We Need Gospel Community, not a Behavior Modification Program

It is dangerous and tempting to change behavior without also changing heart and mind. Behavior modification has to do with “religion,” not with Christianity, and it leads to judgmentalism. Confession and repentance will not happen in a judgmental community. Gospel community calls people out of their bondage, out of their lies, and out of their mess, but gospel community members are willing to walk with their brothers and sisters through their exodus rather than simply being cheerleaders across the Jordan, hoping they make it to the promised land.

This means that when someone confesses sin, they are loved. The Bible tells of this being the kind of love God has for us: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom.5:6–8).

Here is where our thinking can high-center, and we can get stuck from truly making disciples. We run to the love of God because it creates a safe place for sinners to confess and repent, and God is quick to forgive those who come broken. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). God is also quick to discipline his children, that we may experience righteousness through its training:

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:6–11)

As these verses relate to community, there is the call for a delicate balance between creating a safe relational place for confession and repentance to happen, and being the loving relational place where discipline happens. It allows community to be an environment in which we image God and behold God imaged one to another. The key component permeating this environment is love.

God’s love as shown in Hebrews 12:6–11 disciplines. In a gospel community, disciples call one another up to the high calling of Christ, which is to image God. Community is not merely about being the people of God, but it is about being a people of God who image their God. The God of the Bible is an eternal, triune community, loving each other and living in worshipful, belonging relationships.

There are many disciples who feel that they are good Christians because they go to a good church, and others who think they are good Christians because they know many Christians who are less committed than they are. Neither mindset catches the spirit of gospel community, whereas both reflect the spirit of consumerism. The first “consumes” a right standing by hitchhiking onto the work, gifts or obedience of others. The second “consumes” a right standing by having a better rèsumè than others’. This comparative thinking serves only to advance the kind of self- righteous spirit that Peter blurted out when he said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (v. 33).

Jesus calls each of us to community, but the way to experience and express community is through worship, belonging, and witness, calling one another to the hope resident within Jesus’s call to follow him.

This article is adapted from Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus by Bill Clem.

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