Sin is a real threat and problem to our lives and our communities. The Apostle Paul warns us that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor 5:6) and Jesus told his disciples that it would be better to lose an eye or cut off a hand that causes one to sin than for a person to go to hell (Mark 9:42-48). But how are we supposed to deal with sin? We hide it in our own lives, and we are quick to judge it in the lives of others, but this only makes things worse.
At our May event, Chris Conyers, Lecturer in New Testament at Moore College, helped us think about how the gospel enables us to deal with sin together and how, in practical terms, we can continue growing in our Christian lives, putting sin to death.
Links referred to:
- Preliminary Theological Certificate
- Our next event: Learning to forgive with Kanishka Raffel and Philip Kern (25 August)
- Our last event for 2021: Raising the next generation with Paul Dudley and Mark Earngey (20 October)
- The Centre for Christian Living Annuals—and the 2021 Annual
- Support the work of the Centre
Runtime: 1:18:10 min.
Chase Kuhn: Hello and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast. My name is Chase Kuhn and I’m coming to you from Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. Today on the podcast, we have a special episode for you, bringing you audio from our most recent event on May 19th on the topic “Dealing with sin”. The Apostle Paul warns us that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor 5:6) and Jesus told his disciples that it would be better to lose an eye or cut off a hand that causes you to sin than to go to hell (Mark 9:42-48). So it’s unmistakable that sin is a real threat and problem to our lives and our communities.
But how are we supposed to deal with sin? We hide it in our own lives and we’re quick to judge it in the lives of others. But this only makes things worse. At this event, Chris Conyers, who’s a lecturer in New Testament here at Moore College, helped us to think about how the gospel enables us to deal with sin together. I look forward to you listening to this audio from our evening, exploring how we can practically continue to grow in our Christian lives, putting sin to death. I hope you enjoy!
Chase Kuhn: Good evening, everyone! Welcome to Moore College. Welcome to our first [in-person event] since 2019. What a joy to welcome back even limited numbers tonight. We set limited numbers for a live audience. We’re still trying to maintain COVID safety. But we’re really grateful to have you in person here tonight.
We’re also really glad to have a live audience online as well, and thank you for those of you that are joining all over the place—all over the world, actually. We’re really glad to have you watching this livestream, and we hope and pray that it will be beneficial to you as well.
I want to welcome you to the Centre for Christian Living. It’s a centre for Moore College that seeks to bring biblical ethics to everyday issues. We know how difficult it is to live in this world. There are all kinds of tensions that we face about what it means to be responsible as disciples of Christ. How do we navigate the ins and the outs of life? And this year, we’re talking about community together at all of our live events, and tonight [we’re] talking about that very tricky issue of sin.
The Centre for Christian Living has been going for a number of years now, and I mentioned to you that we seek to bring biblical ethics to everyday issues. And one of the main ways that we do that is through these kinds of evenings throughout the year. This year, we’ve set the theme of “community”, recognising that so many of the tensions that we face in an everyday way relate to how we relate to one another. How do we get on together as men and women—as brothers and sisters in Christ? What does it mean for us to maintain relationships? And tonight, we recognise that there is this big problem with how we relate: we have sin in our lives. And sin really messes things up. It messes up the way that we speak to one another. It messes up the way that we think about one another in our hearts and in our minds. And so, we’re going to talk about how we can deal with sin this evening, both individually and corporately, as we think about sin in the community.
Paul talks about “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” and the danger of that little bit spreading throughout the whole. And so, when we think about sin, it’s not just my problem—it’s not just your problem—but actually, it’s our problem, when we’re in community.
I’m very thankful that I have my colleague, Dr Chris Conyers, joining me this evening to teach. Chris teaches New Testament here at Moore College. He’s recently finished a PhD on sin, especially in the Book of Romans. We had dinner before and—I’ll tell you about my co-host in a moment, but my co-host asked Chris, “Why would you do a PhD on sin?” That’s a great question to ask. Why would you spend years of your life, thinking about this topic of sin? And it was really fascinating to hear Chris’s answer: he won’t probably be able to tell you it, so just watching the ways that certain things that we assume in the biblical texts that we have about sin maybe shouldn’t be so readily assumed, and how we listen more carefully to what the Bible tells us about the nature of sin, and instead of going into just Genesis, he looked at the way that Genesis is used by Paul in the letter to the Romans. I think it’s [a] fascinating topic, and maybe sometime if you get a chance to talk to Chris, you could pick his brain about that. And I’m hoping we’ll have some of the spoils this evening.
I’m also going to be joined tonight by a co-host, which I’m very grateful for: Caitlin Ogg is studying here at Moore College, and she attends church at Bosley Park. We were talking earlier today—she grew up out in Lithgow, has lived around in Queensland and elsewhere in New South Wales, and I’m very grateful that she’ll be helping me tonight to host the event, and in particular later on tonight, we’ll be teaming up—the three of us—to talk about some of the practicalities of what’s being presented tonight.
The plan for this evening is to work through four parts, and we’re doing that deliberately to break up the evening so that you’re not sitting too long in one place or in one bit of material. And Chris is going to be teaching through the first two parts. The third part, we’re going to be exploring the practicalities as a panel. And then the fourth part will be a question and answer time and we’ll be fielding questions from you all.
Without taking any more time, I would like to pray for us as we begin our time together, and then I’ll invite Chris to come and present to us the first part.
Our heavenly Father, we thank you so much for a privileged evening to be able to spend together, considering the truths of your word brought to bear upon our lives. We recognise right from the outset that we have real problems in our hearts and in our lives—of sin, that real root problem that we cannot root out ourselves—that we need your saving grace, and we need your work to transform us and make us into the new life that you’ve given to us in Christ. And so, we pray tonight, please help us to grow—grow in understanding of ourselves, grow in understanding of what you’ve designed for us in community as your people, and to think practically about how we might take positive steps towards growth together as your people, seeking to honour the Lord Jesus. It’s in his name we pray, Amen.
All right. I’ll invite Chris up for Part 1.
Part 1: Where do we start dealing with sin?
Chris Conyers: ’Evening, everybody. It’s a great pleasure to be here this evening and to share with you. I’m sure that thinking about how we deal with sin is something that many of us have grappled with in one way or another for as long as we’ve been Christians.
I remember back when I was a university student, there was a young woman in my Bible Study group—I’m going to call her “Sarah”—and she would often share about her struggles with gossip. See, before she’d become a Christian a couple of years earlier, it was just part of her life to gossip with people as much as she could; it was how she felt included in the crowd. It was how she related to people. And having become a Christian, she became aware that that was a really destructive behaviour that would break relationships, and it was sinful. And her attitudes to gossip began to change.
But it was such a slow and frustrating process for her, and she would often share about how she was still struggling with it and she’d still, you know, fallen into sin again. But gradually, it became clear that when she’d become a Christian [a] couple of years earlier, she loved gossip. Now a couple of years later, she hated it. And so, we saw that she’d been struggling and there had been change. And yet the change was not yet complete, because it was still a struggle.
I’m sure all of us can relate to that in one way or another—perhaps not that particular sin, but I’m sure we’ve all as Christians had that experience where there is something that we’ve wanted to change and it’s just taken so much time and so much effort, and we don’t feel like we’re ever going to get there. And so tonight, I want to talk about how it is that we deal with sin in three parts. So this is Part 1, and I’m going to be talking about how do we start dealing with sin? What’s the starting point? Where do we begin?
Then I’ll come back—well, I’ll sit down for a moment and I’ll be back again, and I’ll talk a little bit later about what patterns of life should we be developing in order to deal with our sin on an ongoing basis? And then in Part 3, Chase and Caitlin will come up here with me, we’ll have more of a conversation about how do we put that into practice in more concrete ways in our life, and we’ll be able to gain from their wisdom as well.
But right now, I want to begin, “Well, where do we begin dealing with sin?” Well, in order to know where to begin dealing with sin, we need to know what it is to be a sinner. We need to know “Why do I sin?” I actually think our first question needs to be, “Who am I?” Because I think until we understand who we are, we won’t understand, why we sin. And if we don’t understand why we sin, we can’t grapple with how we’re going to deal with it.
1. Who we are
So who are we? I suspect we’re all familiar with the famous words of the philosopher René Descartes: “I think, therefore I am”. Now, Descartes was actually talking about knowledge: “I think, therefore I know that I am”. But I think his words, nevertheless, aptly describe a way that many modern westerners like me think about who we are. We tend to have this view that “I think and therefore the way I think brings me into being as an individual”: “I think, therefore I am”.
You see, we’re told from a young age, “You can be whatever you want to be”. One of the most important values in our culture is self-determination: being able to make your own decisions. Do what you want to do. Be who you want to be. We can do anything we want, as long as we’re not interfering with someone else’s choices to be who they want to be and do what they want to do. I think our modern Western culture has this tendency to view each individual as being self-created: we bring ourselves into being. “I think, therefore I make myself into the person I want to be”.
Now, I just have one minor quibble with that way of thinking about who we are. And that’s that it’s total codswallop. It’s just not true. It doesn’t make any sense! Think about it: how much time do we spend warning our teenagers about the dangers of peer pressure? If they were going to bring themselves out as their own new individual, just out of what they want, well, what does it matter what the people around them are doing? And yet, we know how powerful peer pressure is: if everyone around you is doing something, we all feel that pressure to conform.
To take a trivial example: if who I am is purely a matter of my choices that have come from my mind without needing to worry about the people around me, then we would expect that soccer would be just as popular in Brazil as it is in India. And we would expect that cricket would be just as popular in Brazil, as it is in India. But it’s not! It seems that the culture that you grow up in—what the people around you think and do—exerts this powerful influence that shapes who you are. I’m sure we’ve all come across teenagers who want to express their individuality through what they wear. And what do they wear? Exactly the same thing that all their friends are wearing. Or I think every parent has had that moment where they find themselves saying or doing something with their children, and they realise, “That’s exactly what my parents used to say or do with me!” At which point, I give a shout out to mum and dad who are watching the livestream.
You see, I could spend all night just giving examples of how the behaviour of people around us actually shapes us—who we are, what we do. We’re not individuals who create ourselves out of nothing; all of us become who we are in relationships with other people. You see, who I am was shaped by my parents, even before I had any inkling of self-awareness. And it’s not just their genes that they gave me, but their behaviour: the way they talked, what they did, the things I heard and saw and experienced taught me what it’s possible for a human being to think and say and do.
And it’s not just my parents; as I grew up, I was surrounded by grandparents, uncles and aunts. My teachers right through school. My friends—right from when I was a toddler and I can’t even remember who those friends were, right through to now. There are so many people in my life who have shown me what a human being can do, can say, can think. And that’s all had this profound impact to make me who I am today.
You see, we are all individuals. We are all different. But we don’t become unique individuals out of our own self-creation. We become who we are out of our unique set of relationships. Now, we make real choices in that. But the raw materials don’t just come out of our own mind; it comes from the people around us. To put it really simply, I didn’t create myself; I’m created by God. But the means that God uses to create each one of us is actually through other people: our parents and through all of the other people that we’re in relationship with.
2. Living “Adamic” lives
Now, this might feel like a long introduction before we get to talking about sin. But it’s actually really important to understand that we are who we are through relationship in order to understand our problem with sin, because there is one pattern that is common to every human being on the planet: every single one of us follows one particular pattern that we have picked up from each other. Who we are comes from other people, and every one of those other people in my life and in yours, whether they’re important in our life or just a passing acquaintance who’s very unimportant in shaping me—every single one of them is a sinner. And therefore, I’m a sinner. We’re all sinners. None of us have ever been in relationship with anyone who wasn’t a sinner. And so, we come into being—we become individuals—in sin.
Theologians will sometimes refer to the “corruption” of human nature. But whatever we want to call it, every single one of us actually lives out a pattern of life just like Adam did in the Garden of Eden.
We live out this pattern where we ignore God, we act sinfully, and then sooner or later, we die. That’s the universal human problem, because every single one of us has come into being apart from that direct relationship with God.
See, Adam was in the Garden: he was in relationship with God. But everyone who’s ever been born was born outside the garden out of relationship with God and in relationship with sinful human beings. We read about this pattern that Adam shares with the rest of us, or set for the rest of us, in Romans chapter 5 verse 12: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man”—that’s Adam—“and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (NIV). You see, for the one man Adam, he had sin and the consequence was death. And then we read, for the many, we all face death. Why? Because we all sin. It’s a very simple pattern and a very tragic pattern: all people sin, therefore all people die.
Now, we don’t want to get that particular connection wrong. It’s not that I sin and that particular sin causes my death; if I tell a lie, I’m not just going to immediately drop dead. We know that from experience. But because I am a corrupted human being—because I live the way Adam lived—I’m the sort of person who will tell lies, and therefore, I will die. And as we live apart from Christ, that’s the only pattern of human existence that is possible: sin followed by death. That’s the pattern.
3. Living “Christic” lives
But I say “apart from Christ”, because I’m speaking, I think, to people who know Christ. We actually now live a second, alternative pattern of life. In Romans and 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about Adam and Christ as being the patterns for other people. And so, if you’re following my outline, I’ve talked about “Adamic” lives; now I’m going to talk about “Christic” lives. It’s just a word I’ve made up—sounds like “Adamic”.
If you read Colossians 3 or Ephesians 4, though, they’ll talk about the same concept, but they’ll talk about the “old self” and the “new self”. There’s an old pattern; there’s a new pattern. And where the old pattern was one of sin that leads inevitably to death, this new pattern is one of suffering in this life here and now. Remember, this is the pattern set by Christ, who lived a life of relative poverty, travelling around, and then suffered, was beaten, was whipped, was mocked and was crucified. See, the pattern of following Christ is a pattern of suffering in the here and now. But it’s one that will lead, just as it did for Christ, to resurrection—to eternal life. So the new pattern: suffering leading to life and to glory.
Now we might think suffering in this life—sometimes we can be very quick to move from suffering to persecution. And so the people who suffer for Christ are those who are thrown into jail and beaten and executed. Now, that is genuine suffering. That’s not the only suffering that we experience as followers of Christ. Sometimes just the everyday illnesses and the griefs of life that everybody experiences—as we face those trusting in God, we are following the pattern of Christ. Or there might be decisions we make: you might turn down a job, because the demands of that job would compromise your ability to care for your family. There’s a suffering in that—to have to turn down the good opportunity. And that’s hard.
But as we do that for the sake of Christ, we’re suffering for him, albeit in a perhaps a small way. It may even be as you go to church on Sunday and you go through the grind of running the kids program, where the kids are just really ratty yet again and it doesn’t feel like any of them are listening, and you know your non-Christian friends are having a sleep-in and then going out for breakfast, and you’re just tearing your hair out. Even your Christian friends are perhaps sitting in church, being fed by a great sermon and singing God’s praises, and here you are, grinding away in this little ministry that feel so weak. There’s a suffering in that, isn’t there. It’s hard. And yet it’s the pattern of following Christ.
There’s another sort of suffering, I think, as we refuse the desires of our hearts. Oscar Wilde famously said, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it”. Well, as Christians, we don’t want to yield to it. We shouldn’t. And actually, continuing to refuse temptation can be really hard and we can suffer greatly. And I’m not just talking about when we refuse the second piece of chocolate cake. But there will be people in our midst who refuse the relationship with the non-Christian and remain single. And that’s hard. In fact, it’s probably harder than any temptation I have known myself. There’s a suffering in that that is living out the pattern of following Christ. And just as much as the old pattern of sin leads to death, the new pattern of suffering and self-denial now will lead to eternal life in the resurrection from the dead.
4. The first step to dealing with sin
So we’ve got two patterns. And remember where I began: who we are comes about because of our relationships. And so, if we want to live the new pattern, we will do that in a new set of relationships. And first of all, where we start to deal with our sin in this way will be our relationship with Christ.
So I’ve described two different patterns: there’s a pattern like Adam, a pattern like Christ. You might say, “There are two ways to live”. See, if we want to deal with sin, the first step is actually to change our pattern of life—to stop living as Adam lived and start living as Christ lived. You might say, “You need to convert to Christianity”. In the language of John’s Gospel, “You need to be born again”. See, unless you’ve turned away from sin and turned to Christ and put your trust in him as your Lord and saviour, you can’t even begin to deal with your sin.
Now, perhaps you might be able to deal with some symptoms of your sin. You might be able to reduce the harm that you do in certain areas of life. But without trusting Jesus, you can’t deal with it—not really.
Now, there’s a couple of reasons I think this is important. I’ve said, I think, the people I’m speaking to, for the most part, you’re people who have put your trust in the Lord Jesus. But I want to say this anyway, because, first of all, sometimes it’s just good to say the obvious thing: if you want to deal with sin, you need to start with Jesus.
Secondly, there’ll be people here who are really struggling with guilt or shame for some besetting sin that you just can’t seem to shake. If you don’t yet know Jesus as your Lord and saviour, and you don’t yet understand that he has taken away that guilt and shame, talk to the friend who’s given you this livestream or the friend who’s brought you along.
But I also want to make a quick comment about how we approach sin as a society, because as our society wrestles with different manifestations of sin in our midst—you might think domestic violence is a topical one, where people are worried about how we’re going to deal with it—often people will try to deal with it by going, “Oh, we need new laws” or “We need new counselling services”. And those things might be good. They might reduce the harm that is being done. But they’re not actually going to fix the problem. If we want to fix the problem, we actually need to point people to Jesus. See, there’s only one tool that will ultimately allow us to deal with sin, and that’s the gospel. Only the gospel is going to change hearts. Only the gospel is going to change behaviour at the deepest level. And so, it’s only by believing the gospel that we can deal effectively with our own sin, and it’s only by preaching the gospel that we can deal effectively with other people’s sin. If we want to deal with sin, we need to be transformed from the old—the Adamic way of living—into the new Christic way of living. And so, at the risk of beginning with a point that may have seemed obvious at the beginning, if we want to deal with our sin, we need Jesus as our Lord and saviour.
And so, I’m actually going to take a pause for a moment here—going to go and sit down. I’m going to leave you with a question to reflect on. Now, if you’re watching or if you’re here live and you’re with someone else, you may want to discuss this with them. If you’re watching a livestream at home on your own, can I suggest pull out a pen and a bit of paper, and just take a couple of notes. Just reflect for yourself “How has God worked in you to deal with sin since you became a Christian?” That is, how have you changed?
And the reason I want to do that is because if I go back to my example of Sarah at the beginning, she was tempted to get despairing over the fact that the problem of the temptation of gossip hadn’t gone away yet. But it was actually really amazing to see, as we reminded her, of how far she’d come that she could see that God, in fact, was working in her life. The thing she used to love, she now hated. [The] thing she used to do all the time was now an occasional problem. And so, I actually want us to stop and think, “How has God already been dealing with sin our lives?” I’m going to give you a minute or two to think about that.
Question: Whose battle?
CK: All right. I hope you’ll continue thinking on these reflection questions and reflecting on your own transformation. I especially appreciated the story about this woman growing to hate rather than love her sin. And I think that’s one of the most remarkable things that changes in us as we know Christ—that we do grow disdainful of those things that once we loved.
I thought I would help transition between these sections by just asking a practical question to Chris as he comes back up, just reflecting on these things. One of the things that I know many Christians struggle with as they try to deal with sin is wondering whether or not it’s God who works to take sin out of our lives or if it’s us who have to work to overcome sin. In other words, who’s battle is it? Is it for God to do in us or is it for us to do in our own Christian lives? And then I’ll let you get into your second session.
CC: Yeah, I was just chatting with one of the students here, actually, before we began about if you get an either or question, the answer’s always “both”. [Laughter] Of course, it’s both! I mean, when I struggle against sin, I need to put effort into that struggle. I want to change that behaviour. But of course, I can’t do it without the power of God working in me. And actually we’re going to think a little bit more about that—
CK: Thanks Chris!
CC: —in this next part.
Part 2: A framework for dealing with sin
CC: So, so far, I’ve just suggested the first step in dealing with sin: we need to turn to Christ. We need to live as our new transformed self. But of course, for any of us who’ve been Christian for more than a few days—possibly even more than a few minutes—it very quickly becomes obvious that turning to Jesus and becoming a Christian is not enough to deal with all of your ongoing patterns of sin in your life; sin continues to beset us. We continue to struggle.
1. Living according to Christ’s pattern
In terms of the holiness of our behaviour, turning to Christ is a start, but it’s only the start. Christ gives us this new pattern to follow, but it does take time and effort to re-shape our behaviour according to the new pattern.
Now, I’ve used a fair bit of language of pattern—of behaviour here. I mean, a pattern, it’s just—it’s the way things go in a regular way. And so, you might take a pattern for, say, crochet: my wife loves to crochet. And so she’ll take a pattern and she’ll begin with a ball of yarn. And she’ll turn that ball of yarn into [Laughter] a dinosaur! Now, it’s not as simple as just tucking the ball of yarn away under the table and then pulling out a dinosaur. [Laughter] Who knew? [Laughter] It takes time and effort to actually re-shape this [holds up yarn] into this [holds up crochet dinosaur]. It’s not something that you can just do with a click of your fingers.
And so, as we come to Christ, we begin unformed in terms of the way we live our life: our salvation is complete and yet our behaviour is not yet formed into what we want it to be.
It occurred to me a little bit late, a dinosaur may not be the best example of something that is a pattern for eternal life. But never mind. I hope it made the point anyway.
See, we’re being reshaped into Christ’s image to live like him. But it’s going to take time and effort for us. And so, the second part of our evening now, I want to talk about what we do: our effort from a human perspective in order to live a life like Christ.
2. The power of the Word
And I want to say, the first thing we need to do if we want to be reshaped into Christ’s image is we need to listen to his word. Sometimes the idea that we just need to listen to the Bible a bit more, it can feel so dry and so powerless. Sometimes we want something that’s more powerful—more [vibrant]—we want a spiritual experience.
But of course, if we understand who the Holy Spirit is and who Jesus is, we’ll understand that the Word and the Holy Spirit that enables us to change will always go together. So do we need the Holy Spirit to work in us in order to change our patterns of behaviour? Yes! Of course we do. Do we need God’s word to change our patterns of behaviour—the way that we live? Yes, of course! But of course, the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ, was the second person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, and the thing about the Trinity is it’s one God. You can’t have God’s word working effectively in your life without the Spirit, and you can’t have the Spirit working effectively in your life without hearing God’s word. You need them together.
And so, if you have turned to Jesus, step one: you’ve become a Christian. You’re trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, God has given you his Holy Spirit. But the way that the Spirit works is as we listen to the word of God—as we read our Bibles. And as the Word and Spirit work together, they will be powerful and they will change us.
Now you see, in my first talk, I argued that we become who we are through relationships. Well, that first relationship that is really critical in making us into this image of Christ, well that’s our relationship with the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s step #1: we need to be in relationship with God. And step #2 is very similar: we need to continue that relationship, and the way we do it is by listening to the Word and by responding to it in prayer.
And I want to say there’s a really important sense in which that’s all you need: see, the Word being read by a person who’s filled by the Holy Spirit is powerful, and it will work to change your thoughts, your desires. It will be slow. It will, at times, be painful. It will be gradual. But it will be powerful. It will change who you are.
3. The power of other people
But I don’t quite want to stop there, because we could take that conclusion: when I say all you need is to become a Christian and read the Bible, we could take that to mean, “Well, now I can take my Bible and go home and read it on my own and be a Christian completely by myself. And I don’t think that’s quite where we want to land. There’s a couple of problems.
First of all, is as we read that Word, it tells us that we should actually meet with other Christians. Hebrews chapter  verse 24: “
let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:24 NIV)
We’re commanded to meet with other Christians as we read the Word. That’s a pretty good reason, I think, to say, “We can’t just take my Bible on my own and be a Christian by myself”.
But I think the problem is deeper than just the fact that I can quote a prooftext at you, because we become who we are through relationships. Part of becoming a new self—that Christic person—someone who’s living according to the pattern of Christ—is that we do it through human relationships. We might begin with our relationship with God, but God is generous and he gives us more, and he brings us into relationship with other new selves—other people who are seeking to live in the pattern of Christ. In short, as we become Christians, God calls us into his church. He calls us into relationship with other Christians. He calls us in the ordinary course of life to go to church and meet with other people—to sit under his word with them—to meet with them—to share our lives with them. Can you be a Christian and can you deal with sin without Christian community? Is that possible? Sort of. I want to say, “Sort of”.
Let me ask a different question: can you survive on nothing but bread and water? Well, sort of. It’ll keep you going for quite a while. But why would you want to? Why would you want to live a life where you went without the flavours of, you know, good cheese and olives, chocolate, going out for a kebab, having a German sausage with mustard? Why would you choose to have none of that and just eat bread?
But even if you did make that choice, it’s not going to be the healthiest choice for you in the long-term, because there are so many nutrients that you’re going without if all you eat is bread. It’s not the best way to care for your body.
I want to say it’s the same thing with Christian community and your spiritual health. If for whatever reason, you can’t be part of a Christian community, God is good and generous, and you are in relationship with him, and he can and will care for you. And so, for the Christian who is in a communist country and has been thrown in prison, or for the Christian who is in poor health, and there may be some watching right now who just can’t get to church, because their body is just too weak. If you can’t meet with other Christians, God can care for you. But I do want to say it’s not the ideal. It’s not what anyone should be shooting for.
See, it’s much healthier if you’re able to meet regularly with other Christians—to be part of a Christian community—because as you meet with God’s people, you will read God’s word together. You’ll teach one another. You will encourage one another. You’ll correct and rebuke one another. You will actually be stronger together than you were on your own, and you will reshape one another into this new pattern of life that follows Christ.
See, I argued earlier that sin spreads to all people because of the relationships that we’re all in. Well, righteousness will also spread through relationships. The more we can involve ourselves in relationships with other Christian people—other people who are trying to live this new life in Christ, the better off we’ll be. It will help us deal with our sin.
Now, I just want to clarify one point just here: I’m not saying that you need to have the Word—you need to read the Bible—and you need to go to church. Needing Word and church like that is a potential misunderstanding that we’ve seen in church history. No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying we need the Word in church—the Word inour Christian community. It’s the word that’s authoritative, but the best way to live under God’s word is together as part of the community that God has called us into.
4. Christian community as an incubator
So how do we bring the word of God to bear together to deal with our sin in community, rather than just me by myself? How do we do that? See, I think our Christian communities can be nurseries. Actually, my earlier version of the outline, which is on the slide—we can be incubators. We begin as babies: we become a Christian and we don’t know how to live as a Christian yet. And we need to grow: we need to mature. And this Christian community that we’re part of can teach us how to do that—can help to grow us up.
So I want to make three suggestions about how we can be doing that together as a community. There might be other ways; this is just my starting point.
We need to talk with one another about better ways of living in order to deal with any sin. We need to watch one another, so we can learn from one another and find better ways of living. And we need to model better ways of doing things for one another. We need to talk, we need to watch, and we need to model.
First of all, how do we talk about better ways of living as a Christian community so that we can help one another deal with sin? The first, I think, is simply to listen to our preachers in church and to listen to the way that they apply the word of God in our Christian community. And if we have good preachers who apply the word—they don’t merely lecture on what the participle is doing in this verse, but they actually show us how that changes our lives—that will have an impact and it will help us to deal with our sin. And so, I know some people who are listening are in ministry: preach the Word and apply it to your people. For the larger number, listen to your preachers.
But then, of course, it’s not just the sermon, but as we go to Bible Study, and I know many more people who are watching will be leading Bible Studies either for adults or for youth, or running Sunday school programs, they’re teaching the Bible somewhere. Many of us are teaching the Bible in many ways. Are we applying it to the way our people live? Because as we do, we’re helping them deal with their sin. We’re helping them see what God wants us and what God doesn’t want, and helping them see practical ways of honouring their Lord and saviour.
But it’s not just those formal occasions either of the sermon and the Bible study; as we have conversations with people over morning tea or as we go out for coffee or—we talk about the challenges we’re facing as parents, and I can talk about how I lose my temper with my kids when they just won’t get out of the bath when I ask them to. But I can talk with other parents and hear how they approach their kids and how they approach the challenges of parenting, and I can learn. We might talk about how we build habits of prayer into our life—what we find helpful and what we don’t, so that we can help one another find better patterns of living. We can share the tools we use in evangelism to give each other confidence to praise God amongst those who don’t yet know him.
See, there’s all sorts of ways that we can just talk to each other to help one another live better Christian lives, where we spend more of our time thinking and saying and doing the godly thing, and less time thinking and saying and doing the sinful thing.
And I think one type of speech that deserves special mention, as we meet with our Christian brothers and sisters, is we confess our sin. It’s actually very important to be asking one another for help—say, “I’m struggling with this. What do you think? What could I do differently? Can you pray for me?”
But we don’t just want to talk with other Christians. We do want to talk; we don’t want to just talk. It’s helpful for us to watch what other Christians are doing. I love when I spend time with another Christian family and I watch the way they parent their kids. And I can find so many good ideas that I could use to help me as I try to manage my tribe. And I can also see that they have the same struggles I do, and as I see their kids in open defiance, I can sit back and go, “Oh, it’s not just me”. And I can be encouraged that my struggle with sin is not me alone, but it’s one that’s in common with my brothers and sisters, and we can actually be walking together on this journey.
But we might also watch someone as they communicate within their marriage in order to see, “Yeah, actually, I need to do better in that area”, or maybe they’re struggling and maybe I need to get alongside them, because I remember the early days of my marriage: we struggled as we talked about that particular thing. See, as we watch one another, we can help one another.
But of course, to watch one another, we need to spend time together, don’t we? Not just for 20 minutes at morning tea after church on Sunday; we actually need to share lives with one another. We need to have meals together. We need to just be part of each other’s lives in a more profound way than just showing up for an hour and a half on Sunday. Now of course, we can’t do that with every single person. But we need to build those relationships in church.
But finally, I want to say, if I’m going to benefit from watching the way you live as a Christian, I also need to be modelling what it is to live as a Christian so you can watch me. And so, we need to talk, we need to watch, but we also need to model, because as I show you what it looks like to live a Christian life, I help you to recognise sin in your life and to deal with it. And as you model to me, you help me to recognise the sin in my life and to deal with it. And so, there’s a whole lot of different ways we can do it. But we need to be sharing our lives in order to both see and to be seen. Church, Bible Study, prayer groups, meals in our homes, going out for coffee, taking the kids to the park with another family from church, so not only the kids have someone to play with, you have someone to talk to and to disciple—however it is you want to do it, we need to be spending that time together and participating in our Christian community in order to effectively deal with our sin.
And so we’re going to pause for a moment again for a couple more reflection questions either talk with [one another] or just to write notes on your own. “How are you participating in Christian community?” Are you going to church each week? Are you part of a small group? Are you having people over to your house? Are you meeting people at the park? Are you participating? And how are you serving other Christians? How are you helping them to become Christlike?
Question: Why do we not want to participate in Christian community?
Caitlin Ogg: Okay. So I’m sure you guys are all having some really great conversations, and we really encourage you to continue them once we head to supper or after the livestream ends. But we do want to invite Chris up again. He’s been sharing so much about particularly community in that last section, and we just want to reflect a little bit on—you gave this beautiful image of needing more or wanting more than just bread and water, and this image of the Christian community as an incubator. And I think that’s just wonderful. But why do you think it is that we have barriers to perhaps wanting those good things, particularly as Christians?
CC: Yeah, so why do we not want to participate in Christian community? Well, I mean, I don’t know about you, but certainly in my experience, every Christian community I’ve tried to be part of has just been full of sinful people. It’s been really hard! And of course, if I ever found one that wasn’t full of sinful people, I’d ruin it by going in myself.
Christian community, it’s hard work. I’m not trying to lay out some picture of this idyllic thing where we all fix each other’s problems. No! This is a grind. But it’s a grind that is so much richer if we can do it together and actually support one another.
And so, one of the reasons I don’t think people necessarily want to be totally committed to Christian community is ’cause it is hard work: people will sin against you. People will hurt you. If you haven’t experience that yet, you probably haven’t been part of a church for very long.
But I just want to encourage you: don’t take that as an excuse to run away. Actually, that’s part of how we learn what it looks like to deal with sin—to forgive others in their sin and then as we in turn hurt people, to repent of our sin—to go and apologise to them and to seek to be reconciled.
Christian community’s hard work, because dealing with sin is hard work. And that’s what we’re all doing together.
CO: Yeah, definitely.
Part 3: Discussing some practical scenarios
CO: And we’re going to pull apart some of that stuff now. So we’re moving into our third section of the night. Chase is going to come up. And we’re going to have a bit of a conversation to pull out—you started to get really practical by the end of it, and I think we’re all sitting here thinking, “How do we deal with this stuff, though? How do we actually put it into our everyday lives? How do we as people who are dealing with sin every day also deal with other people’s sins?” So we’re going to have a conversation now and then Q&A will come after that.
An individual idea of sin vs the influence of others
CO: I want to start off with thinking through—you started the night of this topic of “Dealing with sin” by actually bringing out our identities.
CO: And so, why do we start with an individual idea of sin? Why is that important?
CO: What’s going on there?
CC: Yeah, well I think many of us begin with this individual idea of sin for a couple of reasons. One is when I lose my temper with one of my children, I’m the one who lost my temper. It is something that I do as an individual.
And I think one of the other reasons is particularly within our culture—speaking in 21st century Sydney—we don’t have a very good concept of anything beyond the individual. We have a culture that thinks in terms of the individual is what exists, and anything beyond that, we get pretty fuzzy. And the idea that other people actually have an impact on me and who I am, it’s a bit of a cultural blind spot for many of us, I think. Or at least it was for me, before I started doing some of my research in this area. So I think there are lots of reasons why we might begin with the individual, but I don’t want us to stop there.
CK: Yeah. It seems like we can’t get away from ourselves, though. I mean, even as we live in community or whatever kinds of ways we’re pursuing community—say social media: the moment I start looking at your feed on social media, not only am I reflecting on you, but I begin reflecting on me again. And it seems to me like I’m quite aware of who I am in relationship with you, and actually, what I become aware of quite quickly in life is that I’m a sinner. I don’t think that there’s many of us that would deny that. I don’t know that anybody would deny that. I think about when David talks about this in Psalm 32: he says sin felt like it was burning within him. I mean, that was something he had to confess in himself. It was just a fire within him needing to come out. And so, it seemed to me that’s why we begin with individuals even as we’re in relationships.
CK: Do you have anything you want to add, Caitlin?
CO: Yeah. Do you think it is as well, it also just gives—because you know that you yourself are a sinner, then when you look out at someone else—say, a Christian brother or a Christian sister—you’re like, “Well, if I’m a sinner, well, what are they as well?” Like, does it give us a right view of people, because we also understand what’s going on within ourselves?
CC: I think you can. If we read our Bible and we understand that every single person is a sinner, that can give me an understanding at least in the abstract that as I meet you, that you’re a sinner.
I guess one of the reasons I want to push us more to think about sin in terms of relationships is because, actually, if I only try to deal with my sin by myself, you don’t know what sins I’m struggling with necessarily. And I don’t know what sin you’re dealing with individually. And so, as I reflect on my struggle and I look around, I think, “I’m the only one struggling with this particular thing. I must be so much worse than everyone else!” And there’s just this weight on my shoulders.
And meanwhile, you’re struggling with exactly the same thing, feeling exactly the same way, because we haven’t talked to each other about it. And so, I do think there’s lots of space for—well, for me, and I suspect for many of us to get better at sharing those struggles so that that abstract theology that I know each person’s a sinner can actually land in life and we can actually understand how that works.
CK: Yeah, why don’t we confess? I think that’s one of the biggest questions, right? Why don’t I come to you—not you all, by the way. [Laughter]I’m not telling you my dirty laundry. Why don’t I confess my sin to other people in my church? I think it’s a real practical tension. I wonder—I mean, I want to talk about it generally—I do wonder about the ways that we relate differently as well about men and women. I mean, if I’m choosing people to confide in—and primarily that’s going to be men that I’m confiding in about sin my life—what is my hesitancy towards them—of actually opening up to them? In fact, we often laugh about dumb and idiotic things as men that are often sinful. They’re almost celebrating that in our culture. So why don’t we confess? That’s a question to you both as well. [Laughter]
CC: Do you have any thoughts?
CO: Ooh, I just want to add on another question to that: do we need to confess to teach other? Because—
CO: —if it’s about our relationship with us and God, is it just God that we’re confessing to and if—that’s everything, that’s all good, because we’re dealing with our relationship with him, why is there a need, then, to confess to someone else? Like, what does that do?
CK: Yeah. Yeah, it—we often think, “I don’t need a priest, so I don’t need to tell anybody else about my business. If I just tell God about it, I’m fine.” It seems to me like bringing it out in the open with somebody else is the first step towards accountability. So the moment I tell a dear friend—a guy that holds me accountable in church is a guy called Paul—the moment I tell Paul about sin in my life, he now has been invited, if you will, to speak into that bit of my life now. I’ve said, “Look, this is something you may not know. It’s something that I may be pretty good at hiding. Maybe I’m not; maybe you do know it. Maybe you see it. But actually, I’m telling it to you, because I need to own up to this portion of my life.” And that seems to be a biblical concept: I mean, bringing sin out of darkness and into the light. It thrives in the darkness; it doesn’t survive in the light.
CC: No, I think that’s absolutely true. I think the more we can bring sin out into that light—the light of other people being able to see it—it acts to change our behaviour. It’s actually quite well demonstrated by psychologists that if we think other people know what we’re doing, it changes what we do. People’s electricity consumption changes when you start telling them what the average is within their suburb, and they start using less, just ’cause they’ve got a comparison against other people.
And so, for deeper issues, of course if other people are going to know about it, that will actually help us to change our behaviour. And so, actually thinking about that and thinking about who we want to confess to so that they can hold us accountable—that’s a really important step to dealing with any sin.
CO: How do we do that, though? Because I think it’s an easy thing for us to talk about: we need to expose it, we need to talk about it, we need to pick someone. But in reality, that is terrifying, because you’re about to put yourself in the darkest moment of sin and revealing sin and being uncomfortable and vulnerable with someone. How do you actually overcome that to say, “Oh okay: I know I need to do this, but I actually need to do it”?
CK: I think it starts with gospel confidence—that the only reason why I am who I am is because of what has been given to me in Christ. So if I become content in that, knowing that grace has reached me, I don’t have to now worry about my shortcomings, because everything I need is there for me in Christ. So that kind of security, then affords me freedom to begin moving forward, if you will, in that faith. I know I have an identity; now how do I live in that identity? So it seems to me like a gospel security opens up that relationship. And it really comes down to do I believe what I believe? That’s part of it.
CK: I don’t know. Have either of you had accountability partners, or do you have them?
CC: Yes I do. And actually, yes, you need the confidence in the gospel. I think it’s really helpful if there is someone in your life that you have great confidence in as well. And so, when you have someone in your life that you know fairly well already and you know you can trust them, it’s much easier to then open up to one another about deeper things. And the more you trust one another, the deeper you can go. And of course, as we start bringing our sin into the light, sometimes we’re digging into some very dark places. And so, being able to have that relationship of trust with someone that you know well—that’s really important.
But of course, sometimes that person may not be there. But many of us find that we are able to trust the pastor in our church, and as we dig into those dark places, that may be somewhere we choose to go. But in many ways, it will be an individual thing and it will depend on what relationships we have around us. And while I want to say it’s a good thing to build those relationships, it doesn’t mean you go grab the first person who—
CC: —walks into church. You need to be wise about who you’re going to share with. And it needs to be someone you can trust.
CK: Yeah. There is a process of discernment. I mean, I heard somebody describe once that “intimacy is vulnerability”. So what that means is the closer we become, the more you can hurt me. And I guess in this area of sharing sin, I mean, you are giving somebody ammunition against you. They’re hearing about the worst parts of your life and they can easily bring that back: “I know about you”. [Laughter] You know, “I know what you’ve done”. I know what kind of person you are.
So actually being discerning about that is saying, “No, I’m actually trusting you to come into this space in my life, because as we grow closer, I know that you can actually and will actually responsibly handle these things together”. You hope that’s true of everyone in your church, by the way. I don’t want to, you know, sow seeds of distrust for everyone you know. But I do think that, actually, being willing to confide in somebody is opening up a different layer of intimacy, and that requires some discernment.
How does it go badly? I mean, how do people shut down that kind of trust?
CO: Well, wouldn’t that be when judgement comes in?
CO: There is a pang when you do reveal something to someone and perhaps it’s not received with grace—it’s not received with understanding necessarily straight away. I mean, sometimes some sins being revealed is really hard for someone to hear. But eventually someone will come to grace and be like, “Oh, okay. Let’s talk this through”. And sometimes if it’s not received very kindly, it can be really hard on the person who’s sharing their sin, because they’ve just opened up their hard past to you.
CC: That’s right. And as we’re—as we seek to hold others accountable, we need to make sure we understand how gracious our God is, and see our role as reflecting that same grace, and that no matter what this person is confessing to me, my first response is actually to preach the gospel to them—that in Jesus Christ, they are forgiven. It won’t take away the consequences of sin in this world, and sometimes that will be very messy and painful. But actually the first response is that in Jesus Christ, in the grace of God, our sin is forgiven. And so, no matter how hard we’re finding it to deal with the ongoing patterns of sin, that reality is unchanged: we are people in Christ who are forgiven.
CK: That’s a great word. I mean, when somebody comes and tells me something really awful from their life, rather than a word of condemnation, I don’t speak a word of condemnation. That’s not gospel. Actually, there is no condemnation in Christ. So as they come and share that with me, I’m able in that moment to bring the truth of the gospel to bear on them again, reminding them, actually, remember there is no condemnation in Christ. Remember that even this was paid for in Christ. Now, how can I help you walk in the newness of life?
And just as we shared before, I think, right at the beginning, why do we start as individuals? I mean, I know that I’m a sinner. I can then assume you’re a sinner. Well, actually, that also then transforms the way that I think about grace: because I’m a sinner, I know I need grace. And so even when I see sin in your life, I know that you need grace, just like I do. And so, that mutual awareness of one another is also an awareness of our mutual need and dependence upon God. So I think that’s probably really foundational for how we relate together and grow together.
CK: I suspect that we’re out of time for this section. [Laughter]There’s a lot more that we could explore in terms of practicalities. I’ll have you both take a seat.
CK: Just a couple of announcements from us, though, from the Centre for Christian Living. We have many resources that we always want to make known to you and make available to you. They’re free, and we want you to be able to be aware of them. And so, that’s something we want to communicate.
Before I get into the Centre for Christian Living, one of the resources that Moore College provides to the greater community is the Preliminary Theological Certificate. This has been going on for more than 75 years where we offer great training to people in churches all over the world. I’m talking thousands of students that study with us through this. These are materials that you can use online—go at your own pace—and we have a great graduation coming up next to celebrate the completion. Each times somebody completes six units, they get to go on and graduate, and for those of you that have been involved or want to get involved, you can check out the PTC graduation and find out more information on our website. And do check out those resources if you’re interested in some further study for yourselves where you’re at.
Second, then, moving on to the materials that we have from the Centre, we have two more live events this year coming up in our series on “community” and I’m glad we’re planning on having live audiences again. So thanks to those of you that have come out tonight. We will keep livestreaming as well for those of you that are near and can’t make it in or even far and definitely can’t make it in.
The next one, I’m very excited about: we’re talking about that very difficult issue of forgiveness. It’s something we all really want, it’s something we all want to extend, but it’s that thing that we often feel stuck. How can I forgive that? What if they haven’t repented? What if I can’t trust them? What does it mean? And so, we’re going to be looking at what the Bible teaches about forgiveness. I’m really grateful that Philip Kern, the Head of our New Testament department here at Moore, as well as Kanishka Raffel, who is our new Archbishop here in Sydney, will be presenting on forgiveness in August. So I would invite you to join us August 25. We’d be really glad to have you. So please make a plan for that.
We’ll have another event in October—October 20—where we’ll be talking about “Raising the next generation” as our final instalment on community in 2021. So please mark your diaries. Make a plan to come. Encourage your church to join. We run it on Wednesday nights on purpose so that the night when most small groups meet at churches, they can join in this way too. So shout out to my small group who’s here in person tonight. Love you all. You didn’t have a choice, ’cause I wasn’t going to be leading you in my house. So.
All right. Finally, our CCL Annual we put together every year has some highlights from our year. They’re great size digestible pieces that are meant to be read, really, on the move, highly practical and yet substantive, so they’ll keep you thinking and keep you reflecting on many of the issues that we face in our lives together. This comes from our podcast, it comes from our events, and it comes from the essays that we publish on our website, and you can find this through any of the major ebook distributors—including, thanks to a few arm wrestles by Karen Beilharz, my assistant, you can now get it on the Apple Bookstore. And she wanted me to celebrate that with you that finally we’ve got it there. So check it out, please.
I’m going to invite Chris and Caitlin back up and we’re going to get to the Q&A.
Individual vs community failures
CK: All right! One of the things that I think is a great question here, and it is by far the leading question [Laughter] and I was going to ask it previously in the practicalities, and so I’m glad somebody else raised it. When we think about the major failures that we see come out—of particularly a sexual kind—leaders in Christian circles being exposed as having deep, dark, long-lasting sexual abuse or what it may be, how do we deal with this? Is that a failure of the person? Is it the failure of the community?
CC: Yeah. Look, it’s a big issue. There have been high-profile cases just in the last few months—in the last couple of years. And it’s not something we can take lightly. I made the comment earlier, the either/or question, the answer is “both”. Is it a failure of the individual? Yes, it is absolutely a failure of the individual, and the men who have done these things—and we are talking about men—their behaviour is to be condemned. Some of the things that Christian leaders have done—particularly to young women—is evil and we have to condemn it. And the men who’ve done it, those who are still alive; one high-profile case, the man has passed away—we need to call them to repent.
And of course, if they do repent, forgiveness is there. But that doesn’t mean that the behaviour was not abhorrent. And it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held to account for it. Just means that their hope of salvation in Christ is still possible, because there but for the grace of God go I.
CC: But is it a failure of community? Yes, it is, because whenever these things get dug into, and I’m far from an expert on this; I’ve really only got hearsay evidence, but it seems that in every example I hear about, when people have gone in and dug into the culture, there has been this culture of making excuses for those who are in leadership, and not holding them accountable for the little things. And when you’re not holding them accountable for the little things, the bigger things will just be able to bubble away under the surface. And so, there is a communal responsibility to be dealing with sin. I mean, as you began for us tonight, Chase, you said, “a little yeast leavens the whole lump”. And so, we as a community do need to be working together to deal with sin, because it has an impact on all of us. Yeah.
CK: Yeah. I think there’s some really great things that have been shown through in this. Let’s just take—I mean, one has been public: Ravi Zacharias. They’ve been very transparent about failure of keeping accountability structures.
I guess a couple of outcomes from this: one, no one is above sin. You can have somebody preaching the gospel from the biggest global platforms and it doesn’t mean that sin isn’t crouching and waiting at the door, if you know what I mean—that there is temptation that really comes to all of us. So we have to be careful.
Two, I don’t think we need to be extra suspicious of every single leader in our context. And in fact, one way to avoid carrying on suspiciously or in distrust is actually to have good systems in place. So the more accountability that you make sure that you do have, the less you need to be worrying about this kind of culture of secrecy. If I trust that my pastor’s meeting up with a few people regularly to just make sure that they are walking faithfully with the Lord, then I’m not sitting there thinking, “Oh, I bet you—I bet you there’s something hiding here”. Because I’m actually sure that “No, he’s actually being really diligent to be held to account for everything that he’s doing”. And that actually, I think, fosters good community growth in itself. So.
CC: Yeah, and in a church context where the pastor is involved in the lives of the people in the church, and they know him, and in a bigger church, it won’t be every single individual, but even if you are not spending large amounts of time with the pastor, knowing that your friend is means there’s just that knowledge that someone knows what’s going on in this guy’s life and that’s a good thing. Ministers shouldn’t be hiding away their lives.
CK: Yeah. Yeah.
CC: Yeah, we need to have that accountability.
CK: That’s helpful. Is there anything you want to add, Caitlin? No.
Freedom from addiction
CK: The next question comes from Jude: “Romans 6 speaks of freedom from the power of sin. How would you speak to those who feel that sin still has power over them—especially in the case of something like addiction?”
CC: Yes! So yeah, Romans 6 talks about freedom from sin. But then if you actually move onto Romans 7, we get the very famous passage where “I do what I don’t want to do and I don’t do what I do want to do” (v. 15), and we find this ongoing struggle with sin and it’s, in many ways, it’s a controversial passage. But Paul saying, “I”, I think he’s actually talking about his experience just representative of what it is to be a Christian. We still struggle, and as we then move into Romans 8, that’s where we start to get the picture that “there is no condemnation in Christ” (Rom 8:1) and we start to return to the theme of hope that Christians have, which was actually first raised in Romans 5.
And what is that hope? Well, it’s the resurrection of the dead. And it’s actually while I remain here in this body, well, this body is descended from Adam: it’s still the corrupted body, and I’m still waiting for my new resurrection body, where I am transformed finally into the image of the resurrected Christ. And that’s when sin will finally be removed from my life. And the struggle will be gone. That freedom will finally be experienced in the resurrection from the dead. While we remain in this body, we remain in a struggle with it. And so, there’s a freedom now in that I am in Christ, and my destiny is not determined by my sin, and I have the power of the Spirit as I read the Scriptures that I can change and there is hope that I can break the power of even substance abuse and the addictions and the most difficult sins that we face—there is hope that we can break those, ’cause we have been set free from that slavery to sin, and yet the final victory still awaits: the resurrection where our bodies will be transformed from the broken things that they are.
CK: And on that note of community, I mean, even in addiction, this is where actually confessing and getting help is so important too. ’Cause we’ve been set free from the power of sin. We’ve been set free from the judgement that sin brings with it. Yet we’re still awaiting that newness in Christ, and as we’re journeying, we need help. We need help with those struggles, and so getting help would be important.
CC: Yeah. Whatever you’re struggling with, I think getting help is important.
CC: But I think—you know, particularly when something becomes an addiction and whatever we might mean by that, it may be that at that point, you go and get not only the spiritual help from the trusted person at church, but it maybe there will be professional help that would be helpful in that scenario as well. Yeah.
How to rebuke and encourage in love
CK: Caitlin, I’m going to ask you this next question if that’s okay. This is from Anna: “Calling out others for their sin can be really daunting”. And by the way, Anna tells me she’s one of the few people that puts her name down. I love that, so! Hats off to Anna. “Calling out others for their sin can be really daunting and feel hypocritical. Any tips on how to rebuke and encourage others to holiness in a loving way?”
CO: That’s a great question. I wonder if it comes back to relationship—particularly as we were talking about accountability partners, I think that’s the space where you do it. If someone has particularly asked you to be an accountability partner, like, that’s a responsibility that then you’re taking on to say, “Okay, well, not only am I going to be here to listen to this person, but I’m also going to ask them. I’m going to be the one—’cause we know how hard it is to come forward with your sin. And so, actually, I’m going to be the one to ask, then, because sometimes, they’re going to want to hide it. They’re going to want to run away, because that’s our natural instinct. But they’ve asked me to look out for them.
And so, I think in that space, it’s really appropriate to be that person, and you just kind of have to say, “Well, they’ve asked me to. And they’ve given me permission to.
I think outside of that space is when it gets hard, and I don’t know. Maybe you guys have more advice and help for that? But I think you’ve just go to know where is your relationship at with that brother, or with that sister? Can you actually step into that? Can you ask them outright? Can you have a conversation with them? If not, is there someone else that, perhaps, you can come to and say, “Oh, do you have a relationship with that person? Could you maybe check up on them—see how they’re going?” Like, it doesn’t have to be you all the time; it could be something that you do in community, because we are in community.
CC: Another thing I’d probably add to—I think that’s absolutely right, but another thing is sometimes the rebuke doesn’t have to be the direct confrontational word. Sometimes you can just sit beside someone and say, “I saw this just happen. How do you feel about that? And actually very often, they’ll go, “Yeah, I got that wrong, didn’t I”. And sometimes it takes no more than that.
Now, sometimes people will resist and they’ll actually dig in, and that—it does get trickier there. But in the first instance, it doesn’t need to be a confrontation. It can just be sitting beside them, going, “How are you going?”
CC: Like, “Are you okay after what just happened?” And that can be a very functional rebuke. Certainly I can point at times when I’ve been rebuked in that way, and it’s been very powerful.
CK: That’s very helpful. And also online, I mean, we deal with so many things now, we can take a lot of lessons about the ways and the mediums that we use to communicate. So am I going to rebuke somebody publicly? Probably not the best idea. If I see something publicly, I could probably go to them privately and have a quiet word or even a private message.
When I message, my tone and my message is always going to sound more severe than the loving American accent, right? So I can sweettalk them when I’m in front of them. If I’m just pounding on my keyboard, I sound vicious and angry, even when I’m not. So it’s good to remember these things.
CO: And just a quick note, is it worth even saying, like, “Should we pray first?”
CK: That’s a great idea!
CO: Should we actually come before God and pray about this person—about this person that we love and we care for before we, then, perhaps, go forth.
CK: It’s a really good word.
CK: Otherwise I’m going forward with sort of my own agenda and my own way, rather than committing it to the Lord first and to him who works in us. Yeah.
CC: Yeah, and it may be worth pausing as well to consider whether there may be a log in our own eye before we try and—
CC: —remove the speck from our brother’s eye. And sometimes we actually might see something that someone else’s done wrong. It might be that they have done something wrong, but actually that should be a catalyst first for us to reflect on our own walk with Christ and whether we too are struggling.
CK: Yeah, absolutely.
The struggle to change
CK: This is our final question: “What about when I want to change, but just can’t? If I’m reading and I’m praying and I’m fellowshipping with other Christians, but I’m still struggling, what’s missing?”
CC: What’s missing? The resurrection of the dead. [Laughter] I know that’s not necessarily the comforting answer that we want. But this life now, it will be one of ongoing struggle. And I’d want to challenge the question where it says, “I want to change but can’t”: we all, as we follow Christ, we want to change. And we can’t do it quickly. Look, changing the way we behave is a long-term project. And sometimes the long-term will be longer than we live in this life. And it will only be as Christ returns the particular sin is finally taken away. And so, to the person who asked this question and anyone who’s feeling the same way, can I say, “Your experience is normal”. That’s actually what it’s like to live as a Christian—is to keep struggling.
Look, in God’s generosity, over a time span of years, I would expect that you will see improvement if you continue to pray and to be accountable to others, and to keep struggling against temptation. But it might take years. It might take decades for you to see tangible progress. That’s not because of God’s not keeping his promises. God is not slow as we measure slowness, but Christ will return, and he will set it right. Please keep struggling, is all I can say. The worst outcome is to just give up, because giving up in a particular area will—or it can—quickly lead to giving up on Christ. And that’s a total disaster, because you lose eternal life, and the struggle you’ve already put in is wasted.
CC: So keep struggling and pray that in time, God will bring change, because God is powerful—
CC: —and one day, he will set it right.
CK: Well, there’s an old Puritan sermon called “The expulsive power of a new affection”. And I want to say, too, that the more captivated you become by Christ, the less captivating your sin will be to you. And so, part of the journey isn’t just that getting embroiled all the time in that battle, battle, battle, but actually cultivating a deeper and deeper love for Jesus, and letting you be satisfied in him more than your sin. And realising that he really is more desirable than your sin. And actually, the more you love him, the more you’ll feel your sin expelled. And I think that’s one of the wonderful works of the gospel.
CK: Thank you both very much for being with me here tonight. I’ll have you have a seat. Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Caitlin. I really appreciate both of you taking time out. Thank you to the guests here in the room. Thank you for the live viewers as well. I also want to say thanks to Karen Beilharz, my assistant, who puts so much work into this event and all that we do at the Centre. Thank you to Daniel and Jaison and the CCL team, who have helped to put on this event. And thanks to Moore College for supporting the work of the Centre. I hope that you’ll continue to partner with us and benefit from the resources that we’re producing. Let me pray for us now.
Our Father, we thank you that we can come together and talk about even this difficult, difficult topic. And yet, Lord, even in considering the ugliness of our lives in our sin, we see the beauty and the wonder of Christ who sets us free—who sets us free from the power of sin and its nasty sting of death. We thank you, Lord, that in him, we have victory over sin and we have victory over death, and we have the promise and the hope of resurrection life that will endure forever with you. And we thank you for your Spirit that works that new life in us and brings us into Christ. Please, Lord, continue to work in us. Work to push out sin from our hearts, to take away those wicked desires and to help us treasure Jesus all the more. Do this, Lord, and grow us up, we pray, please. In the name of Christ, Amen.
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