By Josh Hughes
Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
As for your tender heart, this world's going to rip it wide open,
It ain't gonna be pretty, but you're not alone.
- Over the Rhine, “All My Favorite People”
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
- The Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:17
I recently listened to one of my fellow elders confess, in a rather large meeting of leaders, an issue of sin in his life. This wasn’t a general acknowledgement of weakness, but what an ancient creed would call “a particular sin confessed particularly.” I found myself deeply grateful and refreshed by his transparency; you see, elders, christian parents, and church leaders of all stripes are called to be mature exemplars of the Christian life, but not merely mature exemplars. They are to lead out of weakness (see: all of 2 Corinthians). They are to identify with the people they are leading as fellow sufferers, fellow partakers of the grace of Jesus, fellow new creations who are being transformed into what they already are positionally. Leaders need grace too, and they should lead and live like it. This is something we’ve had grace to embrace in our leadership culture at Four Oaks, and I thank God for it.
There's a story I love about Augustine, the early church father. Augustine influences us across the centuries because he is not merely a model of idillic devotion and piety, but a redeemed sinner who is able to comfort sinners with the consolations of the gospel. Before his conversion, Augustine lived a profligate and promiscuous life. In his spiritual autobiography, Confessions, he writes that in his youth he had prayed, “God, give me chastity… just not yet." It was his lifelong inability to tame the lusts of his flesh that ultimately drove him, carried along by the prayers of his mother Monica and the irresistible drawing of the Holy Spirit, to fall on the grace of God in repentance and faith in the year 386.
What’s notable about Augustine’s self-disclosure in Confessions is that he was already an aged, respected, and influential bishop when he wrote it. It was risky and bold for him to acknowledge the truth about his former life. The word “confession” in Greek literally means, “to say the same,” meaning to acknowledge what’s true. This is what we do when we confess sin or confess a creed - we’re telling the truth. I’m so glad Augustine was not too ensnared by pride and self-righteousness to tell the truth about himself. What gave Augustine the strength to do that, and where can we find that power? The glory of the gospel and the power of being a new creation.
One day, years after his conversion, Augustine is said to have been walking down the street when a former mistress called out to him. The bishop did not answer her; she called out again saying, "Augustine, it is I!" According to the story, Augustine turned and responded, "Yes, but it is no longer I."
What a beautiful picture of the transformation the gospel brings about in us. Augustine wasn’t the same person. The old Augustine died to sin and his life was hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Augustine had been crucified with Christ, and it was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him (Galatians 2:20). And because of the world-changing power of this truth Augustine was, from his high position of authority and influence, freed to tell the truth about himself.
My prayer for us today is that we would be a community that is so gripped by the beauty of the transforming power of the gospel that we are free to tell the truth about ourselves, too. Because we are great sinners, but Christ is a greater Savior.