If you are a disciple of Christ, do you know what happened when you said “I believe”? You were engrafted into the body of believers and immediately went from believing to belonging. To be sure, you were saved as an individual, but you were saved to community.
This truth is troubling for many in a society that prizes independence and individualism. We live in a culture where the demands and desires of the individual trump the demands and desires of the community, group, organization, or family. It is not uncommon to hear new believers admit that they fear losing their independence to the church; they’ll say things like, “I love Jesus but not the church” and “I am spiritual but in no way religious.” When people say such things, they are actually asserting that they have no interest in giving up their own personal rights, desires, wants, and preferences to anyone, including their family members in the church. It is the clear and present evidence of a self-centeredness that has a stranglehold on them.
I’m a pastor, and I have heard a great many horror stories of believers who have been hurt by the church. It has been said—all too often with complete justification—that the church shoots its wounded. Christians can be mean and hurtful. I know; I’m part of the church, and the church is made up of broken, fearful, hurting people just like me and you. Yet the church is the body of Christ, and we simply cannot have the Head without His body.
Jesus intended our salvation to be worked out in the context of community. Remember, our story ends with a wedding (Revelation 19:6-9), and I have never seen or officiated at a wedding with only one person present. A wedding is a celebration of hearts being united to beat as one, and this is the environment God has created for His people in His church: to live, love, work, grow, serve, and suffer, each for the other.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)
This really is good news! You belong to something that transcends your own life; you are part of the family of God. Yes, your family is a little messed up and a bit dysfunctional, but Jesus loves them and died for them—all of them—and you are to love them . . . yes, even lay down your life for them, just as Christ loved you and laid down His life for you. Keep in mind that the church is the only organization in the world where membership is limited to those who are unqualified for membership. We get in only because of the One who sought us, bought us, and brought us in.
One last important point: it is only as a member of the body that you will ever get to truly know your Savior. You see more of Jesus the more you see, interact, and relate to the ones He came to save. You also see more of yourself the more you see, interact, and relate to the ones He died to save. As my friend Steve Brown likes to say, “Everybody who belongs to Jesus belongs to everybody who belongs to Jesus.” Believe and belong; it’s worth the effort!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!