The way we know we've been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn't love is as good as dead. (1 John 3:14)
Can you imagine what it would be like if you lived on this earth all by yourself? Absolutely no one else, just you. That is very scary as we need other people. We also need other people to help us live out our faith. This is how we demonstrate the renovation of our hearts. God uses our renovated internal self - the heart, mind, and body, to spiritually transform our social lives. This is where the rubber meets the road.
As human beings, we are hardwired for connection with others. When we think about our lives, we've got to consider others. In fact, Philippians 2:3 says that we must put others before ourselves. If the quality of our relationships is not going well, then nothing is going well.
Here's the problem. Our sinful nature coexists with our need for community, yet it seeks to destroy community, and it often succeeds. This started with Adam and Eve. Adam blamed Eve for his own sin. Then their children followed the same path when Cain murdered Abel. In today's society, there is more than a 50 percent chance that Adam and Eve would get a divorce. This is the fall of mankind, and it attempts to destroy our relationships.
God has a vision for us to overcome the power of sin, to transform our social lives, and enjoy the rich community He created us to experience. Through the power of the Spirit within us as apprentices of Jesus, we can make significant progress to achieve this vision. Wouldn't it be great to belong to a group of people who experience genuine community? Please note that to experience this awesome renovation in your relationships, you must first have a relationship with Christ. Then you must choose in your heart to move in the direction of His vision.
Prayer: Dear God, we want to learn how to love others so we can be truly renovated in You. Help us to see Your vision of authentic community. We will consider the quality of our relationships, and, as apprentices of Jesus, we will use the means You give us to transform our social lives. Thank You for loving us and for teaching us how to love others.
He will convince parents to look after their children and children to look up to their parents. If they refuse, I'll come and put the land under a curse. (Malachi 4:6)
The Circle of Sufficiency
Draw a big circle on a sheet of paper and place figures in the circle for all the people in your life: family, friends, coworkers, pastors, teachers, neighbors, and so on. What does your circle look like? Are there a lot of figures or only a few? What does it say about your social life? With how many of these people do you have a meaningful relationship? Knowing this is crucial as we begin renovating our social life.
These figures represent the people God has placed in our circle of life. He desires that circle to be sufficient for us and everyone in it. Sufficient means 'enough to meet the needs of a situation.' God wants us all to belong to a circle - a family that works together for everyone's good. He wants us rooted in each other's lives, tied together for our mutual benefit.
We cannot fully understand ourselves apart from others in the community. Our identities as individuals are formed and understood by the community or circle. These people are part of who we are. Ultimately, every human circle is doomed to break down if it is not engaged in the only genuinely self-sufficient circle there is: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All broken circles must ultimately find their healing there. Only when rooted in the divine Trinitarian circle can broken individuals recover from the wounds received in their circles of origin - childhood and young adulthood - and find wholeness on their long journey from the womb to the eternal city of God.
There are a lot of broken circles in our society today. Maybe you are in one. If so, you are certainly not alone in your brokenness and loneliness. There's rejection or being left out, which often begins when a child is born into a dysfunctional family. As we get older we may experience unfaithfulness, divorce, failure at a career, disloyalty of children - so many sins and human circumstances break up our circles of sufficiency. They leave us disconnected from others. This lack of nourishment and connection with others results in spiritual starvation and loss of wholeness in every part of us.
Two Actions That Wreck our Relationships: Attack and Withdrawal
Spiritual formation of our social lives starts from our woundedness. Pretty much everyone has been deeply injured in his or her relationships with others. The poison of sin in our social world is fairly easy to describe but extremely hard to deal with.
We can verbally or physically hurt someone through an assault of some kind. Or we can withdraw from, ignore, or act as though we just don't care about another person. Both actions can be extremely damaging. Yet these two things are so much a part of ordinary human existence that most people think they are just "reality" and never imagine that we could live without them. If we are to succeed in spiritual formation, the power these two forms of evil have in our lives must be broken and eliminated from our circles. Likely, while we are on this earth, we will not see total elimination of them, but we can lessen them within our own selves.
Attack. This is when we act against what is good for others, even with their consent. The most well-known forms of attack are dealt with in the last six of the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20:12-17:
Commandment 5: Honor your father and mother
Commandment 6: No murder
Commandment 7: No adultery
Commandment 8: No stealing
Commandment 9: No lies about your neighbor
Commandment 10: No lusting after your neighbor's spouse or possessions
Most of these are self-explanatory, but Number 5 is more complex than it appears. Often we find out later in life how decisive our relationship with our parents is. So it's wise to examine this one carefully at every age to see how subtle attack and withdrawal can be in a family. Also watch number 10 as well, as lusting or covetousness leads to many kinds of problems.
Withdrawal. This is when we regard other's well-being and goodness as matters of indifference to us. We don't care and may even go so far as to despise them. Attack and withdrawal happens with those who are closest to us more than with anyone else. These are the bonds that are the most immediate, intense, and potentially long-term, and so they are the most subject to attention or abuse. God gives us these people as training ground for developing our social lives.
Reclaiming Community Through Trinitarian Love
We repair this brokenness through our growing relationship with God, as this affects who we are. The transformation of our hearts, thoughts, feelings, and bodies modifies our relationship with everyone around us. Our relationship with others also modifies us and deeply affects our relationship with God. Hence, our personal transformation and our relationship transformation are interdependent. As we grow in our relationship with God, we come face-to-face with His love for us and His love for others. The very nature of personality is inherently communal with the purest example being the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are distinct and separate people, with others making up a part of who we are - our social dimensions. Our essence, or souls, cannot be adequately described and understood apart from the people in our lives. This is what Jesus was telling us in John 17:20-23:
I'm praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind - just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they'll be as unified and together as we are - I in them and you in me. Then they'll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you've sent me and loved them in the same way you've loved me.
The love and unity experienced in the Godhead is now in us, and we are in God. As we grow in God, His love in our hearts is released to those who are in our circles and social dimensions. Jesus' grand vision is that we reclaim our community, an inseparable part of us, through God's love that is in us. The only way we can restore the quality of our human community is to restore our relationship with the divine community - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Place To Begin: The Family
Domestic violence and divorce rates are very high in our culture today. In addition to attack and withdrawal, there are also acts of contempt, coldness, and non-involvement. This is true in Christian and non-Christian homes alike. However, even though divorce generates a set of problems all its own, the problem is not divorce. The problem is that people don't know how to be married.
Marriage is giving oneself to another person in the most intimate and exclusive of human relationships. You support each other for good in every way possible - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Mutual submission to each other in awe of the Lord eliminates both assault and withdrawal. It is in a loving family such as this that children are able to participate in a whole and healthy human community under God.
Presently, individual desire has come to be the standard and rule of everything. This makes it impossible for us to serve one another. What if the things we desire can be acquired from others outside the marriage? The way in which people "naturally" fulfill one another as a family are increasingly being taken over by pervasive product marketing. We are a nation of consumers from food, clothing, entertainment, attractiveness, romance, and sexual gratification, to surrogate "motherhood" and "fatherhood." TV commercials project fierce competition to sell products and services to individual members of the family. This is accepted as the principle that governs everything.
Devotion to another means absolutely nothing when one or both parties are constantly shopping for a "better deal" or appraising one another in light of convenient alternatives. Withdrawal, rejection, and assault will naturally become a constant factor. Satan uses this to defeat God's plan for human community on earth. If he can destroy wholeness in family community, he can stall spiritual formation in lives of individuals, as we need the whole community to grow.
We may pretend that all is OK, but underneath the skin of pretending, our spirit can be crushed. In the family, young souls, bodies, and minds can't help but absorb the way our parents and other adults in our lives assault and withdraw from each other. When it gets really bad, sometimes the only hope for survival is to become hardened, creating a posture of withdrawal, even from oneself. Hardened and lonely souls become susceptible to addiction, aggression, isolation, self-destructive behavior, and for some people, even extreme violence. Continuing through life, these hardened souls are taken into professions, citizenship, and leadership, and then produces the next generation of wounded souls.
Our families often determine how we will live in relationship to others, inside and outside the home. Therefore, we've got to look at marriage and how men and women exist together in our world. If the relationship is damaged in any of its many dimensions, all who are influenced by it will also be damaged. And they will be further damaged by a surrounding world of similarly damaged people, who are trying to manage the way they relate with others on the assumption that attack and withdrawal are just "facts of life."
There is no human answer to human problems. We can trust Christ's transcendent power to drain our attack and withdrawal tendencies. As Christians, we know it takes three to get married (the third being God). If we are Christ-centered, God's power can break the hold that attack and withdrawal have over the social dimension of the human self.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the many people You have placed in our circles of life. We want our circles to be sufficient, and we need You to heal the broken parts of unfaithfulness, failure, disloyalty, and selfishness. Teach us how to eliminate our natural responses of attack and withdrawal and transform us by Your sweet society of love. We want to reclaim our community through Your love that is inside of us. We commit our lives to the people yet to come by asking You to renovate our hearts with love!
Love from the center of who you are, don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil, hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply, practice playing second fiddle. (Romans 12:9-10)
We all want to belong to a family and community where we experience mutual love. God desires this for us and has provided the way to experience it. God's vision is for His followers to be in a "circle of sufficiency," a community that is rooted in Him. When God is ruling in our hearts, we have His love growing in us which we then offer to those in our circles. As those we love also walk with God, they will hopefully return the same kind of love to us. Of course, it doesn't always happen this way as we will encounter, just as Jesus did, many times when love will not be returned. But this doesn't matter. Our job is to receive Christ's love and to give it away to others. This is God's vision, and it is possible only through an active relationship with the Trinity.
Is this something we want to possess? Are we passionate enough about living in a healthy social community to do what Jesus tells us to do? Do we have the intent to pursue God's vision for our social lives?
This must start with our relationships with other believers, as it is with other Christians that we will have the real opportunity to experience the fullest expression of God's vision for our communities. For it to work, every Christian must purposefully move toward maturity in all five areas of their being, with the most immediate application being in their families. There are four specific means available to us to bring about the transformation of our social life.
Receive Your New ID In Christ. Most work places require employees to have ID cards. These usually display your name, picture, and possibly a number. This card is a formal way of saying you belong to that work community and gives you access to many of the places others are not permitted to be. Beyond our work place, we have social security numbers, driver's licenses, and passports that serve the same function.
When we begin to trust in Christ, we receive a new ID. It grants us access to a new way of life. As Colossians 3:3 states, "Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life - even though invisible to spectators - is with Christ in God. He is your life." With our new identity in Christ, we find that God is our sufficiency and that He restores us to be whole people. This enables us to draw out all the poison we have received in our relationships with others and enables us to move forward with sincere forgiveness and blessing toward them. Only in this way can we be free from the wounds of the past and from those who have attacked or forsaken us. We need to daily receive and embrace the reality of this new identity.
Lose The Mask. What is the mask? A mask is anything that prevents us from being real. We wear masks to protect ourselves from attacks or withdrawals and to make ourselves look good. Sometimes it is easier to live this kind of inauthentic life with other Christians who are walking with God. However, we must seek to be real and not be defensive in our relationships. God will help us make the following statements a reality in our lives:
I will be known for who I really am.
I will abandon all practices of self-justification, deceit, defensiveness, dodging, and manipulation.
I will not give my life to public approval and "looking good."
I will let my "yes" be "yes" and my "no" be "no." I will not speak out of both sides of my mouth. I
will be known as a person who speaks the whole truth and tells it in love (see Ephesians 4:15).
Genuine Love Dominates. This means that pretenses or playing "make-believe" will vanish from our lives. It is an attitude that tries to look right on the outside but is insincere on the inside. This kind of love is not easy. But as lessons are learned throughout our lives, our love must be increasingly genuine.
The best overall description of the qualities that make up a community dominated by genuine love is found in Romans 12:9-21. Please take some time to read this. Also please note, it is one thing for you to make a commitment to love as an individual, but this really works best when we experience it in Christian community with others who have made this same commitment in Christ. When non-believers see this kind of community, it can draw them like nothing else to Christ and His extended offer to join His family.
Pay It Forward. For Christians, this thought takes on an even deeper meaning. It is impossible for us to pay Christ back for what he did for us by dying on the cross. So we "pay it forward" by loving each other. Through Christ we are free from defending and securing ourselves, allowing us to devote our lives to the service of blessing others, particularly those closest to us.
The power of God within us makes this possible. We cannot be the husband, wife, parent, sibling, or friend that God intends except in the power of God. Though it is no guarantee of perfection, this relationship with God sets the stage for what will work best in our relationships with other people in our lives. Jesus gave us access to this wisdom in His teachings, and He showed us what it looks like by His own life.
Just think what our lives might be like if everyone reading these words - including those in your circle of sufficiency - actually captured the vision and intended to do these four things in the power of God. No more attacks. No more withdrawal. Instead, we'd be serving and blessing each other in the love that flows from our relationships with the Triune God.
Prayer: O God, we want to love from the center of our lives, and we intend to start doing what it takes today! We have chosen new life through Christ, and we want to become authentic Christians living in authentic community. We will not pretend to be like Christ, but we will truly love with genuine love. And we will devote our lives to serving and blessing others just as Christ has served and blessed us. Help us to love others in Your power as You transform our social lives.
Let's review the principles from this Part:
The Vision To Transform My Social Life
In this section, we looked at four main points to consider as we seek to transform our social lives:
1. The circle of sufficiency
2. Two actions that wreck our relationships: Attack and withdrawal
3. Reclaiming community through Trinitarian love
4. The place to begin: The family
The Means To Transform My Social Life
In this section, we looked at four means to achieve this vision:
1. Receive your new ID in Christ
2. Lose the mask
3. Genuine love dominates
4. Pay it forward
Prayer: Loving God, we have clearly seen Your vision for the transformation of our social lives. We give You our circles of community, and we intend to let You work in us to heal all of the broken parts of our circles. We will accomplish this healing and transformation by committing to our personal renovation plans. We will look to You each day to help us let genuine love dominate our relationships with You and with others. We love You!
Next week: Transforming My Soul