I've just spent some time with some readers of the blog, and am writing this from the annex at Andy's house, after a curry with Phil & Linda. It's been a bit of a long day, including over 4 hours on the train. Some of that I was spent reading Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, some listening to Scouting for Girls, Snow Patrol and the Newfrontiers 'Amazing God' album on the iPod... and some spent working on a couple of talks, one for Grace Church and the other for Plymouth CU. Here's a little of the current draft of the latter which is all about being human in relationship with other Christians, which is why I mention the above people with thanksgiving... they've asked me how I find the time to blog in such quantity. One of the answers is that I sometimes 'copy and paste' from the work I've been doing...
What does it mean to be human?
We live in the age of the individual but being human is fundamentally about being community. People defined not by what I do but to whom I’m related. You’ve seen already in Galatians that your key identity is SON OF GOD. Son of God the Father, in Christ. The kind of real Christianity that Paul is defending in Galatians is about living in community. And you can tell from the kind of community life you have whether you’re living in Christian community or Slavish community, legalist community, law-community, sin-community.
It’s been said that the church is the greatest place on earth, and yet also – the experience of church is hard. What kind of community will you be? There are two kinds of community –
a) The Community of the Rule-keepers, which is really no community at all
b) The Community of the Spirit which is real humanity.
We’re going to walk through Galatians 6 by asking three questions which will test the heart of the community you’re a part of, and cast a vision for the kind of community God made you to enjoy.
1. What happens when someone sins in the community?
2. How then are community members to live?
3. What is the greatest passion of the community?
Q1 What happens when someone sins in the community?
Think about stories of sin that you here. Scandal! Church leader falls into sin. Drunk Bishop falls out of his car. In the community of rules it is a scandal when someone steps out of line. How awful! How outrageous! We’re shocked. And then it develops. Either the sin is then denied, so there is a pretence to say that it didn’t really happen. Or the members of the community start to bite and devour one another. So the sin becomes the kind of opportunity described in 5v15 and 5v26 where Paul warned against devouring one another. The ‘sinner’ becomes an opportunity to play comparison games, to elevate ourselves as more righteous and holy than them. Sin is initially bad because it upsets the apple-cart. It ruins the pretence that everything is wonderful. And then sin is good because it allows me to elevate myself over others. That’s what happens in the community of rules. Is that your CU, is that your church?
The Community of the Spirit that we meet in Galatians 6v1-5 is different. Sin does happen – v1, “if anyone is caught in any transgression”. – It’s happens. But what happens when this happens? “You who are spiritual should restore him”. Sin is an opportunity to restore. Restore? Because sin is paid for. It is covered! And so it can be confessed and repented-of. The one who sins can repent and be restored to life. In the community of the Spirit, the family of grace – sin is not the end of the road. That was Peter’s big question in chapter 2 – What if I sin? And God’s answer to the question is repent, come back to full life in the community. The blood of Jesus is enough for that. And there is help to repent. Help from, v1: You who are spiritual. By which I think he means those who are in step with the Spirit or in step with the gospel. Those whose lives are marked by the joy of salvation, by living in freedom are able to offer restoration.
Secondly, when someone sins there is responsibility. Responsibility for the community, v2, bearing one another’s burdens, but also for ourselves, v5. Community isn’t them – it’s us. This sees off the obvious abuse of a restoration culture, where if you’re responsible for me I might not take responsibility for myself. We’re to watch ourselves and one another.
Sin is no longer fatal to the community but restoration is possible. The event of sin in the community is hard and painful. But in the darkest moments of sin "the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of true fellowship" (Bonhoeffer). Because, when sin happens and we gather together at the cross of Jesus and find that he has already secured our right standing with God we find at last that what creates this community is the gospel. [See also: Riff on friendship at the foot of the cross 'what I need is the Cross and friends who love the Cross']. Sin that has happened is an opportunity to return to the grace of God. But, then someone might say – so let’s sin so that we can have more grace...
Also: Cross-Centred Community: Galatians 6, from 2005