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Wanted: Sanctifying Communities

We are aware of the exhortation from God’s word to us—to live holy, to pursue righteousness, to shun evil and to do good. But many of us suppose this process of sanctification is something that happens in isolation. This is something individualistic. This is my pursuit, my responsibility, my concern, my commitment, my act of discipline.

Yes, we know it is the Holy Spirit who is the source of sanctification. But we assume He does His sanctifying work just personally in us—the Spirit of God sanctifies and I have to yield to His sanctifying work through submission and discipline.

Now, there is no doubt of untruth in this assertion, but is this completely true?


Sanctification in Community
It is written, "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (Heb. 3:12-13). Again it says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:24-25).

What do these Scriptures speak about? Does it not talk about sanctification? Exhort one another so that you can guard each other from being hardened by the deceitful work of sin. Stir up each other to love and good works so that you would not live an unproductive life. Are these not sanctifying acts?

Sanctification is not something that happens only in isolation, the Holy Spirit dealing just personally with us. It happens most importantly in a community, the Holy Spirit using each other to sanctify us. Sanctification is primarily a community event. The Spirit of God conforms us into the likeness of Christ in and through the fellowship of believers.[1]

Services without Sanctification
What can we say about contemporary Christianity? What is happening in our churches, communities and fellowships?

We modern Christians have become so overly concerned with privacy, so unduly reserved, so too preoccupied with minding one's own business that the acts of sanctification in a community has become something alien to us. John Piper rightly pointed out: "We live in a day when people shun responsibility and accountability. We are very individualistic and resistant to others holding us to any standard that might cross our immediate desires."[2]

Don’t you think our gatherings are simply external rituals without internal sanctifying ministry of one another? We come together physically but stay miles away from each other from the spiritual work of sanctification. We have formal programs and nice Sunday services but no sanctifying communities.

Sanctifying One Another
Notice, the said Scriptures—Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25, does not speak about pulpit ministry, just one man exhorting all others. There is, of course, room for the ministry of leaders. But these Scriptures primarily speak of one another ministry, sanctifying each other toward holiness and love. This is a community work. This is the act of the Holy Spirit in and through the community.

Sadly, how our fellowships are merely physically connected without no spiritual connection in a way that stimulates our faith, our love, our purity and our life with God! Honestly, when we come together, is our spiritual life boosted?


O, how much holy we would become, how much loving we will be, how much we can shine as the light of the world, how much salt can be spread across, how much glory we can bring to the name of God, if we heed to these Scriptures—seeking for and building sanctifying communities, such as encouraging each another, correcting one other, rebuking each other, holding one another accountable and stirring up each other to live a life worthy of the calling we have received from the Living God!

Wanted: Glowing Fellowships
Remember, no matter how much knowledgeable I may be, having great Christian experience, I need the sanctifying fellowship of the saints that stirs up my walk with God. How few of us realize like Charles Simeon (1759-1836), the nineteenth-century spiritual giant, who said, "I love to view all my Christian friends as fuel. Having gathered you all together at my hearth, I warm myself at your fire, and find my Christian love burn and grow."[3]

I believe, one of the reasons we are so cold, so lukewarm, so shallow in Christian life is—we pursue spirituality and sanctification just as an individual act but not as a community. We somehow missed to understand from the New Testament teachingswe grow as a body, not as an individual part (1Cor. 12:14-27; Eph. 4:15-16). Thus counsels John Piper, "Put yourself in some kind of fellowship, small enough so that this one-another ministry is happening. One of my first questions in dealing with a joyless saint is, "Are you in a small group of believers who care for each other and pray for each other and ‘consider how to stir one another up to love'"? Usually the answer is no."[4]

Don’t you think this is what you need? I think, I desperately need it. O, we need sanctifying communities!

Prayer
Father in heaven, we come before Your Throne of Grace and plead unto You to forgive us of our sin of individualism. Forgive our churches for not living according to Your Word. We brought so many systems and programs which seldom reflect the life of the church you gave in your Word. Bring revival in our communities so that we may seriously take your word and build sanctifying communities.

O God, may we not be content with our current shallow Christian life and church gathering. We need the fire of Your Spirit within us which consumes each other with Your presence. Give us such communities that stir us up to live mightily for Your glory, loving each other and expanding
Your kingdom by bringing the lost into Your fold. In the name of the Chief Shepherd of the church, our Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

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Notes:

[1] In some cases where the fellowship with believers is impossible, God does provide His grace to fill the lack.
[2]
John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), pg. 131
[3] Cited by Gordon MacDonald, A Resilient Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004), pg. 219
[4] John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), pg. 130

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