Loneliness in the Church

grieving

Christianity today, by in large, has missed the boat on the topic of sin.  As a culture we have determined that everyone has not only the ability, but the right to define truth and their own morality.  Consequentially Christians are no longer defining the problem of sin and damnation as that form which we need saving, but simply offer Jesus and salvation as a bonus and eternal security.  Gone are the days of preaching Hell, fire and brimstone, and now are the days of the prosperity Gospel.  We believe that we are fundamentally good beings and adding Jesus into our lives will secure success and happiness.

Such a worldview and belief system leaves us exceptionally lonely, however.  Because when we come to Jesus for salvation, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within our lives, and the role of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and righteousness and live through us so that we die to our sin and become more like Jesus, more holy, throughout our daily lives.

“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

So we all have a sin problem, and the Holy Spirit is revealing that problem to us daily, but yet we are left in a situation where we are unable to confess that problem and find accountability and comaraderie in working through it.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said most profoundly:

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness.  The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.  The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.  So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.  We dare not be sinners.  Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners.”

-Bonhoeffer

We are all sinners.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23).  And while we are constantly fighting against our sin by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given the body – the Church – to help us along in that fight.  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

We see throughout the New Testament that there are still times when people are suffering illnesses and even death because of their sin.  Paul taught that many were sick and dying for taking the Lord’s Supper with the wrong heart (1 Cor 11.30), and Ananias and Sapphira died for lying about the percentage of revenue that they gave to the church (Acts 5).  And James teaches us that the confession of sin and the prayer of the faithful brother can heal and restore one who has sinned.

We know that when we do sin that we have an advocate in Jesus Christ who stands before the Lord and declares that sin covered by His blood:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

But until we confess to one another our weakness, our failures and our sins, we will never find the level of intimacy and accountability that Christ expects from the body.  We are playing games and we are lying to one another.

Now, I am not saying that we need to be unwise with our emotions and hearts.  Scripture also teaches us to guard our hearts diligently:

“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.”

– Prov 4.23

There are people in the Church who are non believers – wolves in sheep’s clothing – who will destroy the church.  There are those who will gossip, those who will not forgive and harbor bitterness, and those who will take your confession and condemn you.  Jesus has forgiven us our sin, and in Him there is no longer any condemnation:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 8.1

Therefore, we must be confident that the person in whom we are confiding is one who will hear our confession as Jesus does:  condemning the sin, forgiving the believer, and helping to establish methods for keeping the penitent from falling into the same sin again.

“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.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

– Gal 6.1-3

This accountability is beautiful and of utmost importance.  Our souls depend on it.  Scripture teaches us that if we continue in sin after claiming Jesus for salvation, there is no hope for us:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

But if we find brothers and sisters in Christ whom we can trust, confess our sins to one another, pray for one another, hold one another accountable, then we can fight well the fight of faith as a body and as a community.  Until that point we will remain alone.  We will be blinded to some of our sins.  We will believe the lies that others around us do not struggle with sin, and we will either condemn ourselves or justify ourselves – neither of which finds favor with God.

So let’s get real.  Find those friends.  Engage in a body of believers and open up.  There is healing.  There is community.  There is accountability.  And we will find strength and encouragement by helping one another press on to the goal of righteousness and godliness.  And the love of a Christian brother will cover and encourage us.

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

– 1 Peter 4.8

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3 comments on “Loneliness in the Church

  1. robertdyson says:

    Ive been involved with a group at church called Celebrate Recovery for the last year or so. It was presented as a group for anyone with ‘hurts, habits or hang ups’ at the new member meeting. I’ve found it to be a refreshingly open, honest and authentic experience. You can’t live in denial of your sin, or prop up a facade, and expect to get better. We need others around us with whom we can be vulnerable and connected with.

  2. […] For the rest of the post… […]

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