I think that one of the places where the 21st century church is most broken is in the area of accountability. I don’t know if I’ve ever, in all the years of Christian school and Bible college and wonderful church families, been a part of a situation where healthy confession of sin and accountability was the norm.
I expect most of us have been in some kind of Christian environment where we were judged (or saw others being judged) so harshly for sin, where gossip and condemnation were the normal responses to confession or getting caught, that we have internalized the lesson that believers are not safe people to share our sin-burdens with. And I expect that most of us who have been part of the church for a long time have been guilty on multiple occasions of gossip, of judgment, of uncomfortable chair-shifting and subject-changing and murmurs of you don’t need to air all your dirty laundry here.
The problem is that there is nothing shameful about struggling with sin. The shame is found in the dark and secret places, in the giving in, in the fear of being caught, in the fear of being known. The shame is found in my heart when I feel like nobody else could understand, that I will be judged, that this must stay a secret no matter what. A secret struggle will most often end in defeat, because God created us to need each other.
I have written here before about my desperate struggle with food and eating. I will tell you that the thing that finally helped me find consistent victory– where the little stumbles did not turn into all-out defeats– was accountability. It started with my sister, then as God worked in my life I was able to open up to some of the ladies in my church, and then I wrote about it here in my blog. Each step in opening up more completely has led to greater victory, because I know that people who love me are praying for me and are going to ask how I’m doing.
Don’t get me wrong. There have been many times when writing in this blog and putting things out in the light for everyone to see has felt like public nakedness. There have been times when I have hit “publish” with my heart pounding and a sick feeling in my stomach. But openness has been such a powerful thing in my life as I fight the sin that so easily takes over. And I have learned that I don’t need to protect my fragile heart– that being clothed in the righteousness of Christ and the full armor of God is protective covering enough, far more powerful than keeping everything locked tight and shut away.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you go post about last night’s knock-down-drag-out family fight on Facebook. I’m not even suggesting you start a blog. What I’m suggesting is that we, as the body of Christ, seek to truly be part of one another’s lives. I’m suggesting that when you are facing a sin that seems to just keep getting control, it’s time to invite someone else into that secret space and ask for prayer and accountability. I’m suggesting that you pray today and ask God to show you a trustworthy person or group of people who will walk with you through your battles and encourage you and pray for you.
And, perhapseven more importantly, I’m suggesting that all of us seek to be that trustworthy person in someone’s life, that we repent of our judgmental attitudes and our personal discomfort when someone confesses a sin struggle. I’m suggesting that we ask God to open our eyes and remind us of exactly who we were before Christ saved us, that we stop and take a good look at the Cross and the price required for our own salvation, that we seek to respond to the sin of others with the same mercy and compassion that Christ did. I’m suggesting that we seek to make the body of Christ just that– a body that is knit together and that supports its weaker members and does what is needed to strengthen and uphold them.
This past spring I sprained my ankle, and for a week I was on crutches. As I limped and hobbled around my life, the other parts of my body had to be stronger than normal to bear the burden of my injury. My hands carried my weight on the crutches. My uninjured foot worked extra hard. The muscles in my back and my shoulders strained, and my core muscles tightened to help me maintain my balance. This is what a body does. It can’t help it. It works together to support the weaker parts, because if it doesn’t, it falls. And in the end, my ankle healed and was again able to do its work.
Friends, this is how we are supposed to be as the body of Christ. My ankle couldn’t keep the pain a secret from the body– every part of me was affected by it. Its weakness was well-known throughout every fiber of my being as I fought with the crutches and the ice packs and the pain. If I had ignored it, or if my other parts had failed to come alongside and share the extra burden for awhile, I could have seriously injured myself trying to walk normally on that weak and bruised ankle.
We are not meant to keep our pain and our bruises and our weaknesses to ourselves. We are not meant to struggle on alone, and we are certainly not meant to ignore the needs and hurts of other members of this Body of Christ.
Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Oh friends, let us love one another with this kind of strengthening and building love. Let us grow up, supporting each other, binding our hearts to our good Savior and to one another as we speak truth and pray for each other.
But God has so composed the body . . . that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ.