To be “saved” according to the New Testament means to become part of the people of God. A person is not simply restored to relationship with God in order to live as a Christian individual, isolated from the world and separated from the church. Rather the Christian becomes part of the body of believers; the community which has been called and gathered by the Holy Spirit, among whom God can dwell and through whom he can reveal his life and character to the world. In considering the fact that we now live as part of the Christian community, there are a number of implications for how we live both for ourselves, and for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Aside from the many means of grace we have been given to aid our own spiritual development, there is one loving service we must not shrink back from supporting each other with – I believe – much more.
When it comes to confession of sin, pride for our status or concern for someone else’s opinion of us can cripple us from fulfilling this scripture-mandated imperative. Even though we’re fundamentally the same, our natural self-protection tells us its better to preserve our dignity than to make ourselves vulnerable in such a way. Conversely if we were to lovingly navigate another person away from this or that specific sin, it too could be seen as pride in us; a kind of holier-than-thou attitude. Both of these are false narratives, and need to be dismissed if we are to grow. When Christians live together in community, we must recognise as a matter of primary importance the obvious reality that we are all sinners saved by grace alone. Addressing sin does not mean that that person is being dishonoured or demeaned. Nor do we look any worse than we already are as those who desperately rely on Christ every day. Quite the opposite is actually true; they (and us) are paid a great honour when we admonish one another in the way we should go, in the knowledge that we are all sinners who belong to each other through Christ.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.
John Wesley was never one to shy away from the seriousness of sin, habitually beginning his class meetings with “what sin has overtaken you this week, brother?” James 5:16 tells us “confess your sins to one another”. It is entirely possible for people to meet together, worship together, pray together, and yet be utterly isolated from each other because they enjoy fellowship as believers, yet not as repentant sinners. If we are genuinely saved, if we are legitimately concerned with growing in Christ, and if we are intentional about not staying the same but continually “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), then we must move beyond general sweeping confessions of “sin” and engage in acknowledgement and repentance for specific sins. Scripture tells us that sin won’t be conquered in isolation, but if we are to put sin to death and grow in our walk with Christ, it happens in the community of the saints.
We must choose to go deeper; to love each other harder and hate sin (in ourselves, as well as in others) more. I pray that we would be a people who grasp the seriousness of sin; humbly but urgently exhorting one another through tears to turn from sin when sin is apparent, quick to accept in humility when it is pointed out in us, and always with rejoicing because of the forgiveness that is ours in Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace.