Amazing song by one of my favorite artists of all time.
Amazing song by one of my favorite artists of all time.
I’ve always been a loner.
It manifests in a couple ways. For one, I just tend to get lost in thought and start wandering off. Janelle and I recently went to Pedernales Falls State Park with some friends and a good 50% of the pictures Janelle took of the scenery involve me wandering around by myself staring at rocks or bugs or the water. Maybe I’m less of a loner in that sense, and more socially awkward.
The other way it comes up is probably a bit more in line with culture. At a young age I totally bought into the great American idea of self-sufficiency. Through hard work, persistence, and talent, I can do great things on my own.
For many people who grew up in church, it’s an idea that replaces the gospel. I grew up worshipping at the altar of self-sufficient moralism. If I can just try harder, I will kill this sin and God will be pleased with me. But the gospel says that I was dead in sin and separated from God, but He sent Jesus to live a perfect life in my place, to die the death I deserved, and to be resurrected so that I have the hope of salvation through the work of Jesus Christ.
The gospel should be the death knell of any illusion that I could possibly do anything on my own.
And that’s where I usually stop, at “Christ has saved me.” But Jesus Christ has not only saved me from sin and guilt. He has saved me to an eternal hope, the power over sin through the spirit, and a new family of believers. I have been adopted as God’s son, brought into a community of brothers and sisters bound together in Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Since I’ve been at the Stone, one of the biggest things God has been working in me is my desperate need for community for the sake of my becoming more like Christ. To this point in my Christian life, I’d always viewed Christian community more as a resource for potential friends. As far as growing in holiness, I’ll take care of that on my own.
I recently came across an incredibly interesting community in Austin. Here’s a selection from the organization’s “about me” and mission statement:
To be honest, that’s pretty much how I’ve always looked at Christian community. It’s a group of people coming together for the purpose of friendship and to go out into the community every once in a while and do some good stuff – fix up a park, maybe deliver meals.. some sort of service project. If I was to look at the description and mission statement of the organization above, I would probably say it lines up pretty much exactly with what I think Christian community is all about.
The problem is the organization above is from the Facebook page of the Vampire Court of Austin. Which is, apparently, a thing that exists in this town.
Obviously, it’s problematic for my understanding of what Christian community looks like to be pretty much identical to how the Vampire Court of Austin understands its community. What it means is that I’ve removed Jesus from the Christian community. Without Christ involved in the center of the community, then what’s the point – other than to maybe get some friends and possibly fix up a garden in 78704.
The Bible is pretty clear about the purpose for Christian community: to build the body of believers up to maturity in Christ and to tell other people about Jesus.
Hebrews 3:13 says we need community so sin doesn’t come in and wreck our hearts.
Ephesians 4:11-21 shows that we need community to be built up in Christ as mature believers.
According to Scripture, a healthy Christian cannot exist apart from the community of believers, nor can a healthy Christian remain aloof from the body.
So what does this look like for me?
Well, for starters it doesn’t look pretty. Actually, it has a tendency to be messy and feel kind of awkward. And I don’t particularly like it all the time. Every bit of my flesh recoils and squirms when I confess my hidden sin to my brother in Christ. Every part of my flesh screams bloody murder when someone looks me in the eye and preaches the gospel into a particular part of my life where I am struggling with doubt or fear or shame. “NO THIS IS MY SIN AND I’LL DEAL WITH IT!” Maybe that’s the feeling Paul’s describing in putting the flesh to death.
I don’t think that’s necessarily an uncommon experience, even Biblically. Acts 2:42-47 describes the early church being “devoted to fellowship.” They didn’t come together as Christians and suddenly start running around like besties. They were deeply committed to each other because they were a new family – the people of God. Too often I’ve walked into a group of Christians and refused to be committed to fellowship. The people are too weird, we’ve got nothing in common, this dude kind of gets on my nerves. Why should I be committed to them?
The answer to that question, I’m realizing through God’s grace, is so that through the community I can be molded into Christ’s image and the gospel can be proclaimed where it is not known.
Secondly, it’s refreshing. The “freedom in Christ” actually is freeing! I don’t have to hide who I am from other Christians. I don’t have to pretend to have it all put together. For years, I’d thought it strange that I had “Church Friends” and then I had my actual friends. I could never figure out why. I kept seeing all of this talk in the Bible of fellowship in Christ and how the early church lived together in such community that they were sharing their possessions and providing for each other and it just seemed like some weird commune. But what I’ve realized over the past month is I have this friend dichotomy because I’ve been real with one group of people and tried to hide myself from the other.
There is freedom in Christ. There is hope in Christian community. I can’t do this on my own.