“When people are deeply affected by the Word, they tell it to other people. God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings. Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves without cheating themselves out of the truth. They need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation.”
This fall, we spent several weeks in our Recovering Redemption series examining the roots of sin and idolatry and the surpassing hope of the gospel. Through the proclamation of His Word, God saves men and women and begins the work of sanctification in our lives. He helps us to see our sin, empowering us to find freedom from it and to pursue godliness as He conforms us to the image of Christ.
But how does this process work itself out in the life of the believer? The answer is through understanding the difference between introspection and godly reflection.
Introspection: Examining Personal Sin in Private
When God exposes sin in our lives, we should be led to a place of thoughtful self-examination, turning away from sin and toward greater faith and trust in Christ.
This is a good and right practice, but we often assume that mere individual introspection is enough to bring about growth and maturity. And so we think, we pray, we read, we journal, yet we struggle to see clearly how to navigate difficult situations. We study the Scriptures and see some spiritual fruit, yet we wrestle with despair over what feels like the same battle again and again.
This occurs because we have forgotten something very important about the Christian life: We have forgotten that to be a Christian is to belong to a people. We are adopted as God’s sons and daughters, which means that we have many brothers and sisters with whom we stand in continual and communal need as we pursue the Lord together in the context of the church. It is in this context that self-examination and introspection can blossom into something more transformative—godly reflection.
Godly Reflection: Examining Personal Sin in Community
Godly reflection takes place when we stare down our idolatry and sin, and rather than look only to our own flawed perspective for clarity, we turn to other believers in confession so that they might speak anew to us the truth of God’s Word. When this happens, we see the fruit of Ephesians 4:15-16 firsthand: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Because our perspectives are distorted at best, we need other brothers and sisters to help us see our sin clearly and to speak the truth in love. Left to our own efforts the fight against sin can overwhelm us, exhaust us and lead us to the point of despair. But when we bring our burdens to the community of God’s people, we see Paul’s exhortation in Galatians 6:2 come to life: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
A practical example of this in the life of The Village is our Steps studies each fall and spring. We desire for each participant to come into this three-month undertaking with an active form of community in place, either through a Recovery Group or a Home Group. The intense, heart-focused discipleship that occurs in Steps necessitate that we have other brothers and sisters praying, seeking God on our behalf and encouraging us to continued faithfulness. Through this combined endeavor of personal examination, confession and walking in community, the body is built up so that it might reflect fully the glory of God to a world in desperate need. Introspection is joined to godly reflection in the context of loving community.
How can we pursue godly reflection? First, we must recognize that we need the community of God’s people to provide encouragement, wisdom and counsel from the Scriptures. We must make honest, healthy relationships with other Christians a priority and pursue them with vigor. Second, we must strive to be men and women who model genuine confession and repentance in the context of community. Is this difficult? Yes! Will God use it for His glory, our sanctification and the building up of the body? Far more than we may ever know.
 Dietrich Bonheoffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Fortress Press: Minneapolis), 32.