The Lord Jesus has delivered us—praise be to God—from the reality of sin’s condemnation (Rom. 8.1). However, that deliverance has not included the eradication of sin’s presence (Rom. 7.21-23). As a result, Christians are weak. We sin, fail, and fall short. We disappoint each other and sin against each other. We neglect what is good and pursue what is evil. We publicize our virtues while harboring our vices. We’re still just as capable (and, tragically, sometimes culpable) of some of the same repulsive sins we committed as unbelievers, and sometimes worse.
But again, thanks be to God, we are not without resources. By divine design and intent, the battle against sin is largely a corporate battle in the sense that we are to fight together. The church, the community of the Lord’s people, is one of God’s primary means of safeguarding us against the evils that lurk and often rage in our hearts (2 Tim. 2.22, Heb. 3.13).
I have a friend who has a particularly strong inclination toward this need for deep Christian relationships, and I very much appreciate that about him. He has a remarkably honest desire to be around Christians with whom he can bear his burdens and be the bearer of theirs. This friend recently sent me a quote in a text message expressing this very thing:
“…if we come to a church right, we come to it more fully and nakedly ourselves, come with more of our humanness showing, than we are apt to come to most places. We come like Moses with muck on our shoes — foot-sore and travel-stained with the dust of our lives upon us, our failures, our deceits, our hypocrisies, because if, unlike Moses, we have never taken anybody’s life, we have again and again withheld from other people, including often even those who are nearest to us, the love that might have made their lives worth living, not to mention our own. Like Moses we come here as we are, and like him we come as strangers and exiles in our way because wherever it is that we truly belong, whatever it is that is truly home for us, we know in our hearts that we have somehow lost it and gotten lost. Something is missing from our lives that we cannot even name—something we know best from the empty place inside us all where it belongs. We come here to find what we have lost. We come here to acknowledge that in terms of the best we could be we are lost and that we are helpless to save ourselves. We come here to confess our sins” (Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember).
There is something profoundly true in this quote. If we don’t have Christian relationships that are open and honest, brothers or sisters to whom we can confess our failings (Jas. 5.16), it’s doubtful whether we actually have Christian relationships at all.
There is a danger here, however. It is possible to become so focused on the need to be honest with other Christians about our sin that we forget about the divine imperative to do something about it.
Here is how I responded to my friend:
Yes, we come in our sin, as men who are but dust. Yes, the best men are just men, and we all stumble in many ways, and there will always be this flesh that does not submit to God and is not able to—flesh that is, as I’ve heard it said, “unredeemed and unredeemable” (Rom. 8.7). The best kinds of Christians to be around are Christians who know that, who understand what it feels like to be weak and to fail.
But we don’t come together only to wallow in our sin and commiserate, coddling each other in our sin week after week after week, month after month, year after year.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4.11–16).
In other words, the purpose of corporate body life is not to merely bemoan our sin together, but to grow together into Christ-likeness in every single way. It’s literally right there in the text; I’m not making this up.
So…in what ways is Jesus like Jesus, and in what ways am I not? What was Jesus like in purity, in truth, in courage, in patience, in principle, in grace, in faithfulness, in selflessness, in consistency, in doctrine? The answer to that question is the goal of the Christian life, and the accomplishment of that goal is inherently corporate, because we are members together of his body.
I am so thankful for the brothers around me with whom I can share my weakness, who understand that they are just as miserable as I am. But what I am really thankful for is that they don’t allow me to stay there. They encourage me to get back on the horse, to be encouraged by what God is doing in my life and in the lives of those around me, and they push me to press on in Christ.
The goal of corporate honesty is to press on together into maturity.
“In what ways is Jesus like Jesus, and in what ways am I not? The answer to that question is the goal of the Christian life.”