Summary: We’re very prone to deception, especially when we’re isolated from the truth-telling that our brothers and sisters in Christ can bring us. Healthy church life reveals what we truly are as we become known to each other. Only when we can accept the truth about ourselves from each other can we experience the freedom that comes along with it.
One thing you learn real quick when you live in healthy church life is that blind spots and the human capacity to live in denial of those blind spots is astounding. Even after we become Christians, we’re still very prone to the deception that comes with our old human selves and non-renewed minds. We live by worldly principles and make fleshly decisions without 1) knowing that we’re doing it, and 2) having the truth brought to light about what we’re doing and why. We also live with the ultimate paradox of wanting to know the truth about ourselves, but very much not wanting to know the truth about ourselves.
We are what we are
Just like scales and mirrors, healthy church life tells us about the reality of who we are. When we step on a scale, we weigh what we weigh. When we look in a mirror, we look how we look. We can avoid the scale and the mirror, or we can throw out excuses for the story those tools of accountability are telling us. But at the end of the day, we are what we are.
As John Ortberg points out in his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them…
We are all like the man on a diet who drove past the bakery and said he would only stop for doughnuts if there was an available parking space in front of it, clearly indicating that it was God’s will that he should eat a doughnut. Sure enough, his sixth time around the block, a spot opened up.
Healthy church life demands that you be able to handle the truth from your brothers and sisters, for it’s what sets us free (John 8:31-32). The revealing of truth about ourselves is what helps us realize that freedom practically.
We need help from truth-tellers
It’s not just healthy churches that practice this principle. Organizations like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous have been practicing this truth-telling principle for a long time. They know that people will never reach the goal they’re trying to reach without help. As Christians, we’ll never grow to a fully mature stature without the mirror of brothers and sisters that will help us see the real us.
Ortberg points out how King David once needed a truth-teller in his life to get him back on track. When he came upon Bathsheba and found out that she was someone’s wife, the truth of “this is adultery” was staring him right in the face. He ignored it. When Bathsheba got pregnant and David planned to have Uriah get killed in battle because he couldn’t get him to come home and sleep with his wife to cover up his sin, the truth of “this is murder” was staring him right in the face. He ignored it.
It’s not until the Lord sends the prophet Nathan to tell him the truth that David’s heart turns, and only then because David receives it instead of having Nathan’s head cut off.
Christians don’t intend to behave and make decisions according to the flesh. But none of us are at 100%-transformed-into-Christ status. As long as this is the case, there’s room in our lives for truth-tellers. If you don’t have them, your individual growth and the growth of your church will be stunted. The more you isolate, the more vulnerable you are to deception.
Truth should be instinctual
Now of course, this doesn’t mean this is an open invitation at all times and to anyone to go around telling people the truth about themselves. We still must exercise relational wisdom in this matter. There’s a level of trust and acceptance that needs to develop between people before truth-telling will be fruitful. Brothers and sisters must be close enough to each other where it’s not risky to the relationships.
But as relationships grow within the environment of healthy church life, truth-telling (and receiving!) should be an instinctual practice that starts happening as the group progresses. Both the giving of truth and the receiving of truth. It takes both for healthy church life to blossom.
If a church avoids truth-telling for too long, it simply becomes a pseudo-community that will ultimately suffocate itself.
Provide an open invitation
At the end of the day, each person in the church has made a commitment to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. When we believed and were baptized, we committed to making Him and His Kingdom, and the calling associated with that, our lives. This transformation can only happen as the truth about who we are is brought to light. Therefore, we have to give the open invitation at the appropriate time and to the appropriate people for this to happen.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer brilliantly put this principle of brotherhood and sisterhood in perspective when he said…
Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.
The rest of the posts in the Nobody’s Normal series are here.