay focused.
  5. Be patient and reasonable throughout the process (Ezra 10:12-15). Some situations require only a change of outlook and worldview. Some require a number of steps to overcome many obstacles. We have to realize this and help people each step of the way when they are willing to change.
  6. Talk to them respectfully and seriously about what repentance requires of them (Ezra 10:16-19). When we remain calm and reasonable when speaking to people, it helps them remain calm and reasonable. We have no right to compromise what God’s Word requires, but we should present it lovingly.
  7. Acknowledge the emotional difficulty of the situation (Ezra 10:20-44). Repentance can be difficult. The consequences of sin can be tremendous. It is foolhardy to ignore the emotional burden people face under such circumstances. Instead, we should be there for them even more.
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