But change isn't something I do on my own. Change happens in the community of God's people. It happens as we speak the truth in love to each other (Eph 4:15, 29). It happens as, together, we grow into a community which displays the likeness of Christ.
The church is a better place for change than a therapy group, a counsellor's office or a retreat centre.Here are four things I've found help me change in community.
1. Be honest about your sin.
Sin thrives on secrecy. The most stubborn sins are the ones no-one sees: self-pitying thoughts; harsh words behind closed doors; things we do to escape. But sin isn't meant to be kept private. God says, "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other" (Jam 5:16).
When we hide our sin, we cut ourselves off from encouragement, accountability and prayer. It's a vicious cycle, because when we keep silent, others keep silent too. Everyone assumes everyone else has it together, and we feel defeated, isolated and ashamed. "You don't have to tell everyone. But tell someone."
I love honesty, but I've learned the hard way that it must be helpful. Only tell others about your sin when it's loving and won't lead them astray. “Tell everyone you struggle; tell some people what you’re struggling with.” Confession is better upwards or sideways than downwards: confess to a mature Christian, not a young Christian.
When I feel too embarrassed to tell anyone about my sin, I remember God's words: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to [wo]man" (1 Cor 10:13). In my experience, mature Christian women welcome honesty and are eager to help me fight sin. A little embarrassment is worth it if it helps me change!
2. Seek accountability.
I have two friends I can count on to ask me the hard questions. When we get together, we ask each other, "How's your prayer life going? Are you loving your husband sexually? What about that sin I know you struggle with?" We don't gossip, but we do talk honestly and encourage one another. We've agreed to SMS each other to pray during times of temptation.
If you struggle in a particular way, seek out a mature Christian, tell them the details of your sin, and ask for their advice and prayer. Give them permission to ask the hard questions - often! Organise to call or text them the moment you're tempted so they can pray for you.
3. Speak the truth and accept it from others.
How do you respond when someone tells you about their sin? Too often, I make light of it. "You think that's bad? You should have heard me the other day!" "Yeah, we all do that." "That sounds really hard!" We can be great at sympathy, but not so good at speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15).
When someone tells me about their sin, it's important not to play it down. I find it helpful to talk about how God has helped me with a similar sin. When possible, I ask about when they struggle and what lies and desires drive their sin, work out some practical strategies, pray for them, and follow up on the conversation later - and always, always, give them God's grace.
And if someone rebukes me, I'm learning not to laugh or shrug it off, but to listen with a humble heart. Even if their criticism is wrong, there's probably some truth in it. I pray about it and, if they're right, repent.
4. Be part of an honest community.
Christians can be very good at pretending. It's easy to look around your church and think everyone else has it together. No wonder messed-up, broken people don't feel at home there! I love Chester's concept of church: a messy place full of broken people who are open about their struggles.
What if my church isn't like this? I can't change anyone else, but I can change me! Maybe after the service when someone asks how I am, I can talk about my struggle with impatience. Maybe during my next small group I can confess the discontent I've been battling. Maybe I can phone someone and ask them to pray for me when I'm tempted to impurity. If I'm more open, it will help others to be more open too.
Have you got any other ideas? How does the community of God's people help us to change? Have you told a mature Christian about the sin you're struggling with? What's one step you could take to seek help from other Christians as you battle sin?
Quotes and ideas are from chapter 8 of Tim Chester's You Can Change; final quote is from Chester Captured by a Better Vision 120.
images are from stock.xchng and from ShaZ Ni, rocket ship, lanuiop and Andrew Kirkley at flickr