Community makes how we relate to Jesus more than personal

I’m sure you’ve heard about having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” by now. This is a really important concept in contemporary Evangelical Christianity and for a movement that is so strongly, allegedly, based on the Bible, it’s interesting that its founding idea isn’t mentioned in the Scripture. I think that’s OK. I don’t think the Bible needs to mention every theological tenant we adhere to (I do think it should be in the “Spirit of the text,” however), but there are certain constructs and advents in our contemporary times that we need to be at home with and we need to be fully who God wants us to be today.

So for a United States founded on “rugged individualism,” whose progress was often based on individual achievement and work ethic (much to the contrast of the collectivist evil Soviets, especially in the mid-20th century), it isn’t surprising, nor is it wrong really, that an emphasis on personal piety and a personal relationship with Jesus was so paramount.

The basic idea of this personal relationship, with which you might be familiar, and which I think is crucial, is that one needed to confess that Jesus is Lord, a place you usually get to through a series of steps that convinced you that needed Jesus to bridge the gap between heaven and the earth.

romansroadYou might have seen this chart before. It basically shows you and there’s a lot of ways to draw this up, that Jesus bridges the gap between human fellowship and communion with God on earth and into eternity. Without Jesus, humans wouldn’t be able to relate to God. (My ideal chart would just have the Risen Savior among the people.)

The basic confession Jesus is Lord and that He’s forgiven us of our sins is an important part of every Christian’s life. But it doesn’t end there.

If the end of the deal is that faith, I think that’s good, but faith that doesn’t have any deeds attached to it is dead  (says James). Moreover, merely accepting the truth is distinct from applying it. And conceivably, you could lose it too. To have a full relationship with God, it needs to be more than personal.The community makes you more fully relating to God—last week we spoke of the importance of seeing God in the community that’s come before us and among our community today. That alone is reason enough to be part of the church.

Coming to the PMs on Sunday is one thing, but when I say being a part of the church, I mean being an active part of its life. That doesn’t mean showing up to all the parties or making sure you get invited to them or that they show up to yours or something. You could mistake it all as a social function, and some people actually do.  There’s a greater truth that we are trying to realize than simply, “come and make friends among us.”

The Christian life is best lived in community. A community of believers is crucial for our development. That means we need to have a global connection to the Body of Christ, a local connection to a denomination, a network of congregations that we are part of, a congregation we are connected to, and even a cell where work out the face-to-face details of our life. The intensity and intimacy ranges, while the connection to the community stays the same.

For our local community, being a part of it, strengthens our faith and improves our own life as Christians.

To have a full relationship with God, one must live in an environment where worship can be learned, the spiritual disciplines gained and spiritual warfare fought.

I like the idea that you need to live in the environment. It’s an ecosystem that fosters life for the organism that is a Christian. Better yet, it is a body, which we all play a part. None of the parts work as well without the other, and some of them would simply die.

The truth is we are connected to a global body of Christ, but unless we are connected to a local expression there will be costs. More than just costs, though, living in this environment has distinct benefits too.

Worship is practice and learned. Without worshipping Jesus and leading others to do the same, one of the basic components of how we connect and relate to one another and Him is missing. It’s not just about worshipping individually, the act of praying, worship, and sharing together makes our community bond even closer. It’s a constant reminder of the meaning of Jesus in our life and the hope he offers the world.

It increases our depth and our ability to see God. It’s a constant reminder. Look at David, one of the great worshippers of our day, worship God.

David’s main point to the people of Israel is that God sustains them and they are part of him. Worshipping him reminds us of that. What do you think God is trying to remind you of when you worship?

Worship not only offers us a time to praise God, our worship of him opens us up to internal reflection. Doing it with others helps us feel connected. It helps us feel known and encouraged. It challenges us to be vulnerable in a public place. When that vulnerability happens, trust is established too. We are more intimate. It’s not always the best format for people, but it stretches us.

There are other opportunities that bring us closer to God in community too and they don’t just happen in a large corporate setting like the PM. Being in this environment also strengthens our interior life. You could fake worshipping (although I think God works through that too), but being in the community compels you follow Jesus not just in front of others but in your private life too.

We gain spiritual disciplines. It teaches us to wait on the Lord, to apply the scripture when no one is looking. Not because we’ll inevitably end up by ourselves, but because we need to intentionally end up by ourselves. The community compels us to be alone with God. In our time with God our interior life flourishes, to have a community that keeps you accountable and helps your understand that depth is crucial for our spiritual development and for our sense of selves.

Remember, you might not do these perfectly. It might be hard for you to study the Bible or to read any sort of spiritually-enriching book. It might be hard for you to be silent for more than five minutes. Moreover, it might be hard for you to even be alone for any amount of time. If you experience that, being a part of corporate worship might be easy for you. And for others, the solitude is where we thrive. To fully relate to God, we need both.

So admit your struggles with this balance to the community and be encouraged by where others our strong too. These spiritual disciplines are unique from our giftings, I think we all need to be engaging in them. If we aren’t deepening our knowledge of God through the Bible, praying, or spending time in silence or solitude, we are missing our on greater experiences.

Finally, we fight spiritual warfare. There is a lot of meaning that is applied to this term, images of hell, Satan, and his demons might emerge. But to reduce spiritual warfare down to that or to assume it doesn’t exist because you don’t believe in things that extend beyond the material isn’t helpful. For me, I think of Matthew 4 when I consider the effects of spiritual warfare. Say what you will about the devil’s influence on our life, but the things he tempted Jesus with in Matthew 4—hunger when fasting, revealing his saving power when it wasn’t time, and wealth and power when he didn’t come to get those things—is all a testament that we’ll be tempted to do things that totally make sense for us.

We can fight such spiritual warfare daily with a community that knows us, encourages us, and when we fall helps us get back up again. What we do in private, or as a result of our libertarianism is a detriment to our faith and the faith of others. If the world doesn’t notice a difference in you besides the fact that you go to some arbitrary meetings with your friends, well the community might be nice, but it won’t be clear we have any unity in the Holy Spirit.

Community and accountability combined also guilt not to fester, resentment doesn’t build, hard hearts don’t prevail in this environment. Neither does a world where everything could be “acceptable.”

I know that being in the church and living these ideas out in this environment isn’t always easily, it often involves sacrifice in radical ways, and it’s really not for everyone. I think that’s OK. I think it’s a good full life, and I’m glad you’re exploring it and working it out with us. You might not even get “there,” but you still might find it beneficial for you to be among us.

4 Replies to “Community makes how we relate to Jesus more than personal

  1. Your recurring use of the adjective “crucial” is probably not an accident given its root in the Latin for cross- crux.

  2. Great thoughts on the Local Ecclesia. God calls us out to be the called out ones but not by ourselves. We should love and be a living part of our local church not just activities but living life together. Thanks for the reminder of that today.

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