He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. In spite of corporate worship, times of prayer, fellowship, and even ministry together, many Christians are still left to their loneliness. Although the Christian fellowship generally shares fellowship as believers and as devout people, the truth of the matter is that we have not learned how to have fellowship with each other as the undevout and as sinners. Because we don’t know how to be sinners together, the final breakthrough to real fellowship does not occur.
The pious, "saintly" fellowship does not permit a person to be a sinner. Instead, everyone hides his sin from himself to some extent, but he especially hides it from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners in the fellowship of the church. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a “real sinner” is suddenly discovered among the “righteous.” So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy, when the fact remains – we are sinners!
But the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, is such that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now, come as the sinner that you are to God who loves you. He wants you as you are. He doesn’t want anything from you, like a sacrifice or a work. He wants only you. All of you. “My son, give me your heart” (Proverbs 23:26). God has come to you the sinner. Be glad!
The truth of this message is liberating. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers as if you were without sin. You can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that! He loves the sinner but hates sin.
Christ became our Brother in the flesh in order that we might believe in him. In him the love of God came to the sinner. Through him, men could be sinners; and only as sinners could they be helped. All sham was ended in the presence of Christ. The misery of the sinner and the mercy of God – this was the truth of the Gospel in Jesus Christ. It was in this truth that his Church was to live. Therefore, he gave his followers the authority to hear confession of sin and to forgive sin in his name. “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:23).
When he did that, Christ made the Church, and in it our brother, a blessing to us. Now our brother stands in Christ’s stead. Before my brother I no longer need to hide. In all the world, it is only before a brother that I dare to be the sinner that I am, because here the truth of Jesus Christ and his mercy rules. Christ became our Brother in order to help us. Through him our brother has become Christ for us in the power and authority of the commission Christ has given to his followers.
In confession, the breakthrough to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him; and the more deeply he becomes involved in sin, the more disastrous will be his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed and unconfessed it poisons the whole being of a person. And this can happen in the midst of a pious community.
But in confession, the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until sin is openly admitted. But God is able to break gates of brass and bars of iron (Psalm 107:16).
Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of a Christian brother, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders; he gives up all his evil. He gives his heart to God, and he finds the forgiveness of all his sin in the fellowship of Jesus Christ and his brother. The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear the fellowship asunder.
Now the fellowship bears the sin of the brother. He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God. It has been taken away from him. Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Now he can be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God. He can confess his sins and in this very act find fellowship for the first time. When the sin remained concealed, it separated him from the fellowship and made all his apparent fellowship a sham. The sin confessed has helped him to find true fellowship with the brethren in Jesus Christ.
This isn’t really a blog post, although I do mean it as a follow up to my last two posts on community. I suppose it’s something of a plug for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s gem of a masterpiece, Life Together, a short little treatise on the fellowship that is the church. What you have read is an extensive quote, reworked in part for readability. - Fr. Mark