Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change
Three excerpts at a time from the new book by Brian G. Hedges

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Excerpt 21 of 22

At various points in this book we have discussed how, on the individual level, sins such as pride, selfishness, and fear incline us to isolate ourselves from one another spiritually and psychologically. In this closing chapter I want to look at obstacles to community on the cultural level.

Every culture and every age has its unique challenges to community. Let’s briefly consider four of the most common phenomena in modern Western society that work against biblical community. These are individualism, compartmentalization, busyness, and misleading expectations.

1. Individualism...

2. Compartmentalization...

3. Busyness...

4. Misleading Expectations

Have you ever imagined what the ideal church would look like? We would all love to take the best people and the best moments of our Christian experience (isolated, of course, from all the other moments and all those other people) and bring them together in one warm and loving place…where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.

Of course, that’s nothing but fantasy. The ideal church doesn’t exist. How could it? We don’t live in an ideal world, and there are no ideal people. We live in the real world, where real people are sinners and relationships are inherently messy and difficult.

The reason relationships are so difficult is because none of us are yet fully conformed to the image of Jesus. Sin remains within us. The process of change has only begun. Though we are saved by grace, the church on this side of glory is still a society of sinners. The failure to realize this sets us up for huge disappointments. If you are easily disillusioned with the church, perhaps you have lost sight of this. But that reality check, even if we have to go through it again and again, is vital to both our own spiritual maturity and the growth of others. If God is going to use us in one another’s lives, we must be part of the church that truly exists, not the church we wish would exist. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams . . . Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.[vi]

So, no one in your church is perfect. But they are “instruments in the Redeemer’s hands – people in need of change helping people in need of change.”[vii] They can help you, and you can help them. After all, spiritual transformation is inescapably a community project, a shared task. We need each other. God planned it that way.

[vi] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community (San Francisco, CA.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954) 26-27. Similarly, Jean Vanier wrote, “There is no ideal community. Community is made up of people with all their richness, but also with their weakness and poverty, of people who accept and forgive each other, who are vulnerable with each other. Humility and trust are more at the foundation of community than perfection” (Quoted in Ortberg, 48).
[vii] Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002).