Christian life is shaped by the Church
I am Christian.
Four words that define life. Christ died for me, rose for me, redeemed me. If you can say, “I am a Christian,” these truths also apply to you.
Sometimes, however, when we memorize scripture, we find ourselves back in Ephesians 2:8-9 (“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you cannot take credit for it; it is a gift.” of God.“). But there is much, much more: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus, that we might do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph. 2:10, NLT). Don’t miss it. We weren’t saved by our good works, but for do the good works that God has planned.
And there is more, another point that is often overlooked. Yes, we are saved by grace through faith. Yes, we are saved to do good works. But we are saved to do these good works in the context and under the responsibility of a church. In the book of Ephesians, Paul is not writing to a group of anonymous Christians; he is writing to a specific gathering of people – a local church – in a city called Ephesus. No doubt Paul presumed that the “good works” believers would do would be in and through the local church in Ephesus.
We are saved to do good works within the context and under the responsibility of a church.
We hear many stories of churches in trouble, churches divided, and churches on the verge of extinction. But there are others who are thriving. Their members are engaged; they understand that they are meant to live out their faith before the world in the context and under the responsibility of their church. With enthusiasm, they proclaim: “I am a Christian and I am a member of a church. These two “I am” statements are inextricably linked. Although church membership does not save anyone, it is the context in which God wants Christians to thrive, serve, and evangelize.
Do we grasp the incredible joy of living our faith in a church? We should. After all, three of the greatest manifestations of the Christian life – faith, hope and love – are found in our local congregations.
New converts at Pentecost quickly formed a church: “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day – about 3,000 in all” (Acts 2:41, NLT) . Fascinatingly, the 3,000 immediately became a church. The supernatural work of the Spirit brought these new believers into a community of believers.
It is in this context that believers exercised their faith. They showed faith with great boldness (Acts 4:29, 31). They showed faith by seeing miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 4:30). They showed faith by cheerfully giving of what they had (Acts 4:32). And they showed faith by sharing the gospel and its resurrection power with others (Acts 4:33).
Something exciting happens when believers renew their commitment to Christ: inevitably, they renew their commitment to a church. They intuitively grasp that a committed Christian is a committed church member. They demonstrate that their faith in Christ is a faith lived in the community of believers.
I love my church’s simple vision statement: “We exist because everyone needs the hope of Jesus. True hope, for sure, begins with Christ. But hope also comes from the community of believers with whom we connect regularly.
I can anticipate objections. The church is full of hypocrites. The church is misdirected. The money is badly spent. I cannot worship in my church. I understand. Every objection has some validity. But no objection should prevent us from growing as Christians through the life and ministry of a church. You probably know the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, whom the Pharisees dragged to Jesus (John 8:1-11). On the one hand, I love the way Jesus interacts with her, forgives her, and tells her to go away and sin no more.
A committed Christian is a committed church member.
But in my worst moments, I can identify with the Pharisees. How many times have I looked at other sinners and judged them? How many times have I been frustrated or angry at a church member for something they did or said? At such times, I am a Pharisee. I have a stone in my hand. But then I am brought back to Jesus. I see his love, his compassion, his hope. It reminds me that I must be a beacon of hope for those who are not yet Christians. It also reminds me that I am a conduit and recipient of hope in my church.
God’s purpose for his church is for its members to bring hope and encouragement to one another. When that happens, it’s an amazing thing to see.
In 1 Corinthians 13, the Greek word for “love” is repeated eight times in 13 verses. (This is the same word used in the Gospels to describe God’s love; see, for example, Luke 11:42; John 5:42; 15:9-10, 13.) display:
- The love that is patient.
- The love that is kind.
- The love that is not jealous.
- The love that does not boast.
- The love that is not proud.
- Love that isn’t rude.
- The love that does not demand its own way.
- The love that is not testy.
- The love that keeps no trace of wrongs.
- The love that rejoices when the truth prevails.
- The love that never gives up.
- The love that never loses faith.
- The love that is always hopeful.
- A love that endures in all circumstances.
It’s unconditional love, the kind we should have for those in our church. “Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13, NLT).
It’s time to embrace the fullness of what it means to say, “I am a Christian.