Jesus is Not Ashamed of Subjects of Church Discipline
Jesus instituted church discipline both to maintain the holiness of the church and to remind his people that he forgives them as they repent of their sins and submit to his lordship.
We often focus on the first aspect—admonishment over sin that could end in excommunication. While this should get our attention and produce holy sobriety within us, it’s not the whole story.
At each step, the goal of church discipline is clearly restoration. The burden of the faithful church members in the process is to persuade their sinning brother to forsake sin and submit to Jesus. Just as excommunication pivots on the truth that Christ is holy, so too restoration hinges on the truth that he is forgiving. He delights to forgive his people of their sins.
To see this emphasis, consider the literary context of Matthew 18.
THE CONTEXT OF MATTHEW 18
In the verses just before Jesus’s instruction on discipline in Matthew 18:15–20, he taught that the Father is like a shepherd who pursues the sheep that wander away (18:12). Then in the passage immediately following, Peter asked how many times they need to forgive people when they sin. Surprisingly, Jesus told Peter that he should forgive those who sin against him not simply “seven times, but seventy-seven times” (18:22).
In other words, you don’t keep count. Because God has forgiven you such a great debt, you must forgive others. Jesus punctuated this with a parable about someone who was forgiven a great amount but then was merciless to one who owed him a debt (18:23–35).
The lesson is clear: forgiven people forgive. When you look at the overall context, we see that church discipline is less like a criminal prosecution and more like a rescue mission. Throughout the process is the reminder that God forgives sinners—even after they are converted. If we reflect Christ’s heart, then we gently and lovingly pursue our wayward brothers and sisters, urging them to submit to his Word and receive his restoration (Gal. 6:1).
THE RESTORATION OF THE DISCIPLINED
After preparing and serving breakfast to his disciples in John 21, Jesus turned to Peter and asked him some questions, teaching him about forgiveness and restoration. This was not only an important time in Peter’s life but also for the other disciples. Just as Peter (before denying Christ) boasted in front of the disciples of his faithfulness to Christ, so too Jesus restored him publicly¹. Jesus wanted Peter and the disciples to know that he forgave him. This is the type of love that Jesus has for his people. He wants the sinner and his brothers and sisters to know that he’s not ashamed of them. He welcomes his repentant children home.
Run your finger across the pages of the Bible, and you find many examples to prove that God delights to lavish his forgiveness on sinners. Even after they commit to following God, many believers fall on their face, only to be lifted up again by the staggering love of God.
Adam sinned in the garden, yet God pursued him and preached the promise of the gospel to him (Gen. 3:1–15). Abraham lied about his relationship to Sarah—twice! (Gen. 12:11–19; 20:1–12). Moses disobeyed God and struck the rock (Num. 20:8–12). David committed adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11:1– 27). Jonah disobeyed God’s call (Jonah 1:1–3). Thomas doubted, even when standing before the risen Lord (John 20:24–25).
All of these examples remind us that though our sins are heinous, they can never separate a true believer from God. He delights in pardoning us in Christ.
You and I might be tempted to believe that our sin not only bars us from the experience of Christ’s love but also from usefulness in his service. But this is not the case. It can’t be. The story of the apostle Peter teaches us that there is far more grace in Jesus than there is sin in us. He knew what Peter would do, and yet he still loved him through it. The Lord predicted not only Peter’s sin but also his return and his usefulness to him. Remember: Jesus told Peter that after he returned, he would need to strengthen his brothers (Luke 22:32).
GRACE GREATER THAN OUR SIN
There’s no better way to keep you from the joy of knowing Christ than to tie the weight of guilt to your back. You’ll never get above the water. You’ll sink in despair and feel guilty for doing so. If the enemy can convince you that you are hopeless in your sin, then he can deprive you of one of the great privileges of following Jesus. Look again at the apostle Peter, sitting in the sand with Jesus, humbled and healed by such unspeakable love. This is your Savior, dear Christian. When you see that he’s not ashamed of you, even when you sin, you’ll melt in loving gratitude and be fueled for zealous service.
Friend, your sins didn’t prevent God from loving you before, and they won’t prevent him from loving you now. Sins shall never sever God from his people. “Their sins may cause a strangeness between God and them, but shall never cause an enmity; their sins may hide God’s face from them, but shall never turn God’s back upon them: those whom God loves, he loves unto the end: ‘I am the Lord that changeth not,’ saith he.”²
Dear friend, are you living beneath your privileges in Christ? Are you stuck with your head down in the mire of guilt and shame? Look up and lock eyes with Christ through his word. Like Peter, let your heart be both pierced and healed by him. Peter denied Christ that night, but Christ didn’t deny Peter. He’s not ashamed to have you. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).
Jesus isn’t ashamed of those who still sin. He’s the one who pursues the wandering sheep. He forgives the sinner “seventy-seven times.” He removes the debt of “ten thousand talents” (Matt. 18:24). When you think about church discipline, see Christ’s desire for a holy people. But at the same time, don’t miss his heart to forgive sinners.
 D.A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 675.
 William Bridge, A Lifting Up for The Downcast, Vintage Puritan (Louisville: GLH, 2014), 53
Editor’s note: This article is taken and adapted from He Is Not Ashamed: The Staggering Love of Christ For His People by Erik Raymond, ©2022. Used by permission of Crossway.