The title sounds careless, but before you blow a gasket, let me ask, “Have you reached sinless perfection yet?” There is a secret in all our lives that is not a secret at all: we still sin against God and each other.
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This undeniable truth is a call to action to prepare for the inevitable. Like a wise financial steward who knows hard times are coming, he budgets for those hard times.
Someone once said, “One can acquire anything in solitude except character.” The scriptures clearly recognize this idea. Throughout the New Testament, sanctification happens more in corporate contexts than in isolation.
Paul wrote mostly to New Testament churches, teaching these local communities how to do life together. Individuals, according to Paul’s theology, were an essential means of grace in helping others grow in Christian maturity. The primary roadblock to personal growth and relational harmony is sin: sin in our own lives, sin in others, and sin in a fallen world.
An Uncertain Sound
Do you remember the first time you heard yourself on an audio recording? Were you surprised at how you sounded? Guess what: no one else was surprised. Everyone in the room–except for you–knew how you sounded.
You were the last to know what everyone else already knew. As this thought demonstrates, the value of people’s input into your life cannot be over-estimated. One of the many kindnesses of God is that He gives us people who are willing to help us grow closer to Him.
- God gives us friends to help reveal our sins to us.
- God gives us friends to help us deal with our sins.
- God gives us friends to encourage us as we plod through this fallen world.
A rich man is a person who has mature Christian friends who are willing and able to help him grow into spiritual manhood. A wise man is a man who makes it easy for his friends to care for him by insisting that they be honest in their assessments. Ken Sande confronts the foolish man’s selfish responses to this kind of care in this passage:
The Bible teaches that we should see conflict neither as an inconvenience nor as an occasion for selfish gain, but rather as an opportunity to demonstrate the presence and power of God. It encourages us to look at conflict as an opportunity to glorify God, to serve others, and to grow to be like Christ.
Embrace Conflict Opportunities
Like death and taxes, sin is inevitable. We are fallen people living in a fallen world. Sin happens. Sin happens to all of us. The sad truth is not so much that sin happens; we understand why sin happens. The sad truth is that most Christians are ill-equipped to respond godly to the sin that does happen. Reflect on these biblical teachings on sin:
- And he said to his disciples, ‘Temptations to sin are sure to come. (Luke 17:1)
- Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
- If we (Christians) say we (Christians) have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
- Brothers, if anyone is caught in any (sin), you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted (to sin). (Galatians 6:1)
If sin is sure to come, small groups provide fantastic contexts for the people in a local church to apply the gospel to their sin.
All In the Family
We see our family in a similar way that we see small group life. The point of our parenting is not to stop our children from sinning. That would be a frustrating and impossible task. Our goal is to provide a context for our kids to succeed, fail, and to respond godly to both inevitabilities.
We want to encourage, motivate, and celebrate with them when they succeed and we want to comfort, confront, and encourage them when they sin. What better place for our kids to sin than in our family where we can equip them for a better life.
Similarly, a small group is an excellent “family” context for success and failure. A strong small group embraces the positive and negative of people’s lives while coming alongside their members to equip them for life.
- The Bad News — We are sinners who live and sin alongside other sinners in a fallen world.
- The Good News — The gospel is the perfect solution for sinners who sin in a fallen world.
I realize this will not surprise most of you to hear this, but I will say it anyway: we are not in heaven yet! The implication is that when God saved you—assuming you are a Christian–you were not sanctified entirely.
You have not reached perfection. From a Christian worldview, we understand complete sanctification to happen only when we reach heaven.
The sobering reality for all of us is that the time between God saving us and God bringing us to our eternal home is a “getting progressively sanctified kind of life.” With that in mind, there are at least two ways we can respond to the doctrine of sin as it intersects in this life with the doctrine of man.
- We can deny that sin exists in our lives.
- We can embrace this sobering reality by aggressively fighting sin in the context of friends who are trying to do the same for the glory of God.
Deniers, Avoiders, and the Fearful
Occasionally, you will hear someone say the gospel is for our salvation and the gospel is for our sanctification. I firmly believe this statement is true and would further assert that this statement is necessary for any Christian to live wonderfully and victoriously in this life.
However, when I or anyone else says the gospel is for our salvation and the gospel is for our sanctification, there is an unspoken and undeniable implication that sin is involved in some way. The gospel means sin is present, somewhere. If there were no sin, there would be no need for the gospel. The introduction of the gospel (Christ) came after sin entered the world (Genesis 3:15).
If Adam had not fallen in the Garden of Eden, he (and we) would not need a Redeemer. But we do need a Redeemer, and He (Christ) implies sin and sin implies Him (the gospel).
Most people understand and readily accept this truth when it comes to their salvation. They know they need salvation from their sin, but where the rub comes into play is how we think and live in-between the time God regenerated us, and the time He takes us to heaven.
My response to this concern is revealed in the statement, “The gospel saves us (redemption), and the gospel sustains us (sanctification).” We never come to a place in our lives, pre- or post-salvation where we do not need the gospel.
The implication is the same: I need the gospel to fight sin! Whether I need to be saved or sustained, I need the gospel. Over the years, I have run into three general categories of people who struggle with the “sin is present with us” idea.
The Deniers – This group of sincere Christians says that sin does not exist once you become a Christian. They say, “I am dead to sin.” This concept is a gross misinterpretation of Scripture and is a product of legalism. Legalists try very hard to separate themselves from sin, even to the point of denying it.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. – 1 John 2:15-16
They misinterpret John’s understanding of worldliness by teaching that worldliness is in the world as opposed to being in the person. John placed worldliness in the heart.
For the “deniers” to be true to their theology, they have to do a lot of ignoring, or re-categorizing or, justifying their sin. It is an untenable position because it leads to personal frustration, self-deception, and relational conflict.
The Avoiders – This group puts their fingers in their ears and screams, “Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-” ad infinitum. They are sincere and want to live for Christ just like the deniers want to live for Christ.
Sadly, they are stricken with the same–dare I say it–put your fingers in your ears before I do. SIN!!! There! I said it. If you say you have no sin, you make God a liar, and the truth is not in you. (Those are John’s words to Christians in 1 John 1:8, not mine.)
To be an avoider, you have to recategorize, ignore, and rationalize your sin away also. The avoiders go from conflict to conflict, rarely ever resolving the trouble in their relationships.
The Fearful – This group knows they sin, but they try hard to ignore it because they don’t want to be found out for who they are. Transparency is a frightening proposition for them.
To be open and honest about their most personal struggles is not a “best case scenario” the insecure. This posture toward their sin is self-righteousness, as they present a righteousness that does not belong to Christ.
Many times these people come from discouraging and condemning situations. For example, they may have had harsh dads, or they were part of a legalistic religious culture.
They run to grace but over-react by denying the truthfulness of their sinfulness. They honestly can’t juxtapose sin and grace the way Paul did. (See 1 Timothy 1:15-16)
Ignoring Sin Neutralizes the Gospel
To avoid, deny, or respond fearfully to the real and objective sin in your post-salvation experience, is to mock and devalue the gospel. To say you have no sin is to say you have no need for the gospel.
This anti-gospel worldview is a dangerous and heretical position for any believer (or unbeliever) to take. If the unbeliever or believer did not believe in sin, there would have no need for the gospel. Jesus did not come for the “healthy.” He came for “sick” people.
And this brings us to the value and beauty of small groups for those of us who are willing to deal with their sin. Sanctification is a community event, a shared life between fellow sinners who have been saved by the grace of God.
A small group that embraces the reality of sin and the potential of conflict sin brings will position itself to be able to resolve its conflicts in ways that glorify God.
Call to Action
- Do you sin?
- Do you believe you need others to help you walk through your sin?
- Do you believe others need you so you can help them walk through their sin?
- If you said “yes” to the three questions above, how are you setting the example by personally confessing your sin to others as well as others knowing and experiencing your care for them when they sin? See 1 John 1:9; James 5:16.
Also published on Medium.