So, I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (New International Version)
What breeds ignorance and immorality amongst people?
I’m sure if you asked that question to a dozen people you might get a dozen different responses.
According to the Apostle Paul, it comes from a disconnection from truth. And biblically, since the very character of God is truth, then ignorance and a closed heart also result from estrangement from God.
The Christian tradition informs us that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Life together is to be shaped around the person and work of Christ. Since Christians share a common confession of Jesus, we are to share a common life together. That life is to revolve around the truth of Jesus.
That means we will put off non-Christian ways of relating to each other and put on a Christian way of relating to each other.
We will, then, speak truthfully and live honestly, because we belong to each other – we are responsible for one another.
Just as Jesus so closely identified with us in his life, death, and resurrection, so we are to so closely identify with each other that we take responsibility for each other and hold one another accountable. My problems are your problems – your issues are my issues. This is a stance of connection, not division.
Believers are firmly moored to Christ and to Christian community. With the enablement of the Holy Spirit, they are able to forsake the old life with its unhealthy routines of living and embrace a new life with good healthy habits of daily life.
Some people continually struggle to overcome bad habits. In part, it’s because they are living a half-truth life. They might be connected to Jesus as Truth yet remain stubbornly independent. Such persons remain disconnected from Christ’s Church.
One never realizes sustainable holiness over a lifetime apart from Christian community. In other words, real and lasting change comes from both the truth of Christ and the truth of Christ’s Church.
“No one can have God as his father who does not have the Church as his mother,” said both St. Augustine and St. Cyprian.
The magisterial Reformer, John Calvin, upheld the ancient teaching of the Church:
“The Church is our mother, inasmuch as God has committed to her the kind office of bringing us up in the faith. This method of education is not to be despised…. She has the milk and the food by which she continually nourishes her offspring. This is why the Church is called the mother of believers. And certainly, the one who refuses to be a child of the Church desires in vain to have God as Father.”John Calvin
This is a consistent understanding throughout Christian history. That’s because the ancient church fathers (and mothers!) knew people are hard-wired for community. What’s more, truth is located not only in the Head of Christ but also in the Body of Christ. Decapitating head from body is to sever the truth in half. Head and Body, Christ and Church, have always been meant to go together as one.
To know the truth intellectually and cerebrally is only half of personal transformation. There also must be a bodily living of the truth – and to do that takes the Body of Christ. Life in Christ is life together as Christians.
Just as it was not our choice to be born into our biological family, so we are born again into a spiritual family, the Church. And just as that crazy uncle, obnoxious cousin, bossy big sister, and the entire family system can be difficult in our biological family, so it is the same in our spiritual family.
We might choose to be estranged from Church, but this in no way diminishes the truth that we need a faith family and a spiritual community.
I very much understand that both biological family and spiritual family can be (and are) toxic for many people. I am not suggesting we passively remain in abusive relationships. What I am saying is that doing away with community altogether is an awfully bad idea.
As much as I, in the past, have wished to run away and live alone in the woods with only bears and raccoons as my friends, I didn’t do it, mainly because I knew better. I knew I needed a supportive community of redeemed people if I was every going to truly honor God and experience becoming holy as God is holy.
If we want to participate in the life of God, it comes with community.
It is, therefore, necessary to hold one another accountable, as well as help each other to be truly holy.
We need to embrace the teachings of the New Testament toward one another:
- Love one another (John 13:34)
- Be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
- Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13)
- Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
A lack of self-awareness, empathy, and understanding comes from being disconnected from community. Yet, when we embrace the truth of Christ and Christ’s Church, we aren’t fooled by evil, and we discover the strength of life together in the Spirit.
So, like a new set of clothes, take off the old tattered ones and put on the mind of Christ.
Grant, almighty God, that all who confess your Name may be united in your truth, live together in your love, and reveal your glory in the world. Guide the people of all nations in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good. And guide us to live together as countercultural models of goodness and reconciliation, in our neighborhoods and beyond, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.