Under the Microscope
Unless you have been living under a rock recently, you are well aware that this is an election year. The two leading candidates for the presidency of the United States of America are Donald Trump (R) and Hillary Clinton (D). Because of the high profile of the position of president, and the amazingly instant access to every second of their lives through social media, every word they speak is analyzed and dissected for their originally intended meaning, or even a detrimental meaning that could be used against them.
Just as our presidential candidates are held to a high standard of conduct and living, the Bible speaks about those that are to become teachers and leaders warning that they will receive stricter judgment.
James writes in James 3:9-10, “We praise our Lord and Father with [the tongue] and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way.” We all know and expect our leaders to be held to higher standards, but did you know that every person, whether a Christian or not, will also be held accountable for every word spoken? In fact, in Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus says, “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” What a potentially terrifying element of Christianity! Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless.”
Now that we know we should probably be careful with our actions and our words, how can we go about improving ourselves before we make it to this judgment? The answer: confession. No, I am not advocating for the Protestant church to set up confessional booths in the church building. I am suggesting having brothers and sisters living life together and sharing one another’s burdens.
God Loves the Sinner but Hates the Sin
Do you ever find it easier to confess your sins to God than to confess your sins to a brother? Isn’t it funny that it is harder for us to confess our sin to a fellow sinner than the “just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 115). A fear to lean on brothers and sisters in Christ during times of trouble has created a culture in Christian community that does not allow anyone to acknowledge that they are in fact a sinner or struggling with sin. Bonhoeffer humorously yet somberly explains in Life Together, “many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous” (p. 110). Unfortunately, this causes many to remain alone in their sin.
We can and should take comfort in carrying the burden of our brother, as it is a beautiful reflection of the grace of the Gospel. Just as we were stuck and burdened by sin, Jesus came alongside us and carried that burden for us. Bonhoeffer captures this well when he writes,
[I]t is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: you are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. ‘My son, give me thine heart’ (Prov. 23:26). God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! This message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that; He loves the sinner but He hates the sin” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 110-111).
In Community Through Christ
Bonhoeffer concludes, God “loves the sinner but He hates the sin.” God desires to see his creation restored (i.e., no more sin). This restoration occurs through salvation through the works of Christ, and the spiritual growth that occurs in the person’s life after salvation. God loves us and begins a process to help rid us of sin in our lives. This process involves other Christians, and it is supposed to!
Since each person can acknowledge their identity as a sinner, the concern over being the one imperfect member of a perfect church, who will come in and destroy a perfect fellowship, need no longer be a concern. One of the greatest lies that Satan uses is to create the illusion that a Christian does not need to be around other Christians.
But, Christians living in community as the church is God’s creation! He will not reject a group full of sinful men and women desiring to know Him more, just as He will not reject an individual sinner desiring to know Him more. What a beautiful and intimate relationship created when one person confesses their lack of perfection and allows another to come alongside to assist in their victory over sin.
So now the question must be asked: Do you benefit the Kingdom more by living as a Christian without committing to be in Gospel community through membership in a church, or as a part of the Gospel community through church membership?