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Entries in Life in Christ (11)


The fear of being known

I have often wondered why professed Christians who are not physically inhibted and have means of transportation regularly skip out on church. I am not talking about the occasional missed Sunday. I'm talking about a regular habit of life.

I know that there are a lot of reasons people stop attending. They are jaded, cynical, angry. They have been hurt. They have seen the sinful side of Christians, and they don't like it. They decide they can do it on their own. They can listen to sermons online, participate in Christian social media circles, and ask for prayer on Facebook when they need it. Who needs a local church? And yet, I think there is something so much better than virtual fellowship.

A friend and I were talking recently about the difficulty of nurturing communities. It's easier to start a group than it is to maintain it. I get that. Honestly, there are times when it's so much easier to extend kindness to strangers than maintain relationships with people in my local church. Being part of a church means that people get to know us, and we get to know them. Expectations grow. Accountability exists. Conflict ensues. Pride interferes. All of a sudden, it's work.

Have you ever made a friend only to find out after getting to know her that you really don't like her? I have, and I'm sure people have begun to dislike me after getting to know me. Regular contact with a group people, serving together, having fellowship together, rejoicing, and praying together means that inevitably, people will find out who we are. If we choose to avoid church altogether, we can keep ourselves to ourselves, and maybe even pretend to be someone we are not. To really open up and share with someone means exposing ourselves, and some people don't want that vulnerability.

Most of my life, I have tended to be too open with people too soon, without knowing them well enough. That has resulted in hurt. There have been times when I have let my hurt feelings cause me put up walls to protect myself. However, being behind walls can be lonely. We were created to have relationships with other people. Yes, at times, we may have to keep up boundaries, but we can't stop being part of the Body of Christ because it's hard.

The local church is more than a group of likeminded people who like to drink coffee and have potluck dinners. We are one in Christ. If we belong to Christ, we are part of the Body of Christ. If we opt out, that doesn't mean we aren't part of it, but it does mean we are interfering with the unity of the Body. Perhaps we struggle to overcome fear in becoming known by others. One thing I have learned is at times my concern with how people will react when they get to really know me is more about my pride than anything else. Keeping myself carefully to myself can actually reflect a desire to control.

God knows us intimately. He knew us before we were born. He knows our thoughts, our hearts, and every single weakness. And yet, through Christ, he has opened up a way for sinners to be reconciled, and invited us to become part of the Body of Christ. If God will do that, we should not fear what others may discover. There will always be uncharitable Christians in and among the people of God. We are all sinners, and we all make mistakes. But there are always people who know how to extend love and grace. Sometimes, instead of focusing on how others will respond to me, I need to ask how I can encourage others in my local church. It can be hard, but inevitably, it is worth it. Ultimately, a member isolated from a body will suffer and stagnate. We may think that we can do it on our own, but we were saved to be part of a something: the Body of Christ.


The world is in you

Lloyd-Jones discusses overcoming the world. He points out that cloistering oneself off from the world, similar to what the monastic movement did, is ultimately not the answer:

... the world is not only outside us with its sin and temptations and attractions, but it is also inside us -- the flesh, our own unregenerate nature. So in a sense, it is almost childish to think I can overcome the world by taking myself out of it, because when I have gone into my cell the world is still within me; so my attempt is to escape by physical means is almost doomed to failure. This is something that we all must now from experience. We have all been alone, we have all been isolated at certain times; the world has not been there to tempt us. But was all well with us? Were we perfectly happy; were we free from temptation; was the mind and the outlook and the spirit of the world entirely absent? God knows that such is not the case!

You can go away and spend your day on top of a mountain, but you cannot get away from the world; it is in you, so that any retirement to a monastery, or becoming an anchorite or a hermit, is doomed to failure. That is the whole story of Martin Luther; look at the excellent monk in his cell -- fasting, sweating, praying, out of the world in a sense, and yet finding that the world was in him and he could get no peace. Therefore, withdrawal from the world and from society does not get rid of the world in the New Testament sense of the term.


A very thorough and practical test

As he discusses I John 5:1-3, Lloyd-Jones emphasizes that someone who is truly a Christian does not find God's commandments burdensome:

... someone who is truly Christian does not find the commandments of God to go against the grain. He may be acutely aware of his failure -- if he is facing them truly he must be -- but he does not resent them, he loves them. He knows they are right, and wants to keep them and to love them. He does not feel they are a heavy load imposed upon him: he says, rather, 'This is right; this is how I would like to live. I want to be like Christ Himself -- His commandments are not grievous.'

So  here is a very thorough and practical test: is my Christian living a task? Is it something I resent and object to? Do I spend my time trying to get out of it? Am I trying to compromise with the life of the world? Am I just living on the edge of the Christian life, or do I want to get right into the centre and live the life of God and be perfect even as my Father in heaven is perfect? 'His commandments are not grievous' to Christian men and women; they know that is what God asks of them. They love God and therefore they want to keep his commandments.


... if I say I believe this, then I must live like that ... 

Lloyd-Jones speaks about the New Testament method of teaching about holiness:

The living of the Christian life, according to the New Testament, is not primarily dependent upon some experience or some blessing which we have received. It is, rather, the outworking of the truth which we claim to believe. Now I suggest that that can never be repeated too frequently. Go through these New Testament epistles, and I think you will always find that that is their invariable method. The first half of most of these epistles is pure doctrine, a reminder to the people of what God has done to them and the exalted position in which they have been placed. And then the writer says, "Therefore ... "

This is the New Testament method. If I say I believe this, then I must live like that. There is no use in me saying I believe this unless I behave like that, and there are terrible warnings against not doing this. The New Testament teaching of holiness is always in terms of truth.


There are things that should not belong to us

Life in Christ is one of the best books by Lloyd-Jones I have read. I am being regularly challenged and convicted as I read.

Here is a section, in the context of commenting on I John 4:7-8:

What does he mean when he exhortss and pleads with us to 'love one another'? I cannot think of a better way of putting it than simply to say that we are to be manifesting in our lives with one another, and in our attitudes toward one another, everything that we read about in I Corinthians 13... There are things that should not belong to us, but they are there, and this calls for patience in others, it calls for sympathy, it calls for understanding; and that is what John is pleading for at this point. He is asking these people to do all they can to help one another, to bear with one another, not to be antagonistic, not to become irritated. If you see your brother at fault, be patient with him, pray for him, try to help him, be sorry for him, instead of feeling it is something that is hurting you. See it as something that is hurting him terribly and doing him great harm and robbing him of so much joy in his Christian life.