By Stephen Altrogge
There are certain things we don’t talk about much in church. Like eating disorders. Or cutting. Or depression. Or same sex attraction. Or sexual enslavement. The list could go on, but you get my point. The reason we don’t talk about these things is because, frankly, they make us uncomfortable. If we struggle with a “taboo” issue we feel very uncomfortable talking about it with others. If someone else confesses a “taboo” issue to us we’re not quite sure how to respond. We usually feel at least somewhat uncomfortable, which means we probably won’t follow up with the person, which means they will continue to flounder in their struggle. It shouldn’t be this way in the church.
Now, just to be clear, I don’t think that every person should tell every other person about their most intimate struggles. There are wise ways to confess struggles and there are stupid ways to confess struggles. I’m not advocating a total transparency policy, in which we tell everyone everything. That’s just stupid. But, every person in the church should have at least one or two people who know their most difficult battles, sympathize with their battles, and can help them overcome their battles through prayer, fellowship, and encouragement. Otherwise, how will any of us overcome these things?
But how do we get to this place, both personally and as churches? Let me give one simple suggestion.
Don’t Be Shocked By Struggles
We are new creations in Jesus Christ. Our old, sin-enslaved self has been put to death, and we are now alive to God. The power of sin has been broken in our lives! Nevertheless, the presence of sin still remains. We are simultaneously sinners and saints. And the simple fact is, sinners sin, and that sin takes all shapes and sizes. When someone confesses a sin to us, we shouldn’t be shocked or suprised. Why would we be shocked or suprised? We should expect people to struggle with anorexia just like we expect people to struggle with pride. We should expect people to struggle with cutting just as much as we expect people to struggle with anger. We should expect people to be afflicted by depression just as much as we expect people to be afflicted by migraine headaches (I say afflicted because in many cases, mental illness has a definitive medical dimension as well as spiritual dimension).
If someone confesses a sin or struggle to you, don’t be shocked. Don’t let sin suprise you or make you feel awkward. Rather, recognize that the person is humbling themselves before you and before God, and give thanks to God for that humility! Then proceed to comfort, encourage, and exhort them. Thank them for opening their life up to you.
And if you struggle with sin, don’t be shocked! In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Paul writes:
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
The Corinthian church was composed of men and women who had been saved out of immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkeness, arrogance, and corruption. The Corinthians were not defined by their former sins, they were defined by their relationship to Christ. But I am sure those former sins raised their ugly heads even after the Corinthians were born again. When we see our past sins rise up, we shouldn’t be flabbergasted.
Who should you talk to about your battles? Your best bet is to find a wise, mature Christian who also has plenty of war wounds. And don’t be suprised if things feel a bit awkward at first. That’s the nature of confessing sin. But be sure of this: God will give you grace. He always gives grace to the humble, and few things are more humbling then opening up the hidden vaults in our lives.
If we are going to make progress as Christians, the church MUST be a place where we can speak freely. For that to happen, we must recognize that sin still remains in all of us, Jesus is more powerful than our sin, and God wants to use us in the lives of others. Let’s make church a taboo free place.
NOTE: Just to be clear, I am NOT talking about sins that are criminal in nature. If a Christian commits a criminal sin, they are still forgiven, but also must deal with the consequences of that sin.
Stephen Altrogge serves as pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA. Stephen is author of the books Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wanabes and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence. Stephen blogs at The Blazing Center.