There are two general categories of people who attend a local church meeting on any given Sunday. Those who sin and admit it and those who sin and are unwilling or tentative about admitting it. Two people groups, and one common denominator—we all sin.
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What Kind of Friend Are You?
The “admit-ers” are a smaller group than the “tentatives.” I suppose as long as Adam has fig leaves to cover his shame (Genesis 2:7), and until Jesus returns (Revelation 22:3), it will always be this way. But wouldn’t it be nice if things were different?
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a place where you were “permitted” to sin, where people “allowed” you to be yourself? Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a group of friends who gave you the room to wobble, to fall, to make a mistake? Wouldn’t it be nice to experience redemptive grace from others when you’re imperfect?
Perhaps you would not state it the way that I have it here, but do you understand what I am saying? Are you actively creating “contexts of grace” where you and others can be yourselves–holy and unholy—so you can help each other change?
The truth is that we all live double lives to some degree. We can pursue holiness and sin in the same day, within the same hour, and within the same minute. Our problem is not having the right relationships where we can live out the whole truth about ourselves.
If you cannot be who you are, you can never find the help you need. And the community of faith will not be able to know you, assess you, and ultimately help you. The purpose of discipleship is to help a person grow into Christlikeness. This redemptive aim cannot happen if a person is unwilling to reveal his true self or if his closest friends are reluctant to do the same.
Here are a few test questions that you can use to examine yourself as to whether you are living in “this kind of grace” with your friends. Spend a few moments reflectively thinking through these questions. Ask God to give His perspective about you.
- When you hear about someone sinning, do you tend to think redemptively or critically (Romans 12:10)?
- Are you more apt to pray for the sinner or be neutral toward them (1 Timothy 2:1)?
- Are you more tempted to criticize and gossip when you hear about the failures of another person, or do you begin strategizing how to help them (Ephesians 4:29) redemptively?
- Do you give off that “roll your eyes” attitude when you hear about someone sinning, again (Ephesians 4:32)?
- Do you become impatient with people who disappoint you (1 Thessalonians 5:14)?
- If someone does something wrong, are you willing to go to them to help them, or do you go to someone else so you can talk about the struggler (Matthew 18:15)?
- Do you work with your sinful friends, hoping to help them in their sanctification (Galatians 6:1-2)?
- Do you allow your friends to work with you, appealing to them to help you in your sanctification (Hebrews 10:24-25)?
- Are you more guarded or more open about your life (1 Thessalonians 5:15)?
- Are your friends allowed to sin around you (Colossians 3:9)?
- Are you allowed to sin around your friends (James 5:16)?
- Are you quicker to admit your fruit than your faults (Ephesians 4:25)?
- Do you perceive people’s problems as an inconvenience or an opportunity (1 Peter 4:9)?
As you read this list, were your thoughts on yourself or someone else? If they were on someone else, start over and read it for yourself because you’ve already missed the point. The temptation for some will be, “Yeah! That’s exactly how I feel. I wish my church were like this!” Your first goal is to change yourself before you begin focusing on the failures of others (Matthew 7:3-5).
Will You Give Me Room to Sin?
Let me begin by stating the obvious: I sin, and so do you. This testimony is why we have a gospel: Christ came for sinners (Luke 19:10). He pursues the unrighteous (Matthew 9:13). The extent and quality of our progressive sanctification are dependent upon whether we believe these truths.
If you believe them, the extent and quality of your sanctification are dependent upon your willingness to be honest about the real you, while creating a context of grace so your friends can be honest about themselves.
Without mature, mutual, and reciprocal Christian relationships that have a high view of sin and grace, you will stunt your growth. You cannot isolate yourself from the body of Christ and be spiritually healthy. Your “world of close relationships” need to be acting redemptively in your life, or you will impede the process toward Christian maturity.
As odd as it may sound, we Christians are notorious for living lies, concealing secrets about our real selves. The condition of Adam has more power over us than the freedom of Christ.
I hate sin, and though I don’t give myself excuses to do it, I have to be who I am among my closest friends. They need to know the real me so they will know how to help me. If I sin against them, and they become frustrated or put out because of it, they will not be in a position to help me.
Their attitude toward me will determine how redemptively they will be able to minister to me. If I feel or experience their impatience or frustration with me, the likelihood of me being open and honest with them will be slim.
I want to be able to be myself around people who will allow me to be myself around them. Then, when I do something dumb, they will have the grace to bring my ignorance to my attention so I can change. This type of relationship is grace in action, which is what Christ does for us each day.
What Kind of Friends Do You Want?
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
The Savior pursued me while I was a sinner. This doctrinal point is vital. The Savior did not wait for me to stop sinning before He helped me with my problems, but He chose to love me while I was a sinner man. How about you?
Are you willing to exercise redemptive care while your friends and family are sinning? Or, would you prefer they did not inconvenience you with their sinning? I understand the tension. It seems to me that my children pick the most inconvenient times to sin. Typically, when I’m ready to do something or go somewhere, or I’m in the middle of something, is when they choose to sin.
It appears that they never pick a good time to sin. (Though I’m not exactly sure when there is “a good time.”) When our close friends sin, we must choose to be like Christ. We must provide them “room to sin,” and when they do, it will be our cue to help them.
For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13).
My appeal does raise an important point: our attitude toward others reveals the kind of people we are looking for to be our friends. Christ was looking for sinners. Are you? He was looking for sinners so He could redeem them. If you’re not looking for sinners to cooperate with God in their redemption or sanctification, when they do sin, you will be annoyed with them.
I’m not suggesting that you allow me to be me without trying to change me. I’m appealing to you to allow me to be me so you can understand and help me. If you take on a lousy attitude toward me, when I do something dumb, I will be tempted not to be me when I am around you.
Presenting perfection causes problems because no fallen person can maintain such a status. We must have enough grace about ourselves to allow each other to be imperfect. I need you to help me with my imperfections, or there is a good chance I will not see them. And if I don’t see them, there is a good chance I will come to believe a highly edited version of who I consider myself to be.
It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are because otherwise, we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. – Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets, P. 3.
I need you to be honest with me. To do that, you have to give me room to be myself. It is hard enough to be honest without a sinful response, but when others are condemning, judgmental, frustrated, or inconvenienced when I sin, they will mute or marginalize the redemptive effect of God’s gospel.
A sinful response to sin renders the community of grace as a negative influence in our lives. The local church should be a community of grace that expects immoral behavior. When it happens, people are immediately mobilized to demonstrate the love of God toward the sinning Christian.
In too many of our churches, the Christian does not live in this kind of practical grace. They choose instead to keep secrets about their true selves. It is a sad state of affairs when we are afraid that the Christians will find the truth about our lives. God has not called us to be guarded but to be free.
It is incumbent on each one of us to create environments of grace where God’s children can not only live in the freedom the Lord offers but live in the freedom the Lord’s children provide. I’m not talking about blabbing your sinfulness from the housetops, but you need a few close friends with whom you can be honest and transparent.
Let’s Get Diagnostic
Go back to the questions near the top and re-ask them to yourself. What is your self-assessment? Do you allow your friends the freedom to be imperfect? How about if you ask some of your friends? If you cannot have an honest conversation with your friends about these matters, you have your answer. There is either something wrong with you, them, or both.
If you do not have the freedom to share your imperfections with your friends or if your friends are unwilling to share theirs, you are in a relationship crisis. This problem has to change if you want to mature in your sanctification.
One of the first things I appeal to you to do is stop taking yourself so seriously. The gospel not only calls you to freedom, but it invites you to rest, part of which means experiencing release from the hypersensitivity about you and your life (Matthew 6:25-34).
Here are two of my all-time favorite quotes. I would like for you to memorize them and make your own. Let them serve to free you from the bondage of self and other people.
If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect son of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me, thus exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing left to hide. – A Gospel Primer
This first quote explores your functional understanding of the gospel and if it has a practical impact on your life. This second quote explores whether you have a high opinion of yourself.
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Laughter is a divine gift to the human who is humble. A proud man cannot laugh because he must watch his dignity; he cannot give himself over to the rocking and rolling of his belly. But a poor and happy man laughs heartily because he gives no serious attention to his ego. Only the truly humble belong to this kingdom of divine laughter. Humor and humility should keep good company. Self-deprecating humor can be a healthy reminder that we are not the center of the universe, that humility is our proper posture before our fellow humans as well as before almighty God. – Terry Lindvall, Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C. S. Lewis