This article has also appeared on For The Church.
One of the odd wonders of human society is our relentless pursuit of independence, for autonomy. We fight and claw and scratch for the smallest sliver of liberty, believing that such liberation will finally enable us to realize our full potential. Mankind runs on the endless treadmill of “getting,” banking on that “something more.” Always he is pursuant of himself. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is our theme, and we’ve deemed this won’t be realized without our own determination and effort. Therefore, we isolate ourselves and rely on ourselves — our own grit, our own gifts, our own merits.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of autonomy.
That’s the true nature of sin, after all: it’s eternally self-focused and self-seeking. Nothing could be more accurate than how the Protestant Reformers defined sin, which was “man turned in on himself.” Indeed, as Paul Tripp notes, “the DNA of sin is selfishness. Sin inserts me into the middle of my universe, the one place reserved for God and God alone. Sin reduces my field of concern down to my wants, my needs, and my feelings. Sin really does make it all about me.”1 The sad part is that Christians have likewise determined the answer is themselves.
We’ve conjured up the idea that, “Living like Jesus is up to me, it’s on my shoulders!” We’ve given into the notion that the gospel itself isn’t enough to satisfy, that grace is too easy and too good to be true, thus we must find or fabricate our own satisfaction and our own salvation. This stems from the fact that we’re all “seasoned do-it-yourselfers.” Ever since the Garden of Eden, mankind has ever-sought to prop himself up, to loft his own goals and desires and wants to the place of highest prominence. Adam’s Fall was really an upward fall, for his sin wasn’t merely found in the disobedience of God’s command, but in his lust after having his “eyes opened,” and being made “like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gn 3:5) Adam, as our representative head, betrayed his divine mandate, committing that vile treachery that has brought such a darkness into this world as sin. And ever since, mankind’s sole motivation is self-sufficiency. All his endeavors are, in reality, self-salvation projects, wherein he determines to find for himself and get for himself what he’s already been given in Christ. Oftentimes, this quest for self-reliance encroaches into our churches, causing believers in Christ, his redeemed ones, to forsake one of the most precious gifts they’ve been given while they reside on this earth — that is, community.
It’s easy for us to become self-absorbed, or more so than we already are. It’s so easy for us to feel alone. It’s so easy for us to feel as though no one understands our plight. And, I’d contend that most, if not the majority of Christ-followers don’t realize that their walk with Jesus is a community endeavor. So much emphasis is made on “private times” and “prayer closets,” all the while forgetting or ignoring or, perhaps, neglecting to admit that the biggest threat to our Christianity already resides inside us. Jesus says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mk 7:20–23) Yes, your private relationship with Christ Jesus is crucial, but don’t neglect community for solitude.
We’re dragged toward sin more by a push within us than a pull from outside us. Which reiterates the oft-quoted truth that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. External things, like peer pressure or difficult circumstances, don’t and can’t ever make you sin — they merely reveal what’s already in us, in our inner man, the “old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” (Eph 4:22) “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” (Mk 7:15–16) With all of that darkness of sin lurking within us, how foolish and senseless are we to turn to ourselves and rely on ourselves? Are we that naive? Are we that arrogant? Are we that stubborn?
Relational and missional.
Reader, my heart for you and for all those who’ve professed allegiance to the gospel of Christ, is that their gospel-community, whatever and wherever that is, would become ever-increasingly important and vital to their spiritual health. You need others. You need people. You weren’t made to “do life” on your own. You need community. Your spiritual health is dependent upon it! “No man is an island”; you weren’t designed nor created to live alone, in isolation, in independence.
“Autonomous Christianity never works,” says Paul Tripp, “because our spiritual life was designed by God to be a community project.”2 Indeed, reliance on Jesus, and his grace, and trust in the gospel-community God designed the church to be is the sweet dependence we were made to enjoy. Where the gospel is truly grasped, relationships thrive and community is cultivated. Commit yourself, therefore, to “living in intentionally instructive, Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive community.”3 Commit your life to others, to “doing life” with those that challenge, encourage, embolden, and instruct. Be dedicated to the good news of great grace, which, when it really captures us, will always stifle the internal desires of self, and always point you to those outside of you.
The gospel is uniquely relational — it’s all about people. Thus, to separate yourself from people and attempt to survive the turmoil and travail of life on your own is to ignore the gospel altogether. Don’t forget the gospel, don’t ignore people — embrace community.
Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 98.