Two Kinds of Churches Part 3: Why Do Obedient Christians Still Fail?

Is your church focused on teaching people how to deal with their symptoms OR, to deal with their unfinished business? If you asked me when I was part of the reformational church what I was learning about my inner mess, I would have said that they were nailing me. They were putting their finger on every symptom, every sinful flaw, every wayward tendency in me. They offered me a place of repentance and were willing to help me through accountability and by prayer.

But they never got down to asking where these symptoms were coming from. Nor were they showing me how to be healed and delivered from them—so I wasn’t.

Many biblical churches fail to disciple believers to look deep enough. We all know the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve. We learned that this was the genesis of our separation from God. We also know the gospel is the cure—the bridge over which God, in mercy, brought us back from our self-imposed exile. But the often overlooked consequences of the Fall still beckon each of us to personal destruction. We cannot by our own strength close our ears to their siren song because they are rooted in our hearts.

The first of these consequences is the hurts we have accumulated from living in a world where everyone has been affected by the Fall. As each of us lives our unconscious version of being god—determining what is good or evil for ourselves—our decisions inflict pain on the lives of others around us. These blows rock those we love—or don’t love—and act as a painful bone spur in their souls. Those people do it back to us as well. And none of it heals with time. Right now, you are possibly unaware of the multiple hurts guiding your life decisions.

The other consequence in your heart is sin living in you. Paul talks about this disconcerting truth in Romans 7. He is confused about why he does not do the good he wishes, instead doing stuff he’d be ashamed for his mother to find out about. When he sorts out the cause of his addictive behaviors, he finds his choices are coming from sin in him. Paul uses his own experience to explain why all believers continue to struggle with obedience. We all have sin present in us.

Here is the outcome of the presence of hurt and sin in our hearts. We were not created to live with pain. Therefore, when we hurt, we look for comfort. Sin offers an emotional release from the pain, so we choose it over being healed from the pain by God (remember, this is the result of our personal godhood myth). We do this unconsciously when we are young, but as we age, we can be very deliberate about this choice. The outcome is that our hurt and our sin choice bond together, becoming inseparable in terms of how we live. This bonding produces the destructive outward actions or symptoms that everyone can see.

I grew up in the reformational church. They were all about obedience to rules. They recognized that these symptoms were destructive. They preached hard against these symptoms, calling the symptoms out for what they were. People “Amen’ed” this kind of preaching.

What I and others who grew up in a reformational environment experienced was hopelessness. We lacked hope we would ever really do much more than manage these symptoms. One young disciple I know pushed back at his pastor with, “I sense you are saying that not only are we required to follow Christ’s commands, we are obligated to do them perfectly even though we don’t. We aren’t commanded to try really hard. We are told to live a life worthy of the Gospel. I feel like you’re pressing me to repent of some sin that I’m not aware of, and to start getting my act together ‘or else.’” He ended up leaving this church in despair of ever being able to be obedient enough for God.

Churches without a culture of transformation are, lamentably, a culture of disappointment and quiet desperation. They teach the biblical truths of how God has designed His people to live. They challenge people to reform—to stop acting out the symptoms and start acting on these truths until they reform the pattern of their lives. And so often that is what people in these churches do—they put on an act.

Transformational churches seek to address the root issues of believers’ unfinished business. They do this not just through sermons, but by discipling people to pursue intimacy with God so that their inside issues will be addressed by Him through the empowering presence of the Spirit. They counsel people that it is their unfinished business, not their symptoms that is wreaking havoc with their lives, their marriages, their children, their future. Transformational churches have a culture that communicates that believers are changed from the inside out by the Spirit instead of by modifying their behavior. This is the good news of the gospel, that where the Spirit of the Lord is, people are being set free (2 Corinthians 3:17).