Sunday, February 17, 2019

By Scott Slayton

Recently, one of my daughters came to faith in Jesus. She started talking to us and asking questions while driving home from our community groups on Sunday nights. As most conversations about the gospel tend to go, we talked about the character of God, sin, Jesus’s death and resurrection, faith, hope, repentance, and many related issues.

We’ve been praying for our daughter since before she was born. We memorized Scripture with her, read her the Bible, sang hymns with her, and catechized her from a young age. Yet, as we talked that night, she didn’t mention things she remembered from family devotions, the catechism, or the hundreds of sermons she’d heard Dad preach.

As we talked, she kept referencing conversations she had with other people in our church. She talked about encouraging notes people wrote her, something our youth pastor said in a recent sermon, and conversations she had with other family members.

No doubt the hundreds of hours we spent teaching her the Bible and talking with her played a role in her coming to know Jesus. But what ultimately showed her the reality of the gospel was hearing it from people in addition to her parents. She was engulfed by people who loved and followed Jesus. Their love, prayers, and conversations bore fruit one moment on a Sunday night as she trusted in Jesus.

As I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, but unable to because of the joy I felt, I replayed our conversation in my mind and delighted in the wisdom of God. Not only did he give her parents who taught her about Jesus, he also surrounded her with the family of God, who spoke to her about the gospel and demonstrated its fruit in their lives.

I’ve spent the better part of two decades studying the church—what it is, what it should be, how its worship should look, and how we should order our life together. I’ve seen the church show itself to be what the Bible calls it, the body of Christ, and have been loved and encouraged. Yet on this night, I actively rejoiced in the body of Christ, giving thanks to God that I was not alone in pointing my daughter to Jesus.

Family. Building. Nation.

Many have rightly noted the rampant individualism in our culture and the havoc it’s wreaking on church life. The Bible uses rich metaphors to describe the church. Each of them points us away from individualism toward a rich community that images Christ together. Three of these images cannot be lived out by a lone-ranger Christian.

In Ephesians 2, after explaining how the gospel tears down the wall between people who were formerly hostile towards one another and reconciles them through the blood of Jesus, Paul shows how God is building all the saints together into one body for the Father’s glory:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19–22)

In this paragraph, Paul lays waste the lone-ranger Christian. The church is a family. Members of the household of God cannot live the Christian life on their own—they’re brothers and sisters. When one is missing, there’s an empty place at the table. When one goes astray, the family grieves.

Paul also spoke of the church as a building. He’s not speaking of the physical buildings where local churches meet to worship. Rather, he pictures the church as a temple, built on Christ as the cornerstone, raised up to bring him praise and glory. If the church is a building, we are bricks in it. Those bricks are interconnected, and the whole structure is weaker if one is missing. The strength lies in the whole bound together.

He also pictured the church as a nation, its citizenship comprised of those who know Christ as Lord. Peter echoes this language: The church is “a holy nation, a people for his possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9–10). Here, the citizens show the glory of their King through their life together. They, as one people, proclaim the beauty and the glory of Christ through their words and deeds.

It’s About One Another

When the Bible speaks of our witness together, it rarely speaks of one Christian alone talking about Jesus. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). And Paul wrote, “We are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20).

It’s clear the New Testament writers emphasized our corporate witness. Jesus speaks of us demonstrating the truthfulness of the gospel through our love for each other, and Paul says we represent the kingdom of Christ in the kingdom of this world, begging people to be reconciled to God.

Our culture loves to speak as if there is a church under every man’s hat. You grow as a Christian alone. You love your family and raise them alone. You bear witness alone.

But the Bible doesn’t sound that note.

Joy in the Body

Rejoice with me today in the body of Christ. When this body, with Jesus as its head, loves one another, serves one another, and bears witness to the gospel together, brothers and sisters are encouraged in their walk with Jesus, and our neighbors encounter an embodied witness of love.

The Holy Spirit used Christ’s body to bring my daughter to him. In one sense this is remarkable, since every conversion comes from the miraculous work of the Spirit. Yet this is also unremarkable, since the Spirit has been at work this way for two millennia. I praise God that the corporate witness of the church led my daughter to faith. By his grace, she won’t be the last.