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Mable just celebrated her seventh anniversary with her husband, Biff. Her celebration was by herself, which was her choice. She, like the rest of us, went into marriage with certain expectations. She, like the rest of us, was not prepared to live with an imperfect person.
Somehow she had convinced herself that a relationship with her husband would be different from the relationship she had with her father. Maybe it was too many chick flicks. Perhaps it was those fairy tales she loved as a little girl. Maybe it was her teen friends who over-idolized drop-dead gorgeous boys.
I suppose it does not matter why she set herself up for this major frustration. Today, she has relegated her husband to the heap of disappointing men in her life. When I asked her why she was staying in the marriage, she said it was the Christian thing to do.
At 28 years old, she was facing a life sentence. She was living with a man that she was falling out of love with by the minute, and she was not going to void her commitment to God. Stuck in a bad marriage, she had to figure out how to endure to the end, when death would mercifully remove her from her miserable marriage.
Her strategy meant building a wall between herself and Biff, which meant going minimalistic. She would live with him, cook his meals, have business-like conversations, and occasionally perform duty sex.
As she peered into her future, her heart despaired. She did not know what else to do. Her parents reared her in a superficial religious culture, so to reach out in a spirit of transparency, vulnerability, and dependency was out of the question.
Even the few times she did reach out, her cries for help received the standard clichés–pray harder and read your Bible more. On the surface, God, prayer, and the Bible seemed like a good plan, but they were not working.
And they will not work. Yes, I said, “The Lord and the Bible will not work.” Unless you’re talking about salvation. If you mean how regeneration happens, we all know it’s God and His Word that brings the sad soul into the family. But sanctification is another matter.
Do you understand what you are reading? And he said, “How can I unless someone guides me (Acts 8:31-32)?”
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).
It is true that God saves alone. Let’s praise Him for the five Solas, but as we are extolling the goodness of Christ alone through grace alone, let us not stretch the “alone part” of this formula over other parts of the Bible where it does not apply.
Salvation may be God alone, but sanctification was never meant to be a solo journey. The intrinsic nature of discipleship discredits this notion (2 Timothy 2:2). Timothy needs Paul like the eye needs the hand.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you (1 Corinthians 12:21).”
There is a “rugged spirit of individualism” that has crept into our Christian churches. It may be more accurate to say there is a fearful spirit of individualism within our churches because the problem is not so much about being rugged as it is about being afraid.
Mable is a case in point. While it sounds spiritual to say, “I cast my cares on the Lord” (1 Peter 5:7) and “I’m in the Word daily” (2 Timothy 2:15), there is something about this kind of talk that does not ring true. When it comes to sanctification, this type of discussion needs a critical adjustment.
There is no question that Mable needs to be talking to God while allowing God to speak to her through His Word. She needs to pursue God with passion and consistency, but she must do more than this if she wants help. She must seek a community too.
Not to pursue a community is to be out-of-step with God, who was the first community: Father, Son, and Spirit. Man-made in the image of God means, in part, that the Lord has wired us to benefit from a community. You or I may have come to Christ alone, but He immersed us in a body. We need each other.
Holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God (Colossians 2:19).
This worldview is more than a doctrinal point. Our sanctification depends on the inter-locking and interpersonal relationship of Christians helping Christians. We live in a reciprocal, giving and receiving construct with Christ and each other.
In the case of Mable, she needs to receive the care of the body of Christ. She needs community. Building walls to protect herself from hurt sounds reasonable, but there are unintended consequences to self-reliant protective care.
It is dangerous to shut yourself off from the nurturing life-source of those who are equipped to help you. I am going to list three consequences that Mable needs to take to heart if she wants to experience rescuing from her self-erected prison.
Letting Mable know how her wall-building approach to sanctification is self-centered will probably be the hardest thing for her to hear. The Lord does not waste pain. There is always purpose in the scripts that He writes into our lives (Genesis 50:20). We are called to steward the gift of suffering (Philippians 1:29; James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 2:21).
The Lord did not crush His Son, hoping nobody would experience blessing by His agony (Isaiah 50:10; Hebrews 12:2). He crushed His Son so others could experience redemption (Hebrews 2:14-15). We also see this idea observed through the lives of some of His choicest servants like Joseph, Moses, and Job.
Pain and suffering throughout the Old Testament served as vehicles to propel God’s people into the higher purposes of gospel advancement.
Suffering was never meant to be walled up and kept secret. By doing so, it would be impossible to bring God’s purposes to pass. This theology of suffering is born out of the gospel (Luke 22:42).
Barricading herself behind high walls is disallowing the body of Christ to do some of its best work. We are called to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). We are to enter into the pain of the imprisoned (Hebrews 13:3).
Mable is cutting herself off from the empowering grace of God that could come through those who can care for her. Paul’s expectation was for the body of Christ to mobilize itself to help each other.
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another (Romans 15:14).
Mable cannot bring herself to reach beyond the walls she has erected. She is afraid, which makes sense, though it is not what she should be doing. Someone needs to envision her with another plan.
Fearful people tend to default to self-reliant means to find protection. Rather than trusting the Lord, she is reaching down into her strengths and abilities to protect herself from being hurt.
What she has yet to perceive is how her method for sanctification will damage her. The more she walls herself up while presenting herself superficially to her world as okay (or stable), the more bitter, critical, and cynical she will become.
In time, there will be a constellation of sins multiplying themselves within her prison. Bitterness, criticalness, and cynicism are only three of the enemies that will eat away at her soul. Regret, unforgiveness, discouragement, widespread fear, obsessive behaviors, and anger will become her shadowy companions.
Sanctification will not happen the way it needs to happen for her. She may enroll in numerous Bible studies and may even seek to serve her local church, but all she will be doing is hiding in plain sight.
While she may appear to be on the “inside,” she will indeed be out. She will seem to be engaged in the community, but she will be hiding behind a mask. She will appear to be open and honest, but all that the people will see is her representative–the person she puts forth to divert attention from the person she is hiding.
She knows she cannot run, which is why she hides within her community. In time, she will even come to believe in her representative. The dulling of her conscience (Hebrews 3:7-8) will blind her to where she successfully exchanges the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:25).
Mable needs a healthy dose of self-suspicion. All of us look through dirty lenses (1 Corinthians 13:12). None of us see clearly. A right understanding of the noetic effects of sin, coupled with the doctrine of sanctification, should make all of us suspicious of ourselves.
Our minds have been affected by sin, which should humble us rather than encourage us. It should lower our high view of ourselves while making us suspicious of our conclusions while seeking God, His Word, and His people to bring clarity to our thinking.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14).
The Lord has been merciful to place people in our lives to help weigh our thoughts, give alternate assessments, and to re-evaluate our interpretations. The body of Christ is a deep and wide resource that we should not wall out of our lives.
Mable needs to come to a humble place where she is willing to reach out to the mature and wise Christians in her community, those who are capable of walking her through the internal struggles of her soul.
She is carrying more weight than she can manage. She needs God, His Word, and His people. Mable will have to decide as to whether she is going to avail herself to all of the means of grace that God has provided for her.
She cannot continue to complain about her problems while justifying herself with diversionary methods. A loving friend needs to confront her about this deception. If she genuinely believes a wall is the best right answer for her problems, she will live in deception.
Someone needs to penetrate Mable’s wall of deception. The body of Christ can help her. There has never been a time in church history where so much help was available from the body of Christ.
But you don’t understand.
Typically when I bring up the community of faith, as a means of grace to help us through our problems, someone nearly always reminds me how their church is not able or willing to give them the help they desire.
I am not going to argue that point because there is a strong possibility these hurt Christians are correct. It is not lost on me why my ministry exists. I have never seen myself as a replacement for the church, but I do realize that this ministry is a help for the church.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).