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How to help someone entangled in sin

Dan delzell
(Photo: Dan Delzell)

A 41-year-old man drowned recently in East Okoboji Lake in Iowa. Brandon Urban entered the water when his son became entangled in weeds after falling off a paddle board. During the rescue, which saved his son’s life, the father of three became entangled in the weeds himself and drowned. Authorities said he was not wearing a life jacket. 

This tragic event illustrates how suddenly a life-and-death situation can present itself. Danger lurks in the spiritual realm as well, where a person can rather quickly become ensnared in sin. It reminds me of Hebrews 12:1, which says in part: "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”

What can you do to get free when you find yourself entangled in the weeds of sin? And how can you help someone else who has become entangled?

Whenever we find ourselves entangled with sin, we need to “own” it, as we confess our sin to God and turn away from it. The Apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Since we are engaged in a spiritual battle, we need to be immersed every day in God’s Word and prayer. D.L. Moody said, “This book (the Bible) will keep you from sin; and sin will keep you from this book.” As Benjamin Franklin put it: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

When someone close to us becomes entangled in sin, God’s Word prescribes how to properly address it. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

In the previous chapter, Paul exhorted the believers to “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16) and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). In the final chapter of this marvelous epistle, the apostle instructs “you who are spiritual” to provide help when someone gets entangled in sin.

Here are three important things to keep in mind before undertaking this delicate intervention:

1. You will need to realize that your sinful condition is at least as great, if not greater, than the sin of the person you want to help.

Unless you recognize the depth of your own sinfulness, you are probably not ready to attempt this rescue effort. Spiritual maturity produces deep humility, as Paul expressed in these words: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).

2. You will need to be extremely gentle in your approach.

The person you want to help is already in a precarious position. Unless you are gentle when conversing with this person, you will likely do more harm than good. One of the nine things listed among the fruit of the Spirit is “gentleness” (Gal. 5: 22,23).

Max Lucado wisely said, “I choose gentleness … Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself."

3. A life jacket must be worn when getting into the water.

The life jacket consists of faith in Jesus, and a Spirit-filled heart and mind. You will want to be careful that you do not become entangled in the weeds yourself. Paul warned, “Watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).

Prayer and gentleness are essential in this spiritual endeavor. Just as Paul “constantly remembered” Timothy in his prayers, (2 Tim. 1:3) you will need to pray earnestly and often for the person you desire to help. Allow Christ’s love to guide your approach and your words. 

The Lord is more than able to “set the captives free,” (Isaiah 61:1) and God’s message to every believer is that “sin shall not be your master, because you are not under Law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). It is “the grace of God that brings salvation,” and God’s grace "teaches us to say ’No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11,12).

It is a horrible tragedy anytime a person drowns. And spiritual entanglements can turn out to be even more devastating. After all, our soul is immortal, whereas our earthly body will eventually turn to dust. Everyone needs the Lord, and thankfully, God invites us to call on Him in our time of trouble. 

Psalm 69 records David fervently calling out to God for help:

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me ... do not let me sink … do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up … come near and rescue me" (Psalm 69:1-2,14-15, 18).

The Lord who rescued David can rescue us, too, as well as those people we desire to help.

“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, He saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you” (Psalm 116:5-7).

As a believer in Jesus Christ, God’s grace and compassion can flow through you to those individuals the Holy Spirit leads you to assist.

If you would like to take a deeper dive into how God’s love gets applied to man’s sin, check out my op-ed piece from 2013, “Unconditional Love Doesn’t Always Include Unconditional Acceptance.”

And don’t forget these beautiful words of wisdom and encouragement at the conclusion of Paul's epistle to the churches in Galatia: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10).

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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