Loving Jesus But Not Loving His Bride?

On his final night, Jesus said All men will know you my disciples if you love one another (John 13:35). To read the New Testament is to read documents that are filled with commands and assumptions that cannot be lived out except in community.

And yet, now comes a study that tells us that numerous Christians love Jesus but don’t like the church. 

While certainly the bride of Christ is not as beautiful as she will be and the body of Christ does not reflect the beauty of its head, to claim to love Jesus and not love his bride is self-deception. Any person who invites me to a party cannot tell me to leave my wife at home. We come together or not at all.

I am convinced that most Christians do not understand the role of the local church in their growth and change.

Sin Demands a Man By Himself

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community.

In this post, we will look at nine ways God has designed the church to help in my growth and sanctification that I may not even realize. They are just naturally part of a healthy church.

1. The people of God reveal our need to change and our blind spots.

Sin has a deceitful effect. We can be deceived about ourselves. Paul Tripp has said, “My view of myself is about as accurate as a fun house mirror.”

In addition, we can be deceived in our views of God. Tim Keller has used the illustration of the movie The Stepford Wives. The men in this fictional horror movie mentally changed their wives so that they would not talk back to their husbands. From Keller’s point of view, we can do this with God. We don’t want him offending us. So we mold him into our image. But in a church we are confronted with teaching about God.

Others challenge us on our blind spots. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) This week I met with a  a man and urged him to grow in thanksgiving. At the end, he said, “Before today I would have thought of myself as a thankful person.”

In addition, selfishness stay pretty hidden until we have conflict. In the church, we are rubbing shoulders with a bunch of imperfect people that we are called to love. Sin will come out. And when it does Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). That selfishness was there all the time – just hidden.

How would you live differently if you realized that sin is deceitful and you need these people to help you understand your blindspots? Without the church, by definition you will continue to be blind to your blindspots.

2. The people of God spur us on and provoke us to change.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:12-13

Notice the purpose of gathering together – To stir one another up. Do we realize and tell each other that the reason we come is to be stirred up, to be provoked to change? Sin is deceitful. I need you and you need me. Without that stirring, sin deceives us and the fire for the Lord goes out. We become a lukewarm drink that the Lord detests.

How would you live differently if you realized you needed a prod to live the Christian life? Without the church you will not be stirred to change.

3. The people of God should inspire us to change and model how to change.

The way we learn is by models and examples. You can see this in the words of Paul where he says, Join together in following my example (Phil 3:17),  Whatever you learned, heard, received from me put it into practice (Phil 4:9) and Follow me as I follow Christ (1 Cor 11:1)

This principle is repeated throughout the Bible. A leader’s example is the first and greatest teacher. When Jesus called his disciples, he called them first to spend time with him (Mark 3:14). During this time, they would be observing his life. Later, he would send them out to imitate his ministry.

Paul said to Timothy – Don’t let anyone look down upon you but set an example. 1 Timothy 4:12. Elders are given as an example, an older brother to the flock 1 Peter 5:3. We are told Remember your leaders, imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7

You are modeling your life after others. Are they godly men and women? Be intentionally teachable. You will not change as much as the Lord wants you without consciously modeling and imitating people. Ask specific questions of the people in your church. “How do you read your Bible? How do you keep a prayer list?”

Who are you consciously imitating at your church? Without the church you will be tempted to imitate others.

4. The people of God instruct us how to change.

Ephesians 4:12 tells us that God gave pastors and teacher “to prepare God’s peoples for works of service.” The word for prepare is the idea of mending a net or setting broken bone. Elders, we are told, must be able to teach. Why? Because change starts with the mind. God said, “My people perish from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). We are transformed by the truth we take in. And that source of truth, the Bible.  The Bible says about itself, “All Scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching rebuking correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Sin happens because we are believing lies. Jesus said, If you abide in my word then you are truly disciples of mine and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-34). We change as we examine the lies we are believing and replace them with God’s truth. And that happens effectively through teachers and preachers. These individuals are gifts from God to us.

How would you live differently if you realized that you needed teachers to unmask the lies  and teach you truth? Without the church you will remain uninstructed as to the vital things of God.

5. The people of God counsel us in how to change.

Counsel is different than teaching. Counsel is taking these truths and applying them to our unique situation to help us especially when we are dealing with sin or a confusing time. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Galatians 6:1

The whole church is to be involved in counseling, not just the professionals. I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct/counsel one another. Romans 15:14

Larry Crabb, a well known psychologist and author has said in essence, “90% of what I do happens in a good small group.”

Have you ever thought of the church has the best place to get “counseling.” Certainly there may be help from others who are paid. But in the church community, people are seeing you. They are observing patterns in how you react and treat others. Or the same excuses you give time after time.When a person goes to see a counselor, the counselor only has the information that the counselee gives him. That’s absurd! To observe us in community is very helpful.

When is the last time you asked counsel of someone in the church? Without the church you do not have the good counsel that just happens through natural conversations or through pastoral wisdom.

6. The people of God help us change by being a safe place to confess our sin and pray for one another.

In James 5, God commands us, Confess your sins and pray for one another.

Confession helps us change. Confession indicates we want to walk in the light more than we want respect. Sometimes the first step to changing is to humble ourself and confess our sin.

We all need safe people that we an confess our sin to and to pray for us. By definition, you need a second person to confess sin to. You need the church.

When is the last time you confessed sin or secret sin to someone? When is the last time you asked someone to pray for you? Without the church, you lose the privilege of confessing to another human being.

7. The people of God give us accountability to change.

In Matthew 18, Jesus calls us to confront one another. And if we don’t change eventually the whole church will judge us as not walking with the Lord. We need this accountability. The elders of a church were charged to watch over yourselves and the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers  (Acts 20:28). Throughout Scripture we are told to admonish one another. The word admonish means to warn. Sometimes we don’t change until we have been warned. Being warned about a danger is a privilege!

When is the last time you confessed sin or secret sin to someone? When is the last time you asked someone to pray for you? Without the church, you lose the privilege of confessing to another human being.

8. The people of God help us change by calling us to serve.

Augustine said that sin causes us to naturally curve in on ourselves.

The people of God call us out of that self-centeredness. The church calls us to love God to serve him and in the church we are challenged to serve one another and the world by serving them. And true love happens when it is inconvenient. Do-good volunteering at our convenience is not deep love.  We don’t really have to sacrifice.

Paul says, “Let us do good to everyone starting with the household of faith” in Galatians 6. In Judges 2 and 3, we see that God had left challenges in the land so that the nation of Israel would fight for him and in the process come to know him more deeply. Self-sacrificial love for others and the Lord, deepens our walk with him and proves we are really his disciples.

When is the last time you sacrificially served someone else? Is it a regular habit? Without the church, you lose the challenge and continue curving in on yourself.

9. The people of God help us change by providing offenses that we must forgive.

This may sound strange. God says,  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29) Jesus placed forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer as a daily need (Matthew 6:12).

But we cannot learn to forgive unless we are in community with others. Forgiveness implies community.

Jean Vanier’s quote on community applies to our families as well:

Too many people come into community to find something, to belong to a dynamic group, to find a life which approaches the ideal. If we come into community without knowing that the reason we come is to discover the mystery of forgiveness, we will soon be disappointed.

There is no need to forgive unless we are in community.

Had you thought of the offenses of community as a privilege given by God to learn forgiveness? Who was the last person you had to forgive? Without church, you are severely hampered learning the grace of forgiveness.

Conclusion

Obeying God and being active in and committed to a healthy, gospel-preaching church will change you for the better. There are at least nine things you gain in your growth in Christlikeness.

Part of discipling our children includes casting a vision for the beauty of the bride of Christ. To be called one of his disciples, we have a duty to love her and to pass on that love to our children. In addition, we need to proactively oppose this self-deception that one can love Christ without loving his bride.

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Purchase The Disciple-Making Parent: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Love Jesus Christ to learn more about discipling your children.

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