Derek Webb, on the CD The House Show talks about community and the gospel as he introduces the song Nobody Loves Me. He talks about the risk that we run as we enter into community with each other…
…which we necessarily are. We are called into community together. If you divorce the people of God, the local community, from the gospel, then it ceases to be the gospel. There is no other context for your faith as a Christian than to be in community with other people. I’ve heard a lot of people say to me over the years, “It’s just me and Jesus, and that’s all I need.” Well, that’s not the gospel in Scripture. If you’re going to be those who claim to love Jesus, then you’ll be compelled, and I’ll be compelled to love the things that he loved. And he not only loved, but came and gave himself up for the church. And that makes it our concern as well.
And if that’s not hard enough, that we just live in community together, we are also called with a mandate that we preach the gospel to each other – which seems probably like a backwards idea to a lot of us. If you’ve grown up in church, you think that, “well, if we’re the church gathering, then we certainly know the gospel. We certainly don’t need to hear the gospel. That’s the last thing we need to hear, because we know that.” But that’s not true. We mistake as a Christian culture so often the gospel for only the thing we preach to non-believers in hopes that they would come down the aisles of our churches and place their faith in Jesus. Now, it certainly is that. But much more than that, the gospel must have, and necessarily has a primary place in the life of believers. We’ve got to hear it every week if not every day.
There’s a great quote by Martin Luther in the sixteenth century. He had a church that he was the pastor of and some came to him and said, “Pastor, why is it that week after week after week all you ever preach to us is the gospel?” – implying that “we’re ready to move on to something else. Certainly we know this by now.” Luther’s response was, “Well, because week after week you forget it, because week after week you walk in here looking like a people who don’t believe the gospel. And until you walk in looking like people who are truly liberated by the truth of the gospel, I’m going to continue to preach it to you.” And, until his dying day, he did.
And if we stop hearing that every single day – especially in light of the great righteousness that we might prop up as an idol from time to time – then we are never, ever going to grow. Our hearts are never going to change, our communities will never be sanctified. Because, here’s the truth, flattery at its very best will encourage nothing more in you and in your community than behavior modification – modifying your behavior to act the way you should, to hide the things you do that are wrong, and to try to amplify the things you do that are right. But, see, here’s the truth: all the behavior modification in the world will never change your hearts, and it can never change our communities. Jesus however, does change our hearts and he will change our communities. And that is why boldness is called for.
We have got to be honest. We should have no fear in being honest with each other about who we really are – not just offering up the sins that we feel safe confessing, but being completely bold, being completely forthcoming about who we really are. And saying, “You know what? I am going to stop hiding from you, and I’m going to tell you who I really am because I believe the gospel is true. I can only admit to you who I really am to you because I believe that Jesus is who he really is as well.” And you’re never going to be truly filled with joy unless you truly know yourself for who you really are. And until you are a real sinner with a real Savior, you will be a hypothetical and theoretical sinner – and therefore, with a hypothetical and theoretical savior.
If you confess, “Oh, I know I’m sinful. Scripture tells me, ‘we’ve all fallen short,’ right? And that’s me too, man. I’m sinful.” – but you can’t honestly put your finger on one sin you’ve committed all day because your view of sin has become nothing more than this cultural hiding game, then you’re not experiencing real joy. Because if all I can confess is a knowledge of how sin has affected me, but not any of my real sins – if I don’t really know that I’m sinful – then I don’t truly know, and I’m not truly encouraged by the fact that I’ve been saved. Because, saved from what? If I’m not really sinful then what’s the big deal? What’s the good news? It’s just news.
But if you know yourself as exposed by the cross, then I believe you will begin to experience true joy. Because you will not constantly be looking over your shoulder all the time – constantly checking the knots in this great suit of fig leaves that you’ve sewn for yourself. But rather, you will be comfortably exposed in your sin and boasting in your great Savior because he is real.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “If your sin is small then your Savior will be small also. But if your sin is great, then your Savior must be great.” And, folks, our Savior is great. And what does that tell us about our great sin?
This should be a great encouragement to us as we struggle to live in community with each other. As we struggle to be the bearer or recipient of hard words of truth that might actually change our hearts.