Called to Christ’s Likeness

I read a troubling newspaper article on the internet today.  It was one of the “most read” items and it spoke of a Christian writer who recently announced her departure from the church.  The report included a summary of what disturbed her and what, for many of us, is tragically obvious:

“But judging by the behavior of most Christians, they’ve become secularists. And the sea of hypocrisy between Christian beliefs and actions is driving Americans away from the institutional church in record numbers.”

The bottom line of the article is that too many professing Christians today—despite Christ’s prayer in John 17—are both “in the world” and “of the world.”  The distinction between followers of Christ and those who don’t know Christ is blurred to the point of being lost.

Let me take up one element of this tragedy: the relationship between Christ and the church.  The church, we must remember, is not a self-defined social club, or a branded set of religious consumers (like “Mac users” are among computer aficionados), or a group of theological devotees who mainly guard a creedal gospel.

The church is, instead, the extended life of Christ: his body.  Christ is alive in us and among us as those who have union with him—those who are “in Christ” and who have Christ in us as the proof of present life and future glory.  This union is accomplished by the Spirit who joins our spirits so we are “members of Christ” and “joined to the Lord” in a marital unity—made to be “one spirit with him” as “temples of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God” (citing elements of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20).  With that unity comes a devotion to the Truth Christ offers us and a confidence to call God “Daddy”.

1 Corinthians 6 was Paul’s warning against a corrupt spirituality.  This was a problem then and it’s also a problem today.  An ancient impulse to corruption was captured in the mantra being expressed by the immature believers in Corinth: “All things are lawful for me” (6:12) which meant, in effect, that Christ’s gracious work on the cross covers all our sins, so we’re now free to sin with impunity.

As Paul would say, “God forbid!”  All of us who really have the life and love of Christ poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit will be increasingly like Christ and, with our new affective DNA, will turn from our former ways of life.  A new love produces new values and new behaviors.  Which explains why, in nearly the same locale (in 5:13), Paul—a great promoter of free grace—still set out a stark moral demand: “Purge the evil person from among you!”

 Yet we often find the profound warning by Jesus against spiritual bullies to be misapplied as if it dismisses Paul’s point:  “Don’t judge lest you be judged”.  It then has been turned into a mantra that allows churches to avoid confronting sin.  But in biblical terms they then become anti-Christ. That is, the church, by ignoring her own immorality no longer reveals Christ as he really is.  And with that we find two opposed versions of faith: one devoted to pleasing Christ, and another “gracious” church that winks at widespread promiscuity, accepts multiplied divorces and remarriages, enjoys debased entertainments, silently accepts abortions-for-convenience, freely pursues selfish materialism, replaces compassionate relations with clannish individualism—and more—in ways no different than we find among those who either ignore or despise Christ.  In fact, as the cited news article rightly points out, non-believers often display values more refined than are seen in many churches.

It’s time, then, to join Paul and say “God forbid!”  Let the church shrink as needed when she confronts unrepentant sin; until she once again resembles Christ who says both “you are forgiven” and “go and sin no more”.  Then his beauty in the church will attract the poor, the shamed, the debased; and sinners will be supported as they enter into a new life of love and purity as a bride washed in the water of the Word.  As we grow in his love let’s also grow in his image.

18 Responses to Called to Christ’s Likeness

  1. Peter Mead August 10, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    I was on a panel recently that was asked about a situation where one believer’s sin was harming the health of the church. I was somewhat intrigued by the answer of one panel member. Essentially the bottom line, after appropriate self-examination and prayer, was to do nothing, but avoid exacerbating the issue. In the case of that specific situation, to slip away quietly and join another church. In more general terms, I might be inclined to use the phrase “sweep matters under the rug.”

    While I would affirm much of what was said in that discussion, I can’t help but wonder why the biblical teaching on handling sin in the church is so often ignored. The bearing with and forgiving instruction of Colossians 3:13 is typically affirmed (albeit with some confusion over the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation). But the progressively stronger process of Matthew 18, along with the extra safeguards for leaders offered in 1Timothy 5, is often ignored.

    I had one church leader tell me that no situation in his church would ever get to the later stages of Matthew 18 because that would mean the leadership had failed in the earlier stages. I look at the text, scratch my head, and wonder what I’m missing. If unrepentance continues, it is not the careful prayerful confronter’s failure.

    All of this to say, in a comment that risks being longer than the post(!), that I see a tendency, perhaps culturally conditioned, to avoid conflict and dealing with sin. This tendency may feel natural, but it certainly doesn’t honour Christ or help the church move toward maturity in Him.

  2. Matthew Weston August 10, 2010 at 11:04 am #

    I wonder whether we’ve got into the habit of not confronting sin by not being open about it ourselves. We cover up our failings and struggles because everyone else is, and to be open about it would be uncomfortable. Everyone might talk in general terms about their sin, but as we look around at each other in the church, we often see a middle-class veneer rather than the reality. I think sin sometimes shocks Christians because they’re not used to it being talked about – or, they think everyone else is far better than them, and so keep their own weaknesses quiet.

    In that context, sin becomes something embarrassing that the church doesn’t want to confront, and when obvious immorality comes along, it might become easier not to deal with it.

  3. Alan homersley August 10, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

    Amen, Amen and Amen.

    Refeshing words Ron, Peter and Matthew.Part of me wishes more to be able to deal with problems in the church this way and a big part of me is glad God didn’t deal with me this way.

    I long for Christ likeness….. and I long to be rid of this body of sin…..
    a call to show and share the Love of Christ with one another, even to the pont of putting them out of the church so their soul will be saved as if by fire….

  4. Peter Mead August 10, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    Interesting thought, Alan. I’m just pondering the “glad God didn’t deal with me this way” comment. I’m not sure what you’re referring to and please feel free to come back on this, but I’m thinking in terms of Matthew 18 and thinking that in some ways that is how God dealt with me. People often think of Matthew 18 as being all about “telling it to the church” and “treating them like…”

    In the misapplied sense of sadistic humiliation of others, I’m also glad that God didn’t treat us that way. But in the accurate sense of the passage – a gradually increasing pressure to repent with the goal of restoration rather than retribution, that is how God dealt with me. Makes me think of the idea of the “hound of heaven,” God’s Spirit pursuing me in increasing intensity until I responded with repentance and brokenness, looking up into the loving face of my Saviour and then was restored to true fellowship with the heavenly family.

    I praise God that He didn’t deal with my sin the way many churches deal with sin in the fellowship. Imagine if God swept it all under the rug, pretended it wasn’t there, condoned by silence, etc. Actually, stop imagining that and celebrate the proactive love of God in addressing the sin issue!

  5. Ron Frost August 10, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    I know that in many churches the notion that our love for a sinner is a proper basis for “going softly” with them even when we see them living in ways that Christ never affirmed nor would the Bible allow us to approve. So we must get this distinction: in the context I noted in the entry above Paul made it clear that we aren’t to judge those outside the church (1 Cor 5:12) but we must confront those who profess to be in Christ yet who continue to be unChristlike.

    Yet, picking up on the sentiment Alan raised and Peter affirmed, we must deal with sin with a recognition that all of us are sinners and recipients of mercy. So our actions of confrontation and discipline are not to be done in self-righteous anger but in a call to a brother to stop and “sin no more”; a reminder that we are no longer slaves to sin but children of God. So even when it becomes necessary to send a persistent sinner (yet who professes to be a believer) out of the church, we long for them to return as repentant prodigals: “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:15).

    A mundane and vivid analogy is to view believers caught up in sin as spiritual infants who need to have a daiper/nappy change: even if the child cries in the process of the change, it needs to be done!

  6. Derek August 10, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    You’re right, Ron, it is a tragic situation and I appreciate your observations. Thinking about what Anne Rice was responding to (seems like it was an “anti” mentality that pushed her over), how do/should Christians respond to the angry rhetoric?

    I don’t ever recall church discipline exercised against angry Christians (speaking disparagingly against political figures or people with different values and/or beliefs)? If anything, wouldn’t these people be inclined to attend churches that validate their views (like the proverbial Mac users). Who would take them to task if they all agree on the same thing and don’t see sin in their midst?

  7. Michael Tso August 11, 2010 at 2:24 am #

    Reading this thread reminds me how blest I am to live in a community where facing one’s sin is encouraged, expected, hoped for, because I agree with Matthew unless we address sin head on, in community, repentance, confession, and the process of heart transformation doesn’t occur.

    Why does it occur where I live, because the men and women who come here have such broken lives they voluntarily submit themselves to this community and the leadership here for an entire year. Day by day, week by week we expose our lives, our hearts, and our minds to the Word, to the love of God and to each other. It is intense, it is painful, there is failure, but there is support, there is sacrifice, and there is the work of the Holy Spirit, and most of there is hope for a different heart, a different life.

    The key to me is that there isn’t hiddenness, there isn’t gloss (that characterize much of the rest of Christendom), and the courage of our residents to face themselves has challenged me to do the same. 1 Cor 12 speaks of the indispensible nature of every member in the body of Christ, and I am convinced that without other brothers and sisters who see the totality of my life and speak into that, I am unable to experience the fullness of Jesus. Much of current Western Christendom does not embrace the truth that we need each other to be the Body and Bride of Jesus.

    I trust that this is helpful within this discussion, thank you all for this heart stimulating dialogue.

  8. Becky Douglass August 11, 2010 at 6:02 am #

    Is there also another tendency in the church when it comes to sin – not “going softly” but condemnation with no effort to understand or help? In this case it isn’t that sin “doesn’t matter”, but that it is too bad. People just reject the person totally. They don’t want to deal with it so they just walk away, leaving the person to fend for themselves.
    I have seen this kind of reaction for “small” things like a bad temper or gossiping and “big” things like pedophilia.
    But doesn’t love call us to take a different path? To walk with people on their journey through discovery and repentance, to healing and wholeness.

  9. Esther Dexter August 11, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    Thanks so much for bringing this into discussion and for all that has been shared by one and another. Let’s not forget Hebrews 12:1-11 and realizing that discipline is an expression of love and that we really belong to the family of God as His child when He disciplines us. It is shows how much we are really loved by Him. May God give us wisdom to balance it right and walk with each other in humility and love as we show how much we love the Lord through our obedience to Him.

  10. John G. Vosnos August 11, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    Ron, the concern of the writer of the article to whom you refer is precisely what I acknowledge and address in my book, Getting into Jesus’ Life: Beginning Correctly, Finishing Well!

    I genuinely believe that the gospel that is often proclaimed today, altered to accommodate a consumer-driven culture, has led to superficial (false and empty) Christianity that has resulted in attitudes and behaviors which call into question the authenticity of the claims of Christians and of Christ.

    Thanks for raising this matter via “Spreading Goodness.”

    Grace and Peace,

    John Vosnos

  11. Ron Frost August 11, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

    Thanks, John, for the nudge on your new book: I need to get a copy. [John, I should mention to other readers, was my pastor in Illinois many years ago, whose ministry was a great model & encouragement to me]. In line with your title, my ambition in coming to this week’s post wasn’t to write about church discipline but to reflect on the attractive beauty of Christ’s character. Yet I quickly realized that an ungodly church blocks our view of that beauty. So wherever else this line of discussion may lead I hope we can hang on to that ultimate focus: we are invited to know, love and reveal Christ!

    Becky, I appreciated your note that Christians who are struggling with sin aren’t to be trashed. Various forms of caring intervention are at the heart of any proper confrontation of sin. We then treat a dismissal (hopefully temporary) of an unrepentant sinner from the church as the very last resort meant to help them move forward by finding the impact of their sin on all involved. As Esther noted, discipline reveals love. Yet the church needs many more recovery and restoration ministries. What my dear friend Michael Tso has written, above, about the restorative ministry at “His Mansion”, hits that nail on the head: it’s only when we confess to having a broken life that we find a new Life in Christ to be inviting.

    So the posture we need to have in the church today is not, “Hi, I’m holy; how are you?” But, “I’m a sinner saved by grace who needs the love of Christ and the involvement of his Body to make it: can we work together?” That’s where Christ’s beauty really begins to appear!

  12. Peter Mead August 11, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    Sorry, I think I got us onto the church discipline issue :) . . . you are so right that knowing, loving and revealing Christ is the greater matter here. We so easily view holiness in negative rather than positive terms: as a non-sin thing rather than an attractive and beautiful thing. A pure and compelling and captivating vision of the beauty of the goodness of God is seen in the person of Christ. The miracle is that people sometimes catch a glimpse of that in the body of Christ too!

  13. Becky Douglass August 12, 2010 at 1:10 am #

    Neither ignoring sin or rejecting the sinner reflects the character of Christ. But loving people is hard work! It is only possible as I allow God’s love to fill me and overflow to those around me. And yet to not love – that is a sin as well. So … maybe the reason why “the sea of hypocrisy between Christian beliefs and actions” is such an issue in the church isn’t just because of individuals who choose ungodly behaviour but also because the church as a whole is not the loving community which God intended. Which is worse, the one who sins or the one who does not love enough to help the sinner?

  14. Jacob August 12, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    This post got me thinking (thank you!), and sorry, my thoughts can be long.

    Let’s say the church is a hospital, like I’m told Augustine said it was. What are some implications?

    1. People outside the hospital will probably, at the very least, appear healthier. The hospital is not failing at its job if the people inside the hospital are in worse health than those outside. It is exactly what we should expect. We might have reason to be wary of a hospital full of whole and healthy people.

    2. Patients at the hospital need to know they are sick. They need to know their sickness may not look as bad to them as the sickness of their fellow patients, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily any healthier. They in fact might be worse.

    3. Patients must accept treatment. Patients who refuse to acknowledge their sickness, or call their sickness health when it is not, and who refuse to listen to the Doctor and his staff will have to leave. We don’t want other patients doing the same (calling their sickness health and refusing treatment), and there are a lot of sick and dying people out there who will acknowledge their sickness and accept treatment. The Doctor did not come to heal those who think they are healthy, but those who know they are sick and bleeding. If patients who refused treatment return, and acknowledge their ill-health, and are willing to accept treatment, then they will be gladly and cheerfully readmitted.

    I find the church as hospital analogy to be useful for thinking about one aspect of the purpose of the Church. I hope others may find it useful as well.

    Relating to what is said about directing us to Christ, the wonderful thing about being in this hospital is you get to see the Doctor!

  15. Ron Frost August 13, 2010 at 6:19 am #

    I do think it’s helpful to think about sin as both a basic orientation as in Sin with an upper-case ‘S’; and sins, with a lower case ‘s’ as in particular attitudes and behaviors birthed by Sin. What, then, is Sin?

    Augustinian theology (i.e. Augustine’s reading of the NT that has influenced many) is rooted in seeing Sin as prideful self-love (what he called concupiscence). Jacob’s welcome use of a hospital analogy might be extended: what happens if the Doctor is calling for radical surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy as treatments to address a major tumor, but the patient (in self-love) only wants to be treated by an ointment?

    Indeed, the church today, as the original article I noted seems to be suggesting, has a serious cancer. I think there’s much truth in the charge; and we may just be asking our divine Doctor for new ointments rather than taking a full cure.

  16. Bill Burge August 20, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    Everyone beats around the bush about sin. It does not matter if it is a capital or small (S) for sin, Sin is being disobedience to God’s word (commandments). Turning our back too GOD. Adam and Eve were disobedient, then they ate from the tree of Knowledge. Noah was obedient and builds the Ark. Both had faith with GOD but the difference was obedient vs disobedience. We put every name we can think of under sin, from Murder to anger, but it all starts with disobedience.

  17. Ron Frost August 20, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    Bill and I have enjoyed a number of conversations over the years and I thought we were agreed on the question of which Sin-and-solution symmetry is best rooted biblically. Maybe not? Let me lay out the two major and competing options the church has used over the centuries:

    a) Sin is disobedience/lawlessness/covenant-breaking AND (in an obvious symmetry) Savation is achieved by our new obedience/law-keeping/covenant fulfillment . . . all of which is behavioral in approach. Christ just gives us grace (i.e. supernaturally charged willpower) as needed. The focus of this symmetry is on our human responsibility to become more godly.
    b) Sin is self-love/pride which produces disobedience/lawlessness/covenant-breaking AND (in a separate symmetry) can only be overcome by a new heart/love which then expresses that love in an obedience that always longs to please Christ. This understanding recognizes that all behavioral sins first come out of the heart (e.g. Christ in Mark 7). The focus of this symmetry is on Christ whose love, expressed as he’s lifted up on the cross, captures our hearts. We love him because he first loved us (as witnessed by the Spirit pouring that love out in our hearts). This, then features our human response to his love (which establishes our faith). Hence life in salvation is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5).

    If we don’t take option “b” we’re on the wrong side of Paul and the Lord he was following.

  18. Bobby Grow August 23, 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    @Bill Burge,

    In accord with Ron, what would you say “motivates” disobedience; if anything?

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