When I am feeling convicted of sin, there are some friends I feel comfortable telling about my struggles, and there are some I do not. It does not feel safe to share my struggles with some people, but the reasons diverge for why it feels unsafe. Some do not feel safe to me because they offer me no gospel hope for repentance when I share a struggle. They offer only shame or condemnation and make me feel bad for even having the struggle. Honesty with them is a bad idea, because they do not seem to believe the gospel is still relevant for me when I struggle long after first coming to faith in Christ. Sometimes, I think they don’t understand the gospel at all. Thankfully, I don’t have too many friends like that.
There are others, though, who are equally unhelpful in my struggle with sin, and it is also because they don’t believe the gospel for me either. However, instead of offering shame or condemnation, they offer what seems like unconditional love and support. They want to make me feel better about myself, and they do so by discouraging me from painful self-examination or admitting of my sins and faults. There are a myriad of reasons they may want to distract me from self examination. Perhaps they genuinely think they are helping me by trying to make me feel better about things. But sometimes, they discourage me away from self examination of my own sin for their own personal reasons. Perhaps at some level that they can’t admit to themselves, the Spirit’s conviction of me makes them feel threatened or uncomfortable. Maybe the things about which I feel convicted are something about which they too would feel convicted if they were more open to the Spirit. I know that I can do this with others – discouraging them from feeling bad about something because I don’t want to feel bad about the same thing.
I had a friend a few years ago open up about an anger problem she had with her husband. I didn’t know what to say, so I tried to encourage her. But I didn’t encourage her that she was safe in Christ to examine herself and be honest about her failings. I recognized months later that she really did have a sinful anger problem. Thankfully, even though I didn’t point her to the gospel, the Holy Spirit did. She dealt with her sin, not from a place of shame and condemnation but from a place of hope in redemption through Christ. I learned something from watching the whole thing. I learned that I needed to be a friend who encouraged others to self-examine and simultaneously be a safe person to walk with them through that process. I learned that it is a sorry friend who tries to talk someone out of conviction for their sins.
Last week, I wrote about speaking the truth in love. The interconnected nature of those two commands empower us in believing the gospel for our friends. They are the practical outworking of this idea. So I continue to think about what it looks like to be someone who believes the gospel for my friends, who believes that Christ has made a way for them to examine the areas of their lives characterized by sin or failure without shame and condemnation but instead with hope for redemption. I wonder too what this looks like for, not just my friends, but the larger Body of Christ filled with brothers and sisters in Christ. Even in our “gospel” loving groups and churches, I still see a distrust of the gospel for the people in our lives that we have put up on a pedestal. What does it look like for me to believe the gospel for them? It means first of all that I don’t downplay their sins and failures. I don’t need to distract away from their failures or entrench myself in unbelief that they even exist. But neither should I offer shame and condemnation. I need to offer hope that they too can face their sins head on and that I will support them as they walk the path of godly sorrow over their failures coupled with godly hope that Christ has made a way for their transformation.
I want to surround myself with these kinds of friends, and I want to BE this kind of friend.
I want to surround myself with these kinds of leaders, and I want to BE this kind of leader.