Walking the Line of Obedience and Mercy

Sometimes I have so many thoughts and questions rolling around in my head it’s hard to form a coherent conversation. Like the kind of jumbled mess that would need to be laid out on a table and sifted through before the conversation could ever have a hope of beginning.

But I haven’t figured out how to empty the contents of my brain and sort them out in a logical manner yet. So I’m left with a jumbled mess of thoughts and a burning desire to share them with someone. And this. This is one of those times.
A million different thoughts going in a thousand different directions.

Church. The one God set up. The one that identifies as the bride of Christ, of which He is the chief cornerstone. What does it look like?
What is it suppose to look like?
What did God intend for it to look like?
Because sometimes, I’m afraid it looks nothing like the churches we have today.
Maybe it looks like it in the form of organization, or leadership, but what about the people? Their attitudes towards others? Their efforts and actions? Are we fulfilling what God has called us to, or have we created an environment far from what God intended His church to look like?

You might be wondering where I’m going with this, but just stay with me.

Are our churches composed of members who love each other deeply and forgive without hesitation? Or do we see more of people who have to sit on opposite sides of the building because they can’t stand to be near each other? Do we gossip about other members and constantly degrade them? Comments like “Did you see her Instagram post last night? Her outfit was so inappropriate!” or “Look at him acting like he’s such a good Christian. I just wish people knew what he was really like.” Or “Ugh they are ALWAYS late! It’s shameful they can’t get here on time for once.” should have no place among God’s people. How can we expect to win people for Christ through our demonstration of love if we can’t even love the people who have already been won?

It’s disheartening and discouraging to see congregations of God’s people who can’t get along. Who spend more time tearing people down for their mistakes than they do encouraging them on their walk with Christ. Maybe that person has gone forward every week for 2 months, but guess what? That means they’re trying. They have a desire to follow God, and they’re asking for help. They’re being vulnerable and transparent. And it’s shameful when the very people who were instructed to love that person the most, make harsh judgements about whether they’re really trying to live better or if it’s just for show. That judgement is made by God. Our only responsibility is to love them. To forgive them. To encourage them. And the last thing that person needs is for people all over the church whispering about their potential motives.

And when it comes to being transparent about things we’re struggling with and temptations we’re facing, why is it that transparency is almost non-existent in our churches? Maybe it’s cliche to say, but it is so true that the church was designed to be a “hospital for the broken, not a museum for the saints.” Because we’re human, We aren’t perfect. We all have dirty laundry and skeletons in our closet, but it has become almost taboo to talk about it. I’m afraid if non-Christians went in to most of our churches, they would see people who seemed to have their life together. People in polished attire, singing the right notes, listening politely to the speaker, and then promptly leaving after the closing prayer all with a plastered, suburban smile on our face. Putting up the facade that we’re okay. That we aren’t struggling with depression, or loneliness, or worthlessness, or body-image, or addiction, or a million other things that are wrecking people’s lives everyday. We put up a front and pretend like our lives aren’t a mess. Like we aren’t fighting with temptations everyday. Like we don’t need any help.

And maybe that’s one of the Devil’s newest tactics. Convincing God’s people that we don’t need each other’s help. That we don’t need to be vulnerable and transparent with our brothers and sisters. That no one needs to know we’re struggling until it gets to the point where we can no longer handle it ourselves.

But that’s a lie. And I have a feeling it is a pretty widespread lie. The Devil is smart, and he’s strategic. Just think about how much harder it is to take out a whole army than it is to take down one soldier. Don’t you think there’s a reason that God designed the church with a community focus?

A community that is meant to share in sorrow and in joy. A community that is invested in its members and their well-being. But how can a community of people invest in each other when we aren’t open about our lives? When we don’t share our struggles? More importantly, how did we get to this spot? How did we get to a church full of members who act as if they’re unaware that it’s okay to not be okay?

After discussions with friends and mentors, I have a proposed source of this guarded persona we all boast. Perhaps having churches full of non-transparent people stems from our lack of mercy, grace, and long suffering that we exhibit towards each other and ourselves. Because maybe we know in our heads that God forgives. That He extends mercy and grace abundantly. But that head knowledge hasn’t convicted our hearts. When we mess up, we don’t want other people to know about it. Because somewhere along the line, we’ve convinced ourselves that being a “good Christian” means having our lives together. “Good Christians” don’t struggle with drugs or alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, lust, or lying. Because “good Christians” are so connected with God, they don’t struggle with the “big sins” anymore. Somehow, we have this idea that those who are struggling with those things just aren’t praying hard enough, or seeking God hard enough, or even trying hard enough.  And that God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness is only extended to those Christians who are “trying hard enough.” So as a whole, I fear we have taken it upon ourselves to make those judgement calls on who deserves forgiveness and who doesn’t. We would never verbally admit that, of course, but how many times have we labeled someone a “lost cause” or a “waste of time.” How many times have we stopped inviting them to youth group or church activities? Or distanced ourselves because it might hurt our image?

And maybe we’ve seen that judgement exhibited by others, or even ourselves, and we’re scared of what people would say or think if they knew that we were that person struggling with those big sins. Maybe they would distance themselves from us, or we would lose our influence, or we would be gossiped about. So, as a result, we convince ourselves and everyone around us that we’re fine. We aren’t struggling with sins. We aren’t struggling with temptation. And we certainly don’t need your help.

But friends, that’s a lie. That is such a lie.

IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY. It’s more than okay, actually, It’s normal. Do you hear me? IT IS NORMAL.

That’s why having a community of brothers and sisters to lift us up, encourage us, and help us along is so important. And we miss out on so many things when we don’t take advantage of the help all around us.

Paul wrote to the church at Colosee about this very issue. About encouraging, supporting, and extending grace and forgiveness to each other.

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender MERCIES, KINDNESS, HUMILITY, MEEKNESS, LONGSUFFERING; BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER, AND FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as CHRIST FORGAVE YOU, SO YOU ALSO MUST DO. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” – Colossians 3:12-15
Wow. Talk about a heavy dose of reality. Did you see all of those things Paul charged the church to put on? Tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, forgiveness, love. And what comes from exhibiting those things? The peace of God, unity, and thankfulness.

Are you in need of peace or a heart full of thankfulness? I think most of us are. In a world where we are bombarded with negative news stories and continuous threats to our safety, how badly could you use the peace of God overwhelming your heart? How awesome would it be to experience that kind of peace regardless of what was going in our lives?

Friends, that’s why I feel it is so vital to recover the church that God designed. A church full of members who are transparent with each other.

Everybody needs someone they can confide in. Someone they trust enough to go to and express everything they’re struggling with. Why would we not want that “person” to be a church filled with believers knocking down Heaven’s doors with requests designed for us by name. In those seasons of life where it seems we are the Devil’s only target, we need that community of believers that we can go to for strength without fear of judgement. And we need to be those people for each other.

We need to be a place where someone could come in off the streets and feel our love for them before feeling judgement. A place where they could come in and feel welcomed because they see that each of us are just as broken as they are. Maybe not in the same way, but we all have messy lives. We all have wounds that are healing and scars from previous hurts. We are all broken individuals trying to help put each other back together.

How awesome would that be if strangers came flocking to our churches because they saw it was a place that real people were receiving real help.

Instead of walking into a building full of people who were unrelatable due to their appearance of having no problems, they walked into a community ready to love and support each other. A community where they felt they could fit in.

We are all on the same team. Fighting the same enemy. And aiming for the same goal. So why do we distance ourselves, tear each other down, and point out everything wrong? Successful teams are ones that can work together. Ones that have open lines of communication and help each other up when they fall. A team will have an easy victory if their opponent is working against themselves.

The devil will have an easy victory if we’re already doing the work for him. Did you catch that? In the grand scheme of things, we can choose to work on God’s team or on the Devil’s. Not both or neither. With every action, you are choosing a team to help and a team to hurt. We need to stop helping Satan’s team by tearing each other down, and start helping God’s team by building each other up.

But extending mercy and forgiveness ins’t the end of the story. Some people like the stop there, but that’s not the whole story.

It would be easy if that was the end of the job, but our charge as Christians doesn’t stop there. And this is where I feel like it seems we begin to walk a tight rope.

There’s no doubt we are called to extend mercy, forgiveness, and longsuffering to each other. I’m sure I have harped on that idea enough. But we are also called to obedience.

When we make the decision to give our lives to Christ, we are agreeing to follow Him. And to go back to the sport’s metaphor, when we sign up for a team, we agree to play by their rules. And I’m aware that saying Christians have “rules” is a taboo thing, but in reality, we do have a set of expectations laid out for us.

You see, simply professing to be a Christian isn’t enough. And while we know we will never be perfect, we are called to strive for that perfection.

Before Paul adressed the church at Colosee about bearing with each other and forgiving one another, he reminds them of what being a Christian entails. Bear with me, this is a long one.

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God…Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to PUT OFF ALL THESE: ANGER, WRATH, MALICE, BLASPHEMY, FILTHY LANGUAGE OUT OF YOUR MOUTH. Do not lie to one another, since you have PUT OFF THE OLD MAN WITH HIS DEEDS, AND HAVE PUT ON THE NEW MAN who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” -Colossians 3:1-10
Paul reminded the Christians of their responsibility to put to death the ways of their old man. They were reminded that being a Christian meant living a life for Christ, forsaking their fleshly desires, and pursuing after Him.

And this is where I feel like the areas get grey.

Focusing on all the things our brethren are doing wrong or should be doing better leads to a community of people prone to hide those struggles so they don’t get “called out”, which is obviously not a productive environment. But focusing only on grace and mercy has led some to an idea that actions are irrelevant and thus, Christians can live however they please. This idea is a blatant disregard for the teachings of Jesus and passages like Matthew 7:19-20 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

So while it’s important to extend mercy, it’s equally important to address the fact that we are called to obedience. And while we know we cannot obey perfectly at all times, it is still our duty to strive for that obedience in all aspects of our lives. This is why having a community of believers praying, encouraging, and helping each other in this task is so vital.

To revisit the war analogy, it’s easier to defeat an enemy when you have an army fighting together, not a soldier fighting alone.

Can we agree to search for that delicate balance of calling each other to obedience, but being patient with each other’s failures? To extend mercy without making light of the importance of putting to death the old man? I think finding this balance is vital to being the church God intended.

If you made it to the end, congratulations! No really, this post was ridiculously long and I apologize for that. But you rock for sticking with me to the end!

Have any thoughts on all of this jumbled mess I’ve shared? I would love to hear what you think about this balance of mercy and obedience, or how we, as Christians, could better live out our mission. Good or bad, share with me what you think!

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