In my men’s Bible Study this week we were discussing that scripture makes it plain one cannot be a serious Christian outside of a Christian community. Proverbs 27:3 – “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” But it goes deeper than just that – God is Trinity and therefore God is community. If we are, in our Christian walk, to become more like God, we must somehow be more in community. And yet, in my many decades of Christian life I have seen many, many very bad Christian communities – ones that destroyed peoples lives, not aided them.
The saying goes, “We are all sinners,” which is most true; there is no perfect Christian community. At some point we must choose between one set of sinners and another; we must choose which particular set of sins we will associated with. Somehow we have to decide that a specific community will, on average, help me move closer to God, even with its foibles and pratfalls. How do we make such a decision?
A total answer is far too complex for a blog post, or even a series of blog posts. There are so many personal and relational aspects that for any situation the answer can only be arrived at by individual counselling. But there are some principles to help guide us towards a decision. Among those principles is the fact that there are some sins worse than others. Most of us, in a rush to grace and to emphasize that all of us need Christ, tend to lump all sin together. And while that has theological validity, Christ did exhibit ethics. He did treat some sins differently than others indicating that some sins are worse than others. I think an examination of how Christ treated different sins can help in our decision making.
One thing I note is that Jesus was usually quite graceful to those burdened with sexual sin. (John 4:7-30, John 8:1-11) Christ certainly urged such people to “sin no more,” but He allowed them in his company and extended grace to them. Likewise those that were thieves of some sort, especially tax collectors. (Luke 19:1-10) But Jesus had no truck with those that were deceptive and hypocritical, especially in God’s name. (Matt 12:33-37, Matt 23:23-32) Such people Jesus kept a great distance from.
If you compare Christ’s responses to these situations you begin to see a pattern. Screwing up is not a problem. But an unwillingness to see your screw-ups, evasion, cover-up, and deceit, these are major problems. That matches up pretty well with my experience in various Christian communities. Those that tried to fix their screw-ups were, on average, healthy places to be. But those that denied their shortcomings and attempted to hide them generally created more serious problems as they moved forward.
Deceit, which has its roots in problems like we are discussing here in pride, is a cancer. It is a sin that sprouts many other sins. It is a ravenous beast that consumes everything in its path just to maintain its most tenuous existence. Deceit, even born of good intent, ends up eradicating that intent as the efforts to support the deception simply take over all other concerns. Most importantly, it shuts out God Himself, rather than allowing God to fix the screw-up.
The choice that confronts us, the choice about which community to join, cannot be made quickly. We have to observe words and deeds, and most importantly what the Bible refers to as “fruit.” We have to understand that none are perfect. In a world of sinners, it is not the sin that tells the tale, but the handling of the sin. The grace of Christ is sufficient for our sins, its only limitation is our willingness to accept it.