A Biblical Guide to Intervention

Justin Lakemacher, Program Manager

Have you ever had to do an intervention on a loved one caught in sin? Whether you have done a formal intervention and actually hired someone to help you or an informal intervention that is more spontaneous, interventions are often extremely difficult, emotionally draining, and heartbreaking when our loved ones fail to consider our help.

It is therefore imperative when such a serious task of an intervention is to be done, God’s Word be our guide.

The Glory of an intervention

First, pause and consider the act of an intervention itself. An intervention is when a loved one, or group of loved ones, gathers around someone trapped in sin in hopes to rescue, deliver, and support them from their difficulty. The act of an intervention is an act very close to the heart of the gospel. The cross is after all, the greatest intervention ever done.  On the cross, God is rescuing sinners trapped in darkness and bringing them into relationship with himself, providing all they need to live as they were created to. This divine intervention of redemption is one of the primary themes of Scripture.

Our Interventions are therefore meant to reflect the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ and are thus determined successful not based upon whether or not someone listens to us, but rather in how much our interventions reflect the cross of Jesus Christ.

I think James recognized the profound glory of intervening in someone’s life when he said this, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:16). What an opportunity! We can participate in saving someone’s soul from death and displaying an amazing truth contained in the gospel: There is enough grace to cover a multitude of sins!

Let us first pause and consider the glory of an intervention and the gospel beauty it reflects when done biblically.

How to Intervene For a Loved One?

 Now to the hard question. How do we actually do interventions? Here are a few things to consider.

First, check our motives before we intervene. The heart of an intervention is more than “your sin bothers me” or “your sin makes my life difficult.” Interventions will fail before you meet with someone if you are intervening to expose sin in someone’s life for your own personal reasons.

Consider the Pharisees in John 7:53-8:11. The Pharisees catch a woman in the act of adultery but could care less about her soul before the living God. They make a mockery of her sin by using her for their own advantage as they tried to test Jesus. They are also eager and ready to see judgement executed. Christian interventions should be marked by an eagerness to forgive, not an eagerness to pick up stones.

Now consider the difference between how the Pharisees handled someone caught in sin to the way in which Paul exhorts believers in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Do you notice the difference? Paul is saying, if we are spiritual by means of God’s grace and understand the mercy we found in the cross, love in gentleness is the right motive as we intervene, keeping watch on ourselves as well. Have you checked your motives before intervening? Do you recall the ways in which you have been caught in sin and experienced grace? If so, intervene gently.

Paul Tripp describes this call to gentle intervention this way, “Gentleness should be our natural response when we see a brother or sister ensnared in sin.  We must recognize that except for God’s grace, we would be where they are.  Thus we should respond to them with the same grace that we have received. God loved us when we were unlovely.  He has forgiven us in the face of repeated sin.  In fact, it is His love that draws us out of the darkness toward His marvelous light…In our communication with one another, as we all struggle with the reality of remaining sin, it is vital that we mirror the compelling love of Christ.”

As we move forward intervening with a spirit of gentleness, we also must consider the ugliness of the cross and tell that truth. Many times formal interventions attempt this by having family members write letters or share stories of how their loved one’s sin or addiction has affected them. Those letters are not very pretty. They are often messy, filled with pain and hurt. Why? Because sin is ugly and it hurts those that care about us. There is a saying in the recovery world describing addiction in this way, “Addiction is a special kind of hell; It takes the soul of the addict and breaks the hearts of everyone who loves them.”  But the ugliest part of sin is not that it hurts others but that it is an offense to a holy God.  And God’s Word is unapologetic regarding the seriousness of sin. God describes sin as evil (Genesis 6:5), lawlessness (1 John 3:4), rebellion (Ezekiel 20:8), and deserving of death (Romans 6:23).  This is the deepest problem that must be addressed. All other attempts at dealing with sin will be surface level and as Christians, we must learn how to take interventions deeper.  Only God can truly redeem sin, so tell the truth when you intervene in someone’s life and don’t minimize sin; expose it. 

But to help us tell the truth, Paul reminds believers that we are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) as we grow up into Christ. We don’t tell the ugly truth of sin as if we are in God’s place as judge. We tell the truth of sin as sinners who need grace to another sinner who needs grace.  Interventions should have a sense of “we” as we truthfully expose sin.  We are in this together. We are here telling the truth, as hard as it may be and it is because we love you. 

Intervene by Reflecting God’s Love for Sinners

 Telling the truth and confronting sin are the hardest aspects of intervention. But the overall tone of an intervention, like the cross, is love. On the cross, God demonstrated his love for sinners (Romans 5:8).  As you intervene, be the demonstration of God’s love. Here are three aspects of love to remember.

Love is patient. Paul said this directly in 1 Corinthians 13:4.  Be patient with those trapped in sin.  Some prodigals take longer than others to come to their senses. Consider your own life and I am certain you would agree that God has been infinitely patient toward sinners. Go and do likewise.

Love is personal. Paul proclaimed his personal conviction, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live…” (Galatians 2:20).  God’s love is not an abstract concept. It is personal and touches us personally, like Jesus did to Paul on the road to Damascus.  Connect personally when you intervene and be cautious in following a mechanical method.  Listen to what the person you are intervening on has to say and meet them where they are. The more an intervention looks like a family gathering, the more personal effect it will have on everyone.

Love is perfect.  God’s love is perfect, ours is not.  Point the wayward to find their ultimate security in God’s love not our love.  The apostle John is clear, “Perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18).  Only God’s perfect love can draw them in and truly deliver them.  As John goes on to say, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  Bring those trapped in darkness to the perfect love of God, who loved us first and is empowering us presently while we intervene.

The ultimate questions to ask when doing an intervention are not, “how can we get this person into treatment?” or “how can we get him or her to stop sinning?” Our questions must be God-centered. Ask, “How, knowing this person’s sin, is God calling us to intervene?” And when the intervention is over, regardless of the outcome, reflect by asking, “Did this intervention please God?” or “Did we reflect the cross of Christ?” Even if the person rejected your help, God is still pleased when his people intervene in the lives of others in a way that reflects the gospel of His Son.