“Abhor what is evil.” A gospel-centered community acknowledges the presence of sin and welcomes the confession of sin. But a truly gospel-centered community never reduces the severity of sin. To “abhor” describes the way a believer should react to sin. The word means to “shiver in horror,” the way your body reacts to an unexpectedly freezing cold shower. Believers are to shudder at things that go against God’s revealed purposes, things that harm both ourselves and others.
Yes, gospel-centered community creates a safe environments for people to be honest about where they are, but always with one notable caveat—without excusing their sin. Sadly, a tendency exists among Christians to seek authentic environments for the sake of relishing in authenticity. These people get up after a small group meeting or some other accountability structure, slapping each other on the back for their ability to be open and honest about their sin. Yet they never take active steps together in order to combat that sin. True Jesus-centered authenticity lovingly nudges believers toward continual repentance—not just a bunch of “nobody’s perfect” confessions but actual, gospel-driven changes in lifestyle.
The apostle Paul challenged the Roman believers: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1–2 esv). What he was evidently addressing was a perceived theological loophole some Roman Christians had found that allowed them to live in whatever fashion they wanted—and not only feel OK with it, but feel like they were doing God a big favor. They figured, “If God is going to love and forgive me regardless, then why not do whatever I want so that His grace is made even more obvious by loving me despite how wicked I am?” No way, Paul said, was this the right response to God’s incredible grace. When God saves us, our attitude toward sin changes. Sin doesn’t become easier to commit; it becomes more despicable to us than ever.
Both personal and communal responsibility is involved in helping us “abhor” sin. Because we are often blind to the areas of our lives that are in the most desperate need of repentance, we need others to encourage us so we will not be hardened by sin’s deceit. Because we are masters of self-deception, we often don’t even realize these areas of our lives exist. Yet the Lord is gracious to give us the gift of each other— brothers and sisters around us who are willing to engage us and say, “I think this is more of an issue than you realize.”
Abhorring what is evil in the context of community requires true love—love that dares to inflict “the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6 ESV). The weakest, saddest, most hypocritical form of pseudo love is the kind that sees someone in danger and simply hopes everything works out in the end. Is it judgmental, ruthless, or wicked to correct your children when they’re doing things that are dangerous for them? Normal parents would never watch their kids play in the street and just hope they don’t get hurt: “I know it’s dangerous, but look how happy they are. They seem to be having so much fun.” Our ferocious commitment to their safety and success, along with a heart full of genuine love, drives us to endure the often unhappy experience of disciplining our children. In the same way, gospel-formed believers take responsibility for confronting those who claim to be Christ-followers and yet continue to sin.
Church leaders must strive to create environments that are “safe but not soft,” environments that embrace people in their brokenness while guiding them to wholeness in Christ. Gospel-centered community exists with the grace-filled tension of receiving sinners while simultaneously making war on sin.
Furthermore, church leaders must live in community themselves. If possible, staff and spouses should be active participants in one or more groups and fellowships, since they have the same needs to grow and be accountable as others. It’s inconsistent and spiritually dangerous for leaders to be pushing and preaching spiritual growth yet not be growing themselves. A leader who is not in community is the epitome of spiritual elitism, living as if he’s above the need for encouragement and correction.
One additional way to “abhor” sin in community comes through the biblical practice of church discipline. Most people find even the phrase “church discipline” to be cringe-worthy. They think of church leaders walking around like the Gestapo, constantly snooping into people’s business, looking to record any mistake. But the heart of church discipline is an expression of God’s kindness, not His wrath. It’s divinely designed to teach people how to live, not to “kick people out of our church because they’re making us look bad.” Having clear expectations for membership in the community of faith, as well as guidelines and steps for church discipline, is a way to communicate God’s design for holiness within community. Church discipline reminds everyone that the church not only values the commands of God but also the souls of those who are members. Discipline is an expression of love, the kind that refuses to allow Christians to deceive themselves into ever thinking that continual, unrepentant sin is not damaging, both to themselves and to the community.
Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and I are posting questions each month for church leaders to discuss with their teams. The content and questions are based on our book Creature of the Word. You can get the book here and access the monthly audit here.