The Christian Life Is Church-Shaped

Thom S. Rainer:

I am a Christian.

Four life-defining words. Christ died for me, rose for me, redeemed me. If you can say, “I am a Christian,” these truths apply to you as well.

Sometimes, though, when we memorize Scripture, we end at Ephesians 2:8–9 (“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.“). But there is much, much more: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph. 2:10, NLT). Don’t miss it. We were saved not by our good works, but to do the good works God has planned.

And there’s more—a further point that’s often overlooked. Yes, we’re saved by grace through faith. Yes, we’re saved to do good works. But we’re saved to do those good works in the context and under the accountability of a church. In the book of Ephesians, Paul isn’t writing to a group of anonymous Christians; he’s writing to a specific gathering of people—a local church—in a city called Ephesus. There’s no doubt that Paul presumed the “good works” believers would be doing would be in and through the local church in Ephesus.

We hear many stories of struggling churches, divided churches, and about-to-fold churches. But there are others that are thriving. Their members are committed; they understand that they’re meant to live out their faith before the world in the context and under the accountability of their church. With enthusiasm they proclaim, “I am a Christian, and I am a church member.” Those two “I am” statements are inextricably connected. Though church membership doesn’t save anyone, it’s the context where God intends for Christians to flourish, serve, and evangelize.

Do we grasp the incredible joy of living out 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.

Greater Faith

The 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). It’s fascinating to note that the 3,000 immediately became a church. The supernatural work of the Spirit moved these new believers into a community of believers.

It was in this context that the believers demonstrated faith. They demonstrated faith with great boldness (Acts 4:29, 31). They demonstrated faith as they witnessed miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 4:30). They demonstrated faith as they gave cheerfully of their own possessions (Acts 4:32). And they demonstrated faith as they shared the gospel and its resurrection power with others (Acts 4:33).

Something exciting takes place 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 out in the community of believers.

Greater Hope

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 regularly connect.

I can anticipate the objections. The church is full of hypocrites. The church is poorly led. Money is wrongly spent. I can’t worship at my church. I get it. Every objection has some validity. But no objection should keep us from growing as Christians through the life and ministry of a church. You’re no doubt familiar with the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, whom the Pharisees drag to Jesus (John 8:1–11). On the one hand, I love how Jesus interacts with her, forgives her, and tells her to go and sin no more.

But in my worst moments I can relate to the Pharisees. How many times have I looked at other sinners and judged them? How many times have I been frustrated or angry with a church member for something he or she did or said? In those moments, I’m a Pharisee. I have a stone in my hand. But then I’m pulled back to Jesus. I see his love, his compassion, his hope. It reminds me that I’m to be a conduit of hope for those who aren’t yet Christians. It also reminds me that I’m a conduit and recipient of hope in my church.

God’s design for his church is that its members will bring hope and encouragement to one another. When this happens, it’s an amazing thing to see.

Greater Love

In 1 Corinthians 13, the Greek word for “love” is repeated eight times in 13 verses. (It’s the same word used in the Gospels to describe God’s own love; see, for example, Luke 11:42John 5:42; 15:9–10, 13.) Paul vividly describes the kind of love we’re to display:

  • Love that is patient.
  • Love that is kind.
  • Love that isn’t jealous.
  • Love that doesn’t boast.
  • Love that isn’t prideful.
  • Love that isn’t rude.
  • Love that doesn’t demand its own way.
  • Love that isn’t irritable.
  • Love that keeps no record of wrongs.
  • Love that rejoices when truth wins out.
  • Love that never gives up.
  • Love that never loses faith.
  • Love that is always hopeful.
  • Love that endures through every circumstance.

It’s an 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.”

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.