Individual Sin, Community Redemption

by Jonathan Whitaker
Not sinning is not the opposite of sinning. Wait, what?!  If that were true, the day a new believer was baptized it would be the responsibility of the church elders to lock that individual in an anechoic chamber and remove all possible temptations to sin.  The opposite of sinning is being transformed into the loving image and character of Jesus Christ.  Transformation comes not by mere abstinence, but by the redemptive salve found in the service of others.
Paul called his sin affliction a "body of death." (Rom 7:23-24).  Paul knew what we all experience as we struggle with sin.  Sin does not just cause bad feelings, broken relationships, shame, and doubt; sin causes death.  It is no wonder Paul suggests that believers fight fire with fire.  He says in Colossians 3 we are to put our sin to death: "Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." 
The problem with sin is that it is an addiction you cannot overcome by abstinence, and it will kill you from the very first time you use it; but for believers, death has a cure. "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Col 3:3-4) God is great!  For those of you who proclaim Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, your old nature has died and your eternity is secure. 
Why then do believers go on sinning?  Is it to test how much grace Jesus is willing to dole out?  I sure hope not!  Although I'm grateful that He has grace to spare, because I keep on sinning.  Perhaps saved people keep sinning because we don't accept Jesus' redemptive gifts.  Redemptive gifts are the tools that Jesus gives to believers to transform our formerly useless sinful selves into useful workers for the kingdom. 
Jesus told us to be holy as His Father in Heaven is holy.  The only way we can hope to be Holy is if Jesus makes us holy.  One of the redemptive gifts that is available to all believers -- and it is the central ministry of Element -- is community. 
Not sinning is not the opposite of sinning. Colossians 3:12-13 says, "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive."   Paul tells us that a major avenue of redemption for sins of the flesh -- adultery, immorality, idolatry -- is not abstinence from those things, but loving service of others. 
Built into community is an opportunity to love.  It is love that transforms a believer's character.  Love replaces the old sins, which formerly brought death, with attitudes and actions of righteousness.  Community gives the believer a venue to be like Christ.  How can we be compassionate like Jesus, if there is no one in our lives on whom to bestow compassion?  How can we bear with fellow believers if we do not first fellowship with believers?  Paul tells believers to forgive one another, which is key to understanding the forgiveness by which Christ saved our souls.  If you don't live in community with other believers, you don't give them the opportunity to offend you, so who will you forgive?  
It is hard to understand the full measure of God's grace if we insulate ourselves from God's people.  Imperfect as we may be as Christ's Church, He still loves us.  We are a gift to one another.  We give each other the chance to learn and experience the love that defeats sin.  If I love my brother, I cannot slander him with my mouth, lust after his wife with my mind, or covet his possessions; love simply will not allow it. To love my brother, I must get to know him, and once I experience true brotherly love, I will have experienced Christ.
In practical terms, it is difficult to commit a sin with a brother in your presence holding you to account.  The Holy Spirit reflected in a brother in Christ has a powerful restraining effect.  If lust is the sin that plagues you, you will find it difficult to act on it in the presence of a fellow believer. 
A funny thing happens when believers gather -- they start to worship God.  In both word and deed, when believers gather, God tends to be glorified.  I think this happens because in community, we all experience true relationships and love.  Colossians 3:14-15 says, "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."
Not sinning is not the opposite of sinning.  Love is the opposite of sinning.  In God's perfect law of love He tells us to love Him with all of our heart, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  It is hard to love people if you live under a rock, and impossible to experience true redemption if you never work out your salvation through service.   

Grace For Y'all Part 2

by Jon Gee
Hello everyone, this is the other half of team Gee. I want to echo what Michelle said in her post about Redemption Group Training, that it would be intense. We knew we would be confronted by our sin and we knew we would have to be vulnerable in front of strangers, what we did not know is how profoundly we both would experience the Holy Spirit’s love, grace, and power. 
By trade I am a therapist, and on a daily basis I see people who are suffering, broken, looking for fulfillment, and trying (with varying degrees of success) to change.  As a result, I assumed what we would experience at the Immersion would be similar; I couldn’t have been more wrong. When the Holy Spirit shows up all we can ever really do is underestimate Him because there is nothing so big as the power of God. In three short days I saw miracles being worked in my life, Michelle’s life, and the lives of the men in my group.
What we learn at Redemption Training sounds like what you hear in church service on a given Sunday, but what Redemption training does is enable the understanding to penetrate into all aspects of our life. I came to understand so much better that God is truly good and He alone is necessary and sufficient for joy. I learned how to rest in His glory, trust in his sovereignty, and how to truly repent and experience the forgiveness, love, and grace of Christ.
Before this immersion I even thought I had a decent understanding of grace and repentance, but that was a lie. Intellectually I understood the blood of Christ covered my sin, but I was not living as if I believed that. After I sinned, I would dwell in my sins and attempt to atone for them myself by working or trying to spend more time with Christ. When I failed at this (and I always would), my heart would become hard and I would distance myself from God. I believed foolishly that my sin was too great for Christ to overcome, which ultimately belittled the power of the cross. 
In my group, I was given the opportunity to repent of my specific sins to Christ in front of men I hardly knew. When I did this I was surprised by how I felt. I no longer felt shame, guilt, despair, or even a skeptical attitude toward Christ’s goodness, but instead, felt a freedom, peace, and joy that I never remember having. I felt loved, and finally understood what it means to rest in God’s presence. Reflecting back on it, it seems so simple and yet I cannot articulate how truly miraculous it was; something changed in how I understand God’s love for us. I have never felt like I have had a more genuine relationship with Christ than I do today. I experienced something I want everyone to have—a true understanding that God loves us and He is more than enough.
Convinced of Christ’s love, and now having a deeper understanding of his grace, I am currently emboldened through the Spirit and actually feel passionate about sharing Christ’s love. Since I had previously not been convinced of His goodness and grace, my faith had been something that I only shared if asked about it. However, seeing firsthand the power of God in the immersion, I have been given the courage and understanding to pursue those conversations about faith with others. For example, I did this with my sister, who is currently not a believer, just yesterday, and we had an incredible conversation as a result. I now realize that the more loving act is to confront others with the truth about who God is.
As I said earlier, it is hard to articulate what exactly happened at the Redemption Immersion, but God’s love for us is real, and He is SO GOOD. It is amazing how much happened in three days, it was nothing short of a miracle (and they do still happen).
As Element prepares to begin launching its own Redemption Groups (that will be 10 weeks and not 3 days) we encourage you to trust in the goodness of God and the miraculous changes He will make in people's lives. If you are interested in hearing more, please reach out to me (Jon), Michelle (the other half of team Gee), Mike Harmon, Eric Djafroodi, or Deb Harman about our experience. 

Grace For Y'all

by Michelle Gee
Team Gee (or one half, I should say) here—at 38,000 feet. I’m writing this on our return flight to California (oh, how we’ve missed you!), after spending almost a week in Texas. Jon and I had the privilege of participating in a Redemption Group Immersion—an experience designed to train potential leaders of Redemption Groups by immersing them in the actual experience. Redemption Groups is a ministry aimed at exposing sin and suffering and placing it within the context of God’s overarching story of redemption, so that participants can understand God’s grace, freedom, and love. This particular immersion took place over the course of three days, and let me tell you, it was intense! What a week! We are exhausted and yet, revived.
Where do I even begin? We knew from the start that this would be an intense time for both of us, and that we would be confronted with the stark reality of our sin, but we can certainly say now that we truly underestimated the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace. Over just three days, we each met with a group of complete strangers and were encouraged to be completely transparent regarding the struggles, doubts, fears, and lies we have faced. It felt terrifyingly dangerous to be so exposed, but in that brokenness, we were met with the truth of God’s love and assurance. We both saw lives completely transformed, and our own eyes were opened in astonishing ways.
What did I learn specifically? I realized that the shame I’ve imposed upon myself, as a sort of self-penance, is antithetical to the Gospel. In doing so, I have idolatrously made myself a god and looked within for hope for lasting change, rather than relying on the blood of Jesus. In addition, I’ve expected people around me to wallow in their own sin, as I’ve held them to my same standard, and have therefore withheld from them the grace that God longs to show them.
I make such a horrible god!
Jesus is so, so much better than me, as He wants us all to be free of shame and guilt, as He took that upon Himself on the cross. While processing this with the women in my group, I expressed joy at this realization, but admitted a remnant of hesitation and ultimately, fear—what if I mess up again? I’m sick of disappointing God, others, and myself. One of my leaders lovingly, yet firmly, reassured me: “You get to repent and experience more grace.” Just typing this still brings me to tears. WE GET TO EXPERIENCE MORE GRACE! For too long, I have believed the lie that it is shameful for me to run to the cross again and again, yet this is the essence of the Gospel—I am not ashamed of it anymore.
It is now with unbelievable joy that I can admit my complete brokenness and the grace I have received as a result. No longer do I expect or want others to live in shame; I want them to experience God’s grace like I have. I want YOU to experience God’s grace. Through experiencing this grace, I can now love and forgive others the way Jesus calls me to.
With such a profound revelation in a single immersion experience, I can’t imagine what else could be revealed in an actual 10-week Redemption Group setting, but I am so eager to find out, and that is why we are so passionate about this ministry. Please, if any of you are interested in our experience, feel free to come talk to us.
I could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with this—something we sang repeatedly that cut straight to my core:
O, the joy of full salvation!
Sin and death defeated
Glory to His Name!