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.