When We’re Shocked—Shocked!—To Find Sinners at Church

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I have made no secret of how impactful—yes I know that’s not a word—Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together has been in my life. I have read it a few times over the last several years, but the first time I read it was in the context of a men’s small group in my church where I was still hiding my sin, my pain, my shame, my brokenness and trying my best to maintain the illusion that I had it all together. I fooled everybody in that group. Which means I was a bigger failure than I had even feared.

Life Together painfully but helpfully served to dislodge my self-sufficiency and challenge my fear of being really, truly known. Below is one part that especially did me in:

He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. “My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23.26). God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! This message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that; He loves the sinner but He hates sin . . .

I know the reasons we don’t live transparently with each other. We’re afraid. We’re embarrassed. We don’t want to be a burden. We don’t want to be judged!

And I know the reasons others don’t live transparently with us. They’re afraid. They’re embarrassed. We treat them like burdens. We judge them.

And what all of this amounts to is a distrust in God himself. I know people are mean, I know people are judgmental, I know people act weird and get messy and cause problems and are really inefficient for the ways we normally like to do church—but if we believe in the gospel, we don’t have a choice any longer to live in the dark.

How about we stop being shocked to find sinners among the “pious” and start shocking the fearful with grace?

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
— 1 John 1:7

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