I have been in so-called accountability groups in the past. They really should call them “guilt-inducing liar clubs.” Have you done [sin X] this week? Have you kept your nose clean? Did you just lie to me? How is your relationship with your wife?”
OH … MY … GOODNESS. You’re going to bash me over the head with my marriage? This is no basis for a relationship. It never lasts long unless it morphs into a real friendship and all this is let go. Why?
Many of us hold secret shames that hold us back from true fellowship. When we know that we hold each others’ sensitive secrets in strict confidence, that we have relationships that are truly safe, we are free to speak about the things that afflict us. This does not mean that we need to be fishing for these things in our relationships either – the lust for the confessions of others is very often not from the Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit has a slower agenda than we would think for cleaning up a person’s life, and if important foundations are not laid, ugly things can happen. I had someone say that the goal of their ministry was to receive revelation about people’s sins so they could call them out in the public service. This is not the way the Spirit heals. The flavor of the pure milk of the word is kindness, and it is His kindness that leads us to repentance.
1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,
2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
(1 Peter 2:1-3, NASB).
4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
(Romans 2:4, NASB).
He deeply respects our privacy and fear and wants to restore our dignity, not call out our shame. Satan is the one who is the accuser of the brethren. I think sometimes we have to decide whose team we really want to be on. The need to tell tales, the delight in discovering someone’s wrong-doing, the wish to punish and exclude, are all ploys of Satan, not of God. When Noah got drunk and was naked in his tent (Gen 9:18-27), Ham went around telling the tale, while Shem and Japheth walked in backwards with a blanket to cover him, careful not to see his shame, but rather to cover it. They went away blessed while Ham brought a curse upon his line. We must take pains to communicate to each other and to work to cover the transgressions of others, not to seek their undoing, even if we think it is deserved. The transgression and guilt of a person is their deepest and truest fear, their number one problem. It is the one thing that keeps them from the fullness of God’s blessing, because we are all so slow to believe grace. Soldiers may be brave in the face of extreme danger of physical harm, but tremble at the revelation of their guilt. If we are operating in grace, if we believe the grace that God has toward us, we will seek to cover, not to expose.
We must come to the place where we truly believe that the purposes of God for a person, the hopes and intent of God for a person’s life, remain true despite what they may have done to disqualify them. Many churches and ministries are quick to disqualify the guilty. I am not saying we should keep actively sinning people in places of high profile ministry. I am saying that we seek to restore people in a hopeful and respectful way, that we cover their shame as much as it is possible. We should strive to make it clear that there may be a time away from ministry for a season of prayer and reflection and healing, but that the purposes of God for a person remain true and the doors to restoration remain open. Grace maintains that the gifts and callings of God remain true, despite mistakes people make, because these are the things which are truest about us. A person’s shame and guilt and error and sin are not what is truest about him or her, although such accusations are the sole power of the law. The law says, here is the standard of conduct, and you have crossed the line, under the law the accusation is the only thing we know. Grace says, justice is served on the cross, and the way is clear for you to enter the glory and freedom and beauty you were first created to fulfill.
Thus, fellowship under grace is not a matter only of stopping porn addictions or managing anger problems or whatever. It is seeing and believing that people are made for more, and pressing forward in a persistent way for the very best that God has for everyone. I am all for stopping porn addictions and alcohol and drug addictions and what-not. But this is a bad focus, like putting out a fire with gasoline. The focus must move to grace, to seeing the kingdom of God manifest in a person’s life.
When people perceive that this is the heart of a fellowship, confession and healing and restoration begin to flow, because there is not a fear of rejection but rather hope for cleansing and healing. It is of the essence that we project this gracious and hopeful persona.
12 Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions.
(Proverbs 10:12, NASB).
8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
(1 Peter 4:8, NASB).
4 Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,
5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NASB).
I have a few ideas for letting grace saturate our relationships.
- 1. Love covers a multitude of sins.
- Love sees what is right as well as what is wrong with us.
- Love sees our eternal identity as being our true identity.
- Love forgives 70 times 7.
- Love restores dignity.
- Love seeks the Spirit’s work, not the law’s scourge.
- Grace is never shocked at recurring sin.
Father, how I pray that fellowships across the world will begin to blossom with this kind of practical grace in our fellowship with each other! Give us the chance and unction to begin to see this kind of healing flow between us!