Whether you think the church COVID lockdowns were justified or not, one thing is for sure; Satan loves that our fellowship with other believers has been hindered. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic work, Life Together, we find this heart-stopping line.
“Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.”
This point is in the middle of a larger context about confessing our sins to one another, which is part of fellowshipping together, but this minor point is worth considering by itself. Make no mistake about it, the power of sin in our lives, our sinful desires, gather up their strength when brothers and sisters in Christ do not gather in fellowship for singing, preaching of the word, and prayer.
The power of sin in isolation from other believers can manifest itself in two ways. First, if you find yourself without a local gathering of believers, it becomes easier to make little compromises, and those little compromises then quickly grow into more significant compromises. George Swinnock put it this way. “Satan watches for those vessels that sail without a convoy.” Second, if you are part of a local Christian fellowship, and you begin to play with sin, that sin will then start its work to separate you from the community of believers.
The wedge sin drives between us and the local church usually entail two aspects, resentment and shame. Often both are involved. First, resentment attempts to keep us from our brothers and sisters in Christ when we love our sin, and we do not want other believers to get in our way. This resentment can present itself in major and minor ways. Sometimes it is so subtle it sounds like this. “I have enjoyed having Sunday mornings off, and these people never did much for me anyway.” It will then begin to list out all the ways you have been dissatisfied with your church. Second, when we do fall into sin, shame works to separate us from the family of God by making us want to hide. It tells us, “If we come clean about our sinfulness, they will no longer have us.” This lie can then lead to more resentment. In doing this, the enemy is luring us away from the flock where we he can have us to himself.
With COVID restrictions and the rise of virtual church services keeping many Christians from gathering with other believers, it seems now is an excellent time to evaluate our hearts to see if sin and isolation have had any impact on us. If you have not been gathering with other believers, has time away from the brethren left you spiritually lifeless to where you no longer desire to go back? Or worse, have you fallen into sin and are afraid to return because you do not want your sinfulness to come to light?
In gathering to worship Christ, we are all admitting to our sinfulness and need for redemption. We need to be honest about our weaknesses with each other. As Bonhoeffer puts it, when we gather and admit our depravity, our sin loses its power over us. The darkness has been exposed by the light and judged as sin. From here, the fellowship bears our sin with us; we are no longer alone with our evil. As a body, we present our sin to the Lord, who forgives our iniquity and sanctifies our hearts as we stand in fellowship with sinners who live by the grace of God. Do not let sin have you to itself.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! – Psalm 133:1