The Lord has blessed me with a dear friend named John, a man with many qualities I love and admire. He also has a quirk that I find endlessly enjoyable—his use of the word “yous.” John is from small-town Ontario and where he comes from “yous” is an acceptable form of the second person plural, a shortened form of “you guys,” I suppose. English may well be the only language that has a personal pronoun that is identical for the singular and the plural and in some contexts the solution is to tack an “s” onto the end of the plural. It may be inelegant, but at the very least it’s practical. Yous may want to give it a try at some point.
A little while ago I found myself reflecting on the corporate nature of sanctification and understanding that I need to grow in holiness not just for my own sake but out of love and concern for those around me. “If I love the people in my church, I will grow in holiness for their sake. I am prone to thinking that holiness is an individual pursuit, but when I see sanctification as a community project, now it is more of a team pursuit. I am growing in holiness so that I can help others grow in holiness, I am putting sin to death so I can help others put sin to death. My church needs me and I need my church, and this is exactly how God has designed it.”
This is certainly true of me. I tend to look at the Christian life as an individual pursuit, where sin and sanctification are primarily interactions between the Lord and me, where I grow in holiness for the sake of my relationship with him and where my sin distances the relationship between him and me. There is truth to this, of course, but recently I’ve found myself pondering the nature of Christian community and considering the ways in which personal sin impacts the local church. When David sinned he cried out to the Lord, “Against you, you only have I sinned.” He lifted his eyes beyond himself and acknowledged that the greatest offense had been against the Lord. That is the right and good response. But I think we would do well to also acknowledge, “Against yous, yous only have I sinned.” Here we acknowledge that the Lord has placed us in communities so closely tied together that the sin of one effects all.
The Bible makes it clear that spiritual gifting is to be used for the benefit of other Christians. If the Lord gifts me as a teacher, I am to use that gift primarily to bless the local church. The same is true of discernment or serving or any of the other gifts. Spiritual growth and maturity is likewise intended to benefit other Christians (to draw what is undoubtedly too harsh a distinction between gifting and growth). Such evidences of God’s grace in my life are a means through which I can bless other people. As I grow in my knowledge of the Lord and as I grow in my ability to do his will, I am able to bless the people in my church in more significant ways. The spiritually mature are able to serve the church in more substantial ways than the spiritually immature.
If this is true that sanctification and progress in spiritual growth are to the benefit of my brothers and sisters in Christ, it must also be true that sin and lack of spiritual growth are to the disadvantage of my brothers and sisters in Christ. When I refuse to put sin to death, when I refuse to grow, when I choose to sin, I effectively take action against the people I claim to love.
I may sin against them in very active and obvious ways, lashing out in anger or simply refusing to participate in the life of the church. Here it is obvious that my sin is destructive and that it alienates me from them. I may have a gift for teaching, but who will listen if I have sinned against them and have not repented? I may have a gift for discernment, but how can I use it if I don’t even show up for the meetings of the church?
I may also sin against them in more subtle ways. In the privacy of my own home I may look at pornography or in the privacy of my office I may steal from my employer, yet even these private sins, committed far outside the context of the church, reduce my effectiveness to the Lord and, therefore, my usefulness to the church. I may simply grow lazy in pursuing holiness and growth and now I have fewer opportunities to teach and less to say when the opportunities arise. The design of the local church, the design of Christian community, ensures that my private sins have corporate consequences.
My pursuit of spiritual growth and my dedication to destroying sin are inextricably tied to my love for the local church. If I want to display love for others, I need to grow up, I need to be mature, I need to pursue holiness, I need to kill sin.