You may have heard it said in evangelical Christian circles that if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died just to redeem you. This is supposed to comfort us, encouraging us to bathe in God’s unique love for each person. I’m not so interested in arguing the hypothetical plausibility of this statement as I am in reminding the church as a whole that this isn’t what Jesus actually did. He died to redeem an entire church as His bride—one made up of a multitude beyond number from every people and language group on this earth (Rev. 7:9-10, 1 Jn. 2:2).
Too many people seem to consider church attendance and meaningful Christian relationships to be optional in the Christian life. Work schedules, sporting events, or the desire for leisure time are often allowed to push Christian community life aside. Such people will point out that they can spend time with God or learn about Him anywhere—that we don’t need to be “legalistic” about church attendance. But there are at least four key truths of Christian community overlooked by this viewpoint that I would like to remind us of.
Sisters, we cannot be followers of Christ and yet divorce ourselves from His church, or even engage in a “casual dating relationship” with it. Jesus intended for each one of His redeemed people to live in close, thriving relationship with others who are also His children. He intended us to share this journey’s joys and sorrows, to correct each other’s courses, to care for each member, and to properly represent Him before the world in our life as one body.
1) We need real relationships.
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
In the sleek, splashy world of twenty-first-century Christianity where our churches are often bulging and our programs run with efficiency that rivals the Chicago Metro station, it seems all too easy to overlook the one thing we need most from the church: quiet, deep, honest community. If you attend a church where the services are lined up like show times, where the lights go up and the music goes on like the growl of the MGM lion, where the people file quietly in only to briskly file out again while the credits roll, please remember that simply being in the same room as other Christians for one hour each week is not living in community. Maybe your church is completely different.
Whatever church we attend and whatever style it has, we need to let the weekly Sunday services’ interaction, prayers, and preaching draw our hearts into closer community throughout the week. We need further conversations, and growing Christian relationships. Christ intended us to desire to spend time together (Acts 2:42-47). He intends His church to visit each other at home, in the hospital, and in prison (Matt. 25:31-40). He wants us to study together, to pray together, to share our struggles, and to continually encourage each other (Rom. 12:10-16, 1 Thess. 5:11).
Friend, do you have real relationships with other Christians whom you see regularly and share with deeply? Do you encourage one another toward love and good works?
2) We need frequent course adjustments.
"And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."
You can’t toss a corked bottle to the ocean waves from the mid-Atlantic and schedule a pick-up at an intended destination. Why? It’s at the mercy of unpredictable currents, winds, waves, and sea creatures. Likewise, you cannot spend weeks and months adrift in the input of cultural thoughts, moods, songs, shows, and celebrities and expect to arrive at holiness.
If you are aiming at Christ-likeness (1 Jn. 2:6), if you seek to arrive one day at holiness (Heb. 12:14, 1 Pet. 1:15-16), you need to set your course, check it often, and constantly adjust for each pounding wave or subtle breeze of culture. We need Christian Word-filled community surrounding us on this voyage. Each church service, prayer meeting, or friend bringing a reminder from Scripture has the ability to make a tiny correction to our heart before we drift far from course (Gal. 6:1, 2 Tim. 4:1-4).
Sister, are you surrounded by sermons, songs, books, teachers, and friends that regularly help you adjust your course? Are there people who know you well enough to help you make corrections before you become lost in a cultural riptide?
3) We need to love Christ’s body.
"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God...For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body."
Eph. 5:1-2, 29
Friend, Christ didn’t die just to redeem you. He died to redeem an entire body of people as His bride—His church. You cannot love Christ without loving the rest of His body.
Do you feel a desire to see your brothers and sisters in Christ grow in their relationship with God (Col. 3:16)? Do you ache when they ache and feel overwhelmed with joy when they are blessed (Rom. 12:15)? Do you help them watch their doctrine closely (Gal. 1:6)? Do you have a desire to connect more deeply with other Christians, to encourage them onward, and to help shoulder their burdens (1 Pet. 1:22, Gal 6:2)? These are signs of life in Christ’s body.
4) We need His unified body to represent Him well on earth.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Jesus wants us to live together, to love together, to work as a body together, to glorify Him together and to enjoy Him forever together.
Yes, Jesus wants relationship with me, but He also wants me to have relationship with the rest of His body, the rest of His bride. This is not only for my good, not only for the good of His entire bride, but also for His greatest honor before a watching world. God is grieved by a church “representing Him,” yet, made up of splintered individualists who are relativistic with each other about the truth. And nothing makes the world stand more in awe than a worldwide community of Christ-centered individuals who live and move with one heartbeat, who love each other with genuine love (Jn. 13:35), who honor and serve each other with humility (Gal. 5:13-14), who consider right relationship with their Creator and with each other to be the pulse of life itself (Matt. 22:35-39), and who care about the faith that has been passed down to them (Jude 1:3). Dear sister, if you love Jesus, you need His body.
The Word reminds us of redemption and truth in a dark, empty world—and church forms around the Word’s goodness and authority. The Word corrects and refreshes us in a culture that spews constant lies—and church is where the Word is faithfully preached. The Word encourages us when following Christ is painful and ostracizing—and the church is filled with people who love the same Word and the same Lord so that we can be truly united. Christ may call us to leave brother, mother, and sister. Yet, we have the honor of being called into the church who seek to love each other for the sake of Him who first loved us.
We come to love church because it is filled with people who have also decided to become Christians, to leave the world behind and set our hope only on the Lord and His Word. If that is what we want our lives to keep looking like, surrounding ourselves with His community is our great help and safeguard.
If you’ve been drifting alone for too long, Christ wants you to come home to His church.