Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Christian Community and Individual Sanctification

“It is both foolish and wicked to suppose that we will make much progress in sanctification if we isolate ourselves from the visible church. Indeed, it is commonplace to hear people declare that they don’t need to unite with a church to be a Christian. They claim that their devotion is personal and private, not institutional or corporate. This is not the testimony of the great saints of history; it is the confession of fools.” –R.C. Sproul
In my last post, I explained how the gospel restores God's original design for community. However, this restoration is not fully experienced at the moment of salvation. We live in the "already, but not yet". We are redeemed, but not yet completely. As a result, we must grow in our understanding of the gospel and apply its truth to our lives in order to reflect God’s image more accurately. 

Community is one of the primary means God uses to help us to grow in Christian maturity. We need other Christians to hold us accountable, encourage us by reminding us of the truth of the gospel, and pray for us. This is God’s design for his people and we will need this type of community until we are perfectly redeemed at Christ’s second coming.

Below are three reasons why we need Christian community in this life to make progress in our sanctification:

1) Indwelling sin is still present.
Sin is not only eternally damning and spiritually damaging; it is also extremely deceptive. This is why the author of Hebrews gives the following command, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13).

God knows that sin is blinding and our hearts are easily deceived, so what’s his solution? Stick close to a bunch of Christians who can watch your life, exhort you “every day”, and warn you of the deceitfulness of sin. We need to belong to a community of Christians committed to our sanctification because there is indwelling sin lurking in the shadows of our hearts.

2) Satan is still active.
We have all seen the documentaries that show a lion attacking a herd of zebras. The zebras who are killed are the ones who become isolated from their group. The zebras who survive the lion’s assault are the ones who stay within the herd because the group provides them with a great measure of protection.

In the same way, Satan is constantly seeking to pick off Christians who are isolated from the Christian community. It is no surprise then that the apostle Peter warns Christians that Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8). One of our best defenses against the wiles of the devil is to be in community with other Christians who will watch over our soul and help protect us from being one of Satan’s casualties.

3) The World is Still Appealing.
One of the most heart wrenching verses in the Bible is found at the end of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Paul’s life is almost over and he tells Timothy that “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Tim. 4:10), Demas at one time was a fellow worker with the Apostle for the gospel, but he abandoned Paul because the appeal of the world was too much to resist.

This is one more reason why we need to belong to a Christian community, so that none of us end up like Demas. We need brothers and sisters who can remind us to “not love the world or the things in the world...[because] the world is passing away along with its desires...” (1 John 2:15-17). We need other Christians to encourage us in our walk with Christ because it can get difficult and the ways of this world can seem more attractive and alluring.

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