Have you ever considered the reason we gather together with the community of faith week after week? It can seem so perfunctory, so mechanical. Yet at the heart of our regular gathering together is the profound reality that we belong together. Against the prevailing individualized understanding of salvation, the Bible proclaims that intrinsic to being a Christian is belonging to the community of the church. We have been saved from our sin to the people for God, for the mission of God, to the glory of God.
Consider Paul’s introduction to his letter to the church at Rome:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ… Romans 1.1-6
Our salvation is not our own. Not only in the sense that we did not purchase our salvation but also in the sense that our salvation folds us into the community of God’s redeemed. It does not leave us on an island in isolation but rather draws us into and knits us together with the community of God’s people. Further, our being folded into and knit together with the community of the redeemed is purposed that the community of God’s people would be the instrument in bringing about the obedience of faith from among all the nations. The people of God are the divinely appointed means through which God wills to work the salvation of men and the restoration of all things. The people of God participating together in the mission of God brings glory to God.
The community of God’s people is an essential and eternal part of our individual salvation. It is not optional or temporary. As we belong to Christ, we belong to one another. As we have been joined to Christ who is the head of the body, we have been joined to one another. This is not first a spiritual ideal for which we strive. It is first a spiritual reality in which we ought to live.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12.27
The “one another” passages (e.g., Ephesians 4.32, Colossians 3.9) assume this reality and exhort believers to live in it.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4.32
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices. Colossians 3.9
If we belong to one another, how then should we live with one another? What should our life together look like?
Biblically, sanctification (the inward working of salvation) and mission (the outward working of salvation) are designed to thrive in the context of community. This is not to say there is no need for individual devotion, individual meditation or individual mission. On the contrary, the corporateness of sanctification and mission augment the importance of these things individually. God has always been at work to redeem a people for his own possession, to sanctify them and to present them blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.
First, consider the need to be sanctified. This is a weighty matter. It is often ignored or downplayed, but sanctification is required for salvation.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification… 1 Thessalonians 4.3
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12.14
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8.13
The community of the redeemed people of God is the primary means God employs to sanctify his people and propel them out in mission. It is unspeakable and undeserved grace to be folded into the community of God because it is in community that the roots of the gospel sink down deep and the fruit of the gospel grows up in mission.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3.13
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work (justification) in you (community) will bring it to completion(sanctification) at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1.6
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5.16
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes, the people of God are to be bringers of the gospel to one another. They are to encourage, exhort, rebuke, pray for, weep with and rejoice with one another. In this way, the community of God’s redeemed becomes the final apologetic of the gospel.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13.35
The love that the disciples of Jesus ought to have for one another is not merely the final apologetic of the gospel, it is also the end of the law. As the community of God’s redeemed grow up into a likeness of Jesus, they are moving towards a fulfillment of the law.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 22.37-40
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5.14
So the end toward which sanctification is moving is love that manifest itself in the community as a pushing one another into holiness and in the world as a proclamation of the gospel in word and deed.
As the community of God’s redeemed, the whole of our life is lived before the face of God and before the people of God. Tim Keller notes that one of the great realities of the gospel is that we are fully known and fully loved at the same time. This ought to free us up to be vulnerable before one another. The cross has exposed each of us as the frauds and fakes we are. It has announced the most condemning judgment against us—our sin is so vile and wicked that the only sufficient means of atonement is the shed blood of the incarnate Son of God. Yet it has also announced the most freeing verdict over us—our sin has been counted against another, namely Jesus, and his righteous is now ours. These are the two simultaneous realities that knit the community of God together—being fully known and fully loved, not only by the Righteous Judge of all the earth but also by one another. And so we gather together week after week (and prayerfully even more regularly than that) to rehearse these truths together, to apply these truths together, to sing these truths together, to pray these truths together in order to act out and live in the reality that we belong together—for one another and for the world.