Several months ago, I was reading a book on biblical counselling in the local church and read this sentence: “The church, operating as Christ has intended it, is the best possible place for healing”. In one of the many books that I have been reading, I stumbled across this sentence and it has stuck with me ever since. The church is the best possible place for someone to heal. I read that sentence in June. Since then, I have read a lot more, listened to a whole lot more lectures, podcasts and presentations yet that sentence is still bookmarked in my mind. It is still hanging there.
This sentence stands out in my mind, not just because those words are now scrawled on one of the many sticky notes that can be found on my desk, but because of the questions I have had since reading it. I know the sentence is theologically sound. The questions I have relate specifically to practice: why is this not evident for the FRC? Why is it that so many hurting people look for healing elsewhere? Why do they leave and go to other churches? Why do they seek counsel from professionals without members of their church knowing? If we believe that the church is the best place to find refuge, why are there so many hurting people in our community unable to find shelter and escape from the brokenness of their lives?
The Gospel Gap
What we believe as FRC is theologically solid. We have an incredibly rich history and an amazing knowledge of how God works and are taught this from a young age. However, it seems that there is a gap between what we know in our heads, what we feel in our hearts and what we put into practice. This gap is not something that is unique to the FRC, it merely presents itself in a unique way.
In their book How People Change, Tim Lane and Paul David Tripp discuss this gap, coining the phrase the gospel gap. The gap is best described in 2 Peter 1:8-9:
For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed of his former sins.
We are akin to the Israelites of the Exodus, wandering in a time between the now and the not yet. We have the past knowledge of being freed from sin and slavery, and the hope for a future paradise, but in relation to the present, we are limited in our understanding of how Christ is working right now.
Filling the Gap
We know that when we embrace Christ as our Lord and Saviour, all our sins will be forgiven, and we will stand righteous before God. We know that we have the promise of eternal life. However, the work of Christ is so much greater than a hope for the future. We have a hope for a real life, now. The resurrection of Christ has already begun in us. God comes down into the details of our lives, He comes right into that gap and restores us to walk in close relationship with Him.
So often, we remove God from our everyday lives. We lose perspective, and the hole where God should be is filled with something else. When we do not “make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love “(2 Peter 1:5-7), the gap is filled with externals. In our lives, these externals often present as good and even biblical, but they miss the core of the gospel.
As we remove God from the details of our lives, we brush off the seriousness of sin and ignore the reality of our own brokenness. We are unable to grasp the depravity of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19), and don’t understand the war that is raging in our hearts (Romans 7:13-25). We do not see ourselves as sinners in desperate need of salvation and as a result we are unable to see our new identity in Christ.
Identity of Grace
To live as effective and fruitful Christians (1 Peter 1:8), we must be firmly rooted, knowing who we are in Christ. We must be filled with the knowledge of who our Saviour is, what He has done for us and what He is doing in us. As we grow in this understanding, we can connect with God in the miniscule details of our lives. We can see how He is busy working when we are stuck in traffic on our way to work, in the challenging conversations we have with our spouse, and in the manner we interact with the cashier at the grocery. We find evidence of God at work in how we conduct each of the different tasks that we complete across our day; He is busy, restoring also our attitudes and emotions toward these tasks.
Journeying in the Wilderness
As we grow, we learn to find God in the now and not yet. We learn to find Him in our wilderness. Our understanding broadens to include a deeper understanding of the work of God in our sanctification. We learn to see Him and reach out for the restoration of our hearts in the small moments of each day.
What does this look like? How do we grow in our understanding of God’s work in the small moments? How do we see and experience His hand in our sanctification? What do we do so that we do grow?
Growth happens when we first understand the extent of our sin, when we see the extent of our depravity. It is when we understand how incredibly broken we are, and how sin permeates every part of our lives, that we recognise how much we need God in the small moments of each day. We are so needy and it if foolish to think that we can do anything without the strength and grace of God empowering us. When we move through our day, strengthened in this way, we can see the work of God in the details. We learn to recognise how much we need grace. How it is needed for every conversation we have with our family, for the way we interact with our colleagues, and for the care we put into our housework. Grace is needed from the moment we get up in the morning, for every part of our day, no matter how mundane, trivial or small.
A Church of Healing
How does this understanding on an individual level translate to how we function as a church? What does this mean for us as a community?
The same understanding of the gospel gap in our individual lives applies to the gap found in the church. As we grow on an individual level, we increase our understanding of our depravity and the grace that falls into the details of everyday life. As this growth happens in details of our own lives, we gain a deeper understanding of what this means for the lives of those around us. When we know how much we need God’s grace to move through the moments of our own lives, we have a deeper compassion for the details of our neighbours’ lives. Grace fills our conversations; we care more and want to understand more. We are no longer afraid of the brokenness and pain that people may share with us because we recognise that it has the same root as our brokenness. When there is the same root, we know that the way to healing is the same for us all.
A church where the individuals are living grace fuelled lives is a place where the details of lives are shared. There is an environment where the joys and sorrows are shared. An intimate knowledge of God’s grace in the details of our own lives drives us to have a stronger desire to care about the details in our neighbour’s lives. Our relationship with Christ spills over into the relationships with those around us. He connects to the small moments of each day and we want Him to connect to the small moments experienced by our neighbour.
As a church, let us grow in an understanding of the grace of God for the here and now. Let us encourage each other to see how God is at work in the daily details of our lives. May we lean into the details of the lives of our friends and neighbours with compassion and grace and encourage each other to find God in the small moments. It is my prayer that we can more and more recognise our own sinful state and so understand the extent of God’s grace for all those ugly, sordid details. Together we can support each other in reaching to God to fill the gap.
Camille de Vos
FRC Southern River
 Bob Kelleman & Kevin Carson, Biblical Counselling and the Church: God’s Care Through God’s People, (Zondervan, 2015).