By Pastor Josh Kirk
“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. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” – Hebrews 3:12–14
It was Memorial Day weekend and we were on the lake. My aunt and uncle had a bass boat they outfitted not only for fishing but also for water-skiing and tubing. We would drive a couple hours north of our house and meet them half-way to spend a day or two swimming and skiing, picnicking and getting really bad sunburns. One of the more exhilarating activities was cliff jumping. We could boat out to a section of the lake that had some small bluffs overlooking deep water, jump off the boat, swim to shore, climb up the cliff, and perform the craziest jump we could come up with. While the kids were swimming, climbing and jumping, the adults would shut the boat off to just watch and float. It was one of these times I noticed something that is probably obvious to anyone who’s ever owned a boat but was not to me at the time: boats at rest drift. They drift a lot. The wind can be barely blowing and the waters appear still on the surface, but even with the engine off the boat still moves. The adults watching in the boat were constantly using the trolling motor to make small adjustments so they remained relatively close to us. It took work to remain still.
This is no less true of our faith through the process of sanctification. The world, the flesh, and the devil are continually at work, applying pressure on our soul. Even if we don’t think we’re moving, we can often find ourselves far from the place we wanted to be. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen how God himself sanctifies us, God’s word sanctifies us, God’s trials sanctify us, and today we see how God’s church works to sanctify us.
The author of Hebrews knows how prone we are to drift. Sin blinds us and hardens our hearts. We can find that even if we’ve been trying to walk paths of righteousness, in reality we’re headed down a very different path. We need other Christians around us to encourage us when our faith is weak, teach us when we’re ignorant, rebuke us when we’re in sin, and be there to restore us to the community. This is why God gave us the church. We’re to be about the business of speaking the word to one another, encouraging each other day after day, because we need those words in order to grow in our love for Christ, our hatred for sin, and our discipline in obedience.
In his well known book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes that inside ourselves there is nothing good. We’re all dead in our trespasses and sins.
“Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.” (22-23)
God, in his kindness, has ordained that one of the ways we lay off sin and cling to holiness is through the spoken Word of a brother or sister. We often don’t know when we’re drifting. In the midst of trial when dark clouds of suffering hang oppressively, blocking our view of Christ, or the waves seek to roll over us, we need other Christians who see clearly the path forward. We need them to speak the gospel to us, walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death, and intercede for our hearts in prayer. When the pressure starts to get turned up, our own hearts become uncertain but the hearts of our brothers are still sure.
Friends, embrace and treasure the gift of the church this week. Christian fellowship is more than just helpful and good, it’s absolutely necessary. One of the first questions I ask of people that come to our church for counseling, if they are not already members of our church, is “What church do you belong to?” Loving God’s people in the church is one of the true marks of a believer (1 Jn 3:14).
2020 has been a tough year for churches in general. Members who couldn’t attend due to government restrictions or health concerns are finding it more and more comfortable to stay at home and watch online. This is not always the wrong decision, but the fact remains that our hearts should long for the assembly of our brothers and sisters in Christ, for that is where we learn the Word together and speak it to each other.
This week, even if you can’t make it to church, find someone to speak the Word to. They need to hear it and you need to speak it. Hopefully, someone will come speak the Word to you and you can both share in the mercies of God revealed to us in Christ Jesus. We were not meant to walk the path alone. Just as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Prov 27:13).
If you are interested in learning more about the process of Sanctification, I highly recommend How Does Sanctification Work, by David Powlison. If you’d like to learn about what the community of the church looks like, check out Life Together or Compelling Community. You can also check out our previous blog posts or the audio from our last conference.