Community is an extremely valuable thing. Living within community can give us a clear and healthy picture about where we are in life, because when we isolate we tend to have an unclear picture of ourselves. However, there is a line that we have to be careful not to cross. Community, just like anything else in life, can become an idol.
Are you seeking other peoples’ approval? A hard lesson that I have been learning over and over again is that there is a difference between seeking wisdom and seeking approval. Once I start seeking approval from others I tend to be less genuine. It can range anywhere from not wanting to have a difficult conversation with someone I care about to my own image management. This is nothing more than just people pleasing. The danger is, it is easy to slip into this mindset and not even know it.
A God honoring community is a treasured thing, because it is really hard to go for a long time seeking approval within that kind of community. Before long, people notice what you are doing and they will refuse to feed this approval seeking behavior. Like so many other good gifts in life, this gift is hard. Living in this kind of community can bring us to the realization that we do struggle with behavior and character defects, but we have a chance to grow.
The temptation when faced with this kind of thing, though, is to shut down, shut up, become bitter, and leave. There is a Linkin Park song where the chorus goes, “I want to run away, never say goodbye.” I get that. There is something cathartic about cutting your losses and starting over. However, if we keep cutting our losses we end up in an endless loop of repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
There is a hard passage in Hebrews 6 that I think brings some light to this cycle:
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” Hebrews 6:4-6
We have a great savior who saves us from our sin. However, if we don’t repent from our sin, our hearts become hard. There was a time in history when the Church sold indulgences. These indulgences allowed people to go and sin and feel “covered”, because they went to a priest before hand and paid their penance. This passage stands in the way of that practice: “To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”
If to repent means to turn away from one thing and turn toward something else, then we can’t “proactively” repent so that we can go and sin. We don’t repent so that we can be sinners; we repent because we are sinners.
This isn’t a cause for shame, but it is a cry for a realization. When we realize that we have done something wrong or something inside us is in desperate need of change, it hurts. We can run to Jesus, or we can run away. It may seem easier just to cut your losses and start over, but it will happen again.
If we want to grow, we can’t run away. For us to be better people, we must look in the mirror and not forget who we are (James 1). We have to stop seeking the approval of others, and start living in the direction of something much bigger than ourselves or other people. There is Someone who is waiting to receive us with open arms, and all we have to do is choose to run to him with our raw, unfiltered selves.