Living by God's design

Study 5: An honest community

Honesty is the best policy: confession is good for the soul.

I sometimes wonder who it was that coined these famous phrases and just what it was which prompted the responses, worded in these very precise terms. The realist today might wonder how their understanding can possibly have any relevance for us as, after all is said and done, isn’t it possible that the things we face are likely to be very different from theirs?

This may indeed be the case but there are some vital principles for the koinonia (the fellowship of the church), which are found in the idea of honesty, confession and forgiveness.

No one should claim that it’s an easy process. Our culture is one of judging by success and strengths, seeing failure as weakness rather than as an opportunity to learn, grow and not repeat that cycle.

The best news of the Christian gospel is that the supremely glorious Creator of the universe has acted in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection to remove every obstacle between us and himself so that we may find everlasting joy in seeing and savouring his infinite beauty (John Piper)

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Pause for thought

  1. How easy is it to admit that you have done something wrong?
  2. What obstacles has Christ removed?
  3. Why might we want to play this down and what does this say about our relationship with God?

When it comes to our relationship with God, the bible makes it clear that no one is perfect: we all sin and this is something that comes between us and God. It doesn’t have to be the end of the story, though, as it’s possible to deal with what’s happened or is happening. 

Our readings in this study (Nehemiah 9 and James 5) help us to understand what “confession” is all about. It is certainly not something to be taken lightly or easily. It isn’t something to be dashed off in a half hearted manner with little or no commitment to changing our behaviour alongside our admission of wrongdoing – that only suggests we want to get it over and done with before we go off and repeat the same old behaviour (which we probably enjoy anyway).

Being honest with God by confessing our sins recognises both our position and His Grace. It needs to be thought through because it demands our commitment to live a new life, with God’s help.

Settling accounts with God (Nehemiah 9)

  1. Please read Nehemiah 9 verses 1 – 6 and 32 – 37. What do verses 5 to 6 say about God?
  2. What happens if we aren’t honest with God – in other words, we keep on sinning and don’t confess to those things we know are wrong?
  3. Why is it important in the process of confession to recognise who God is and what He is like?
  4. Please read verses 1 to 4. How do the actions described here help us to confront our own sin and how we might deal with it?
  5. Why is it important to be reminded of what God has done for us? (This is recorded here by Nehemiah in vv. 7 to 31)
  6. How might we include confession as part of our personal prayers as well as in our corporate worship?

Forgiveness is always free. That doesn’t mean, though, that confession is always easy. It can be very tough especially when it carries significant practical consequences, perhaps involving the restoration of relationships and what, in other circumstances we might see a failure or a loss of face.

Writing to the early church, James focuses on the importance of practical faith. His challenge to the church centres on the way we live out our commitment to Christ (Discipleship), in terms of our relationship with God and one another.

Settling accounts with one another (James 5)

  1. Please read James 5 verses 13 to 20. What do verses 13 to 16 tell us about the practicalities of living as a Christian?
  2. How does this help to build fellowship between us?
  3. How can we help each other in our Christian witness? (see verses 19 to 20)
  4. Why is prayer so vital in the church?
  5. How might we develop our prayer life for one another?

To think about:

How can you express this in the life of the Home Group?

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