I have noticed a strange phenomenon in the local church. There is a fear among Christians of being open and honest about their struggles – their sin – with other members of the church body. I think this phenomenon is the result of the dangerous combination of teaching focused on moralism and the desire to be seen as ‘a good person’ without a healthy understanding of our sinful nature.
We all want a good reputation. We would rather avoid exposure of who we really are, so we pretend and don’t seek help from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But the strange paradox is that our “good reputation” can become an idol. When our reputation becomes our chief concern, where we find security in how others think of us, we often hide sin from our church family and undermine one of the primary purposes of the church. This type of attitude is proof of a deep seeded pride and self reliance, and does not allow true repentance to take place. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this mentality in what he calls the ‘pious church.’
The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We are not allowed to be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. But the fact is, we are sinners.
If you feel trapped in this mentality I want you to think about the Samaritan woman that met Jesus at Jacobs well in John 4. She was a Samaritan, which was a racially mixed group, partly Jewish and partly Gentile. In that time the Samaritans were disdained by other ethnicities because they did not ‘purely’ belong to any ethnic group. Beyond that, this particular woman was seen as highly immoral. She had many marital relationships and was highly frowned upon because of her sexual promiscuousness. Think about the social implications of this.
In order to deal with this situation the Samaritan woman would draw water from the town well each day at a time when no one else was there, this would allow her to avoid facing other people. She was ashamed. She was an outcast and a sinner. What is funny about this narrative is that in her attempt to avoid other people she ends up standing in front of Jesus Christ, God in flesh. It is absolutely beautiful what Jesus does.
Jesus told her everything she had ever done and still offered her living water.
Now, think about that – and its implications on us as Christians in the body of Christ, the church. As members of the church, we are brought into the family of God through salvation in Jesus Christ alone. This is our common bond, the core of our fellowship. We are no longer outcasts; we belong in the family of God through Christ. We have been forgiven of our sin, and are able to fellowship with God through Christ. The church is a community of people who have been saved by grace through trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation – this is where we find our security.
So when we gather there should be no fear in being who we actually are. When we gather we should not have to worry about wearing a masks to fit in. We belong because of Christ and what He has done – not because of who we are.
Now, this does not mean that we ignore sin. We take sin seriously and walk with each other through struggles by the grace of God, and at the same time we are a community of repentance – this is our reputation.
Consider one last point about Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman. When Jesus offers her living water she runs back into the town, to the people she was ashamed to fellowship with, and proclaims the good news openly.
Jesus knows all of her sin and still offers her living water.
This is the testimony that brings people to God. So why is it that so many people hide who they really are from their brothers and sisters in Christ? I would argue that too often we find our security and significance in our ‘reputation’, or outward conformity to social and moral norms. We need to recognize that in the church we are all saved, and we are all sinners. Tim Chester writes:
We will never be perfect in this life, but we can always be and should always be changing…sin is never the last word for the children of God. Grace is always the last word. If we confess our sins to God, He is faithful. He’ll keep His promise to forgive.
The good news is that Jesus sees all of our sin – and still offers us salvation.