STUDY FIVE: THE REIGN OF GRACE FOR CHRISTIANS-IN-COMMUNITY – PART 2: DEVELOPING TRUSTING, OPEN RELATIONSHIPS
Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2011
A. IMAGINE –
A community in which you knew you were accepted, irrespective of your performance.
A community in which you could trust everyone not to condemn you, not to generate guilt feelings in you.
A community in which you were absolutely certain that, even when someone pointed out a sin or a mistake that you had made, you were not being rejected or made to seem inferior.
A community in which you knew you were equal – that no one was essentially superior to you, and that no one was essentially inferior to you.
If we all knew that everyone within the Christian community was relating to each other by grace, and not on the basis of performance, that is what our Christian community would be like. That, indeed, is what it should be like.
Task: Discuss what the application of the reign of grace in the Church would mean in terms of:
Freedom to admit that we are sinners who sin
Freedom to be imperfect
Freedom to ask for help
Acceptance of the advice of others
Freedom to serve
B. GUILT-GENERATING PERCEPTIONS OF SPIRITUALITY
Scene: Small prayer and care group
Time: Night time
Cast: Group leader
GL: Now it’s time to share. I want you all to share firstly, a great thought you’ve had from your quiet time this week; secondly, your experience in sharing your faith with someone; and thirdly, a prayer that God has answered during this past week.
GM: [deep inside and unspoken] I knew it would be like this. I shouldn’t have come. I just can’t share like that. And I haven’t witnessed to anyone this week … they’ll all think I’m not very spiritual. And God hasn’t answered any of my prayers … will they think there’s something wrong with me … that I haven’t got enough faith … or that there’s some hidden sin in my life? O Lord … I wish I hadn’t come …
The Lord [unheard and unseen]: My child. I know you love me. I see the deep places of your heart, I see the joy that I generated there by my word, by my truth. I see the many acts of kindness you do … they are your witness … they are expressions of your love for me … do not fear these perceptions of spirituality that are being imposed on you … look to my word and there you will find that the fruit of my spirit is love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience and self control … there is no need for you to feel guilty and condemned by the expectations of men … my child … rest in me.
Task: Discuss: What is wrong with the expectations and perceptions of the Group leader? Why?
C. THE NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF A PERFORMANCE BASED COMMUNITY
When we belong to a Christian group or community in which acceptance is based on our performance of certain standards of behaviour, and in which we are expected to conform to certain perceptions and expectations, several things automatically result as a consequence or impact.
Task: Discuss these potential impacts of a performance-based Christian community. Make sure your discussion is real not theoretical – give concrete examples from your own experience and observations. Add more impacts to the list if you know of any.
Constant need to perform to the expected standard
Constant need to defend, preserve and justify self
Constant need to live up to community expectations
Constant need to fit in with community perceptions of what a good Christian is and does
Constant generation of guilt feelings
Constant generation of either pride or despair
Freedom to serve curtailed because of fear of failure
Everyone forced into a pre-set perception of a ‘good Christian’
Constant judging of each other against the pre-set formula
People demanding of each other and themselves a level of spirituality greater than and different from what God expects
Temptation to fake spirituality or cover up failures
D. HOW CAN WE LIVE UNDER THE PRINCIPLE OF GRACE?
Our human minds and hearts automatically tend to a performance-based mindset and a performance-based spirituality. We automatically see ourselves standing in the presence of God and others on our own two feet with the need to have our hands full of our own righteousness. How can we rid ourselves of this self-centred, man-centred spirituality? How can we honour the gospel of grace and express the reign of grace in our lives together? This can only happen if we submit to the gospel of Christ and:
• Stop focusing on the human
• Focus on Christ and his cross
• Believe the message of grace
• Apply the message of grace to every relationship within the body of Christ.
• Embrace and express Christian freedom
• Give saving significance to Christ, not to our own performance
The same truths apply here as did in the ‘in Christ’ concept, because the ‘in Christ’ concept and grace are two expressions of the one truth of the Gospel.
E. THE QUESTION OF ACCOUNTABILITY
We hear quite a bit today about ‘accountability’. We are told that we should all be accountable to someone, and that it is good, or even essential, to belong to accountability groups. Where has this concept of accountability come from? What does the Bible teach?
Task: Check out what these texts teach.
The Bible teaches that we are accountable to God:
The Bible teaches that we are responsible for our fellow believer:
1 Cor 8:9-13
1 Cor 10:31-11:1
Task: Discuss the potential legalism of accountability groups.
[Note: Accountability groups or partnerships can play a valid and significant role in the Christian life in terms of giving encouragement and support in the context of pressures and temptations. The danger of legalism and destructive perceptions and expectations entering into accountability situations ought not cause us to lump all accountability relationships in the 'bad' basket. Rightly practised, accountability groups or partnerships can be a tool by which we exercise our responsibility for each other's well-being - in which we look after each other, encouraging each other, carrying each others' burdens and strengthening one another with the Word of God.]
F. IMPLEMENTING GRACE IN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Task: Answer these questions:
What do you personally need to do to implement the reign of grace in your relationships within the Christian community?
What changes need to take place in your group or ministry team to make it conform to the reign of grace?