Admit it. We’ve all done it, seen someone do it, or thought about doing it at some point during our education: cheating.
If you won’t admit it, I will. From one saved-by-grace cheater to another: there’s no way I would have passed my freshman-year, high-school Latin class without the pimple-laden brunette who sat just ahead of me and to my left. (She was gifted with an uncanny ability to conjugate.) It’s easy to justify cheating on a dead language, so I did.
I was later caught in another class. (I didn’t have the brunette this time.) I was forced to consider the consequences of my unrighteous actions. My punishment was light and exceptionally merciful: I had learned my lesson. I also learned that God is more interested in my character than my grade-point average.
Fast forward more than a decade later and picture this: I’m sitting in the back row of my seminary class. I’m having a near-Garden-of-Gethsemane moment—sweating something close to blood. When I turn to check the clock, I catch my colleague using one of the oldest tricks in the book: He had written the answers to the exam on his hand—caught.
Though distracted, I managed to finish my exam while catching short glimpses of him copying down the answers from his sweaty palm. The professor calls “Time.” As I walk to the front of the class, I catch my friend’s gaze for what seemed as long as the eschatological millennium. I knew I had to say or do something.
I mixed complete avoidance with a moment of prayerful consideration; I then looked into Scripture for an answer to my predicament. How odd: I didn’t find any verse that gave instructions on how to confront a seminary colleague caught cheating on an exam.
What I did find was a verse in Galatians that provided me with a framework for dealing with the situation. It also gave me courage to confront him:
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted (Gal 6:1 NASB).
The verse is pretty straightforward. But restoring someone who has trespassed against their family, friends or colleagues—or in my friend’s case, an institution created to make people like him godly leaders—can be very painful. This is why Paul suggests we be gentle. The implication is that if we do not gently work to restore those who have sinned, and examine ourselves in the process, we may be tempted to make the same mistakes.
I wanted my act of restoration to be without the inevitable pain associated with sin. I intuitively knew this was impossible, but needed a reminder. This verse in Galatians helped me realize that the confrontation was going to require a spirit of gentleness and an act of painful rebuke.
After silencing my fears, and trusting the Lord with the outcome, I confronted my colleague about what I had seen and challenged him to do the right thing. The pain on his face was telling. His response, though, was Spirit-filled. The professor was merciful and let him drop the class without penalty.
I pray that you will follow the model that Paul suggests and humbly, yet boldly, restore your fellow brothers and sisters caught in sin.