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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Temptation Toward Isolation

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)

It is a natural human tendency to avoid accountability.  We are rebellious at heart, we do not want to submit ourselves to others, and we do not want people examining our lives.  It could be said that it is the sinfully natural thing to desire spiritual autonomy. 

But this verse in Proverbs shows how unwise it is to isolate oneself from others.  It is completely self-centered – whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire – and it is foolish - …he breaks out against all sound judgment.

God gave the church to the church.  Ephesians 4:9-16 makes it clear that we are to be serving one another, building one another up in Christ, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  V15 shows that a vital component of our assisting one another toward growth in Christlikeness is “speaking the truth in love.”  It would make sense that if we are exhorted to do this for one another, we also need others to do this for us.  If we shy away from honest relationships where we can hold one another accountable and speak the truth in love, we are removing from our lives one of the tools Christ has given us to help us become more like Him.

In our Sanctification Series class last Saturday, as we were discussing the issue of forgiveness, we talked some about how important it is to have people in our lives who love us enough to confront our sin.  The more people we have around us who will love us in that way, the less likely we are to sin.  Conversely, the fewer people we have around us who will love us enough to confront our sin, the more likely we are to sin. 

This seems to be one idea behind an exhortation at the climax of the book of Hebrews in 10:24-27.  After explaining the certainty of our salvation in Christ, the writer writes: 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. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

Why should we make it a priority to meet together? Because in the absence of stirring up one another to love and good works, there is the great danger of deliberately continuing in sin.  And therein lies a possible motive for those who shy away from any kind of accountability.  It may be that such a person wants to hide his sin so that it doesn’t have to be removed from his life.  It’s possible that such a person wants to continue in sin.

Another reason that someone may not seek accountability is that they think that accountability is only for the weak, “addicted,” or immature.  In other words, they consider accountability to be primarily for “serious” sin and “serious” sinners.  However, the New Testament would not support such a notion.  Of all the churches to which Paul wrote letters in the New Testament, the one considered the most mature was the one to which he made numerous calls for mutual accountability.  Indeed, it was to the Thessalonians that Paul wrote about such things.  Even though he acknowledged that they were already living lives pleasing to God, he exhorted them to “do so more and more” (1 Thess 4:1).  Toward that end, he wrote in 1 Thess 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.”  Three verses later, he gave the fuller exhortation, “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” 

We find another strong exhortation toward accountability written to – of all people – a pastor in 2 Timothy 2:22: So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. What a compact, yet complete picture of our responsibility in sanctification – put off sin, put on righteousness, and don’t try to do it alone. 

If such things were written to a pastor and to the godly believers in Thessalonica, should we think that we have no need to be admonished when we are idle, encouraged when we are fainthearted, and helped when we are weak?  Should we think we can effectively flee from sinful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace all by ourselves without the help and encouragement of other believers who are pursuing the same things?  Scripture is clear – we need one another.  And as Proverbs 18:1 indicates, only a fool would deny that.

My wife and I have been trying to teach our children about the “put off/put on” principle found in Ephesians 4:22-24.  When believers deal with sin, it is not enough to simply make an effort to put off sinful desires or behavior; we must also put on the opposite godly virtue or behavior.  Last week, Shelby suggested we make this a routine part of our lives by putting up a large white board in our kitchen.  We installed it the other day, and at the top, we wrote a “put off” Scripture verse, which details an ungodly attitude we all need to remove from our lives.  Under that we wrote a “put on” verse, describing the godly virtue we want to cultivate by God’s grace. 

Then we wrote the names of each person in the family on the board.  Next to each name, we noted the specific Christlike quality we each want to pursue, as well as something for which we want give thanks for the week.  This is a great tool for reminding ourselves what we need to be focusing on.  But without some form of accountability, simply reading the words on this board will be no more helpful than listening to biblical sermons without taking meaningful steps to apply the truth.

So we have incorporated accountability into how we use the white board.  Each day we go down the list and ask each person (including me and Shelby) how we are doing with the specific Christlike quality we are each pursuing.  If we have failed in any way that constitutes a sin against another person, we seek that person’s forgiveness and God’s forgiveness.  If we have failed in a way that constitutes a sin against God alone, then we seek His forgiveness.  Guess what?  With even this simplest of accountability arrangements, I have found it easier to be obedient to the Lord. 

I have the blessing of having numerous people in my life who love me enough to confront my sin and hold me accountable.  It has been an invaluable part of my spiritual growth and I would encourage everyone to surround themselves with such loving believers.  If you do not have any kind of accountability relationship, please approach one of the elders.  We would be happy to connect you with someone.  If you already have someone in mind, please take the first step and ask them to consider such a relationship.  This is an essential part of our sanctification.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can do this on your own. 

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.

Posted by Greg Birdwell 

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