life together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.” A life with Christ is not meant to be lived alone, rather together with a community of Christ followers. This requires intentionality and vulnerability. Togetherness encourages focusing our eyes on what matters most—Jesus. Bonhoeffer continues, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this”

Here four actions to focus our minds and encourage togetherness.

Set your hope on future grace

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13, ESV

The mind is a battle ground. While there are many pressures from outside, it is in the mind that one is most often tempted to fear, lose hope, or skirt holiness. Alone we are prone to distraction and disillusionment from the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ. If your hope is in anything, but Jesus you will be disappointed. It is a gift of God’s grace that we are together in this fight of faith and that we will be together around the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Pursue holiness

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” – 1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV

Above any other attribute of God, his holiness is mentioned the most in the Bible. God is holy, meaning he is “set apart” and there is none like him. If God is holy he wants his children to be holy too. God is not a militant nor a mongrel demanding perfection, but he is a loving father who wants his children to pursue holiness everyday. Encourage one another to be holy in an unholy world.

Have a healthy fear of God

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,” – 1 Peter 1:17, ESV

Peter tells us that God is a Father and we should have a healthy fear of him because he judges his children fairly. While we aren’t perfect kids, he is a perfect daddy. Sometimes we are tempted to view God through the lens of what our earthly father was or is like. While this can be helpful, not everyone had a father who was loving, caring, or taught them right and wrong. God is a good Father.

Look to Christ our example

“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” – 1 Peter 1:18-21, ESV

Christ came to earth. He lived a holy life and obeyed his Father in everything. He even obeyed God by going to the cross becoming the sacrificial lamb for our sins. Through Jesus we can have faith and hope because in Jesus we see what God looks like with skin on. Jesus also helps us to see what holiness looks like as a human. Follow in his steps.

Life together is primarily about keeping our minds on Jesus Christ until Jesus Christ comes again and makes us completely like him. Walking in grace, holiness, and a fear of God is impossible alone, but together it is a lot more encouraging and doable.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What does holiness mean? What does it look like to be holy? What is the opposite of holiness?
  • How does the illustration and reality that God is Father and you are his children encourage you? Why do God and parents ask their children to do good things not evil things?
  • What does it mean to obey? Are there any rules or standards from the Bible or your home that you don’t think are fair or right? Why? What rules or standards are difficult for you to obey? Why?
  • How is God a Judge? Why is it good that God judges?
  • How does the world make fun of Christians for being holy or different? How does knowing that at the end of our life God will reward us for holy life?
  • What is the meaning of the word redeem? How did Jesus redeem mankind?
  • How do thinking on these verses help guard your mind from temptation?

the gospel without borders

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Gospel and missions, which go together like macaroni and cheese. The gospel is simultaneously at work in us and through us. Inwardly, our desires and motives are being changed as we repent and believe the gospel. As we are moved by Christ’s love in this way, we are compelled to outwardly engage those around us with the same kind of redemptive love. The gospel is active, it’s on a mission, in us and through us.

In Romans 1:8-17, we see Paul’s motivation for gospel ministry. Missionary ministry. Paul is fired up about the global scope of the gospel because God’s fired up about it. This is what I talk about when I speak of missions: “Missions is the activity of God’s people partnering with God’s mission.” Let’s see how this is made practical in Romans 1.

1. THE GOSPEL MISSION BEGINS WITH YOU, THE CHURCH (8-13)

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” (v.8)

Who’s the “you” Paul refers to when he says, “I thank my God for all of you”? He’s referring to the Christians in Rome. Although this letter was first to the Christians in Rome, it is also a letter for you. This letter is a gift from God to the church of every generation.

Why is Paul thankful for them? They are spreading their faith to all the world. They are not just expanding their facilities (or home churches); they were expanding the fame of Jesus’ name to the nations.

1.1 THE GOSPEL MISSION THROUGH THE CHURCH IS BIRTHED THROUGH PRAYER (9-11)

“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.”

Like most letters, including Romans, Paul begins by sharing how he is praying for that church. I love reading Paul’s prayers. He loves the church. He constantly prays for them. He pleads with God to be with them. What Paul understands is that mighty movements of God are birthed through prayer. It’s not about Paul or His mission. It’s about His God and His mission.

Prayer serves to showcase whatever is on your heart; it reflects your passions. If you do not pray consistently and fervently for the nations, pray for workers for the harvest, pray for the reach of the gospel, pray for Christ’s glory to be made known in all the earth, you do not have any reason to believe that those things will happen through you or the church.

When God burdens people to pray for missions, He lights a fire that is not easily extinguished. Churches and their people begin to pray, then to give, and then to go. The first missions endeavor on record emerged from a period of worship, prayer and fasting among the members of the church in Antioch (cf. Acts 13). Christ Himself established prayer as a precedent for missions. “Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest'” (Matt. 9:37–38). Whenever the church joins together to pray for God to send workers, He does.

Prevailing prayer stirs the heart and opens our eyes to see what God sees, to love what He loves and to long for what He longs for. Spending time in the presence of One who loves and pursues the nations cannot help but be contagious.

1.2 THE GOSPEL MISSION THROUGH THE CHURCH IS A COMMUNITY CALLING (11-13)

“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.”

The church is beautiful. It’s beautiful because Jesus is the Groom and we are His Bride. We are incomplete and insufficient without one another. If I am not pouring into the church or allowing the church pour into me, I am forsaking God’s means for my spiritual growth and together we are forsaking our calling (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25). Paul longs to pour into the church, but he also longs for it to pour into him. He wants to be mutually encouraged by their faith. Paul wasn’t a super saint. He wasn’t a one-man-show that could function solo.

Serving the nations can be discouraging, lonely and difficult. What Sarah and I miss most about our home church is their fellowship and spiritual nourishment. We miss our small group where we were confronting sin in love. We miss sitting under the pastor’s preaching. We realize how much we need the church, we need their prayers, we need their encouragement, we need their fellowship, we need their nourishment, we need them to ask us the hard questions, and we need them to come with us.

Mission is a community calling. Paul desired a harvest among the Romans. As we go to the nations, you are going to your community. The harvest is not in the pew, it’s beyond your parking lot. Go to it. Missions begins with you, the church, your prayers and your common calling.

2. THE GOSPEL MISSION IS YOUR JOYFUL OBLIGATION (14-15)

“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

An obligation is an action we are bound to by commitment. It’s a word that reminds us of a burden or duty or chore, yet why is Paul eager (joyful as a monkey in a fruit market) to preach the gospel to all people? Remember, Acts 9? Remember how he was changed by the gospel on the road to Damascus? People transformed by the gospel have a joyful obligation to propagate the good news. Paul is under obligation by Christ to preach the gospel to all peoples, not just his people. The gospel mandate to “make disciples of all nations” is our joy. Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”

If the gospel is not your joyful obligation refresh yourself with the gospel again. Notice, who is Paul eager to preach the gospel to? Romans. Why Romans? In other words, why is he eager to preach the gospel to Christians? To Paul, the gospel is not just initial saving faith; it’s a call to continue to walk in faith each day. The gospel is not the ABC’s of your faith, it’s the A-Z’s of your faith walk. Everything you do from your spiritual birth to death is rooted in the gospel. That’s why it is your joy it is to preach the gospel to all people, including yourselves again and again each day.

The gospel calls us to action. The gospel cannot be contained within the four walls of the church, but it will not rest until it has reached the four corners of the earth. “My aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, so that I will not build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20). This verse stands as the slogan for many missionaries and church planters. To act on the gospel is to obey it and proclaim it until all have heard. It is not enough to cut checks each month to families who are serving around the globe and call it missions. It’s when all the church is going to all the world. That is missions.

Certain countries build barriers and make it hard for Christians to cross borders, but God is there. God is at work. Look at China and read the story of Brother Yun, The Heavenly Man. Or look at the Iron Curtain and read the story of Brother Andrew, The God Smuggler. These are just a few of the stories showing how God busts through man-made barriers. Walls of fear between your neighbor build brick by brick, but those barriers are invisible to God. The gospel sees no barrier or border (i.e. race, status), therefore, you must see no border to the gospel either. The gospel without borders is missions.

The scope of the gospel is global and local. It starts with the border closest to you. The person who butts up to your property. The grumpy guy who is particular about his yard and yells when your dog runs through it. Silent Sally who you barely hear a peep from the apartment across from you. It’s your mission to bring the gospel to your neighbors. It’s your joyful obligation.

Our family parked in Philly for 3-months. It was there we had our daughter Sophia. We lived in a parsonage and we had neighbors that we really wanted to share the gospel. It was a family with teenage children. I knew I should reach out and befriend them. But my sense of “should” had no motivating power. It was law, not gospel. My love was conditional—if we had more in common, if we were here longer, it would be easier. Two-months passed and we made very little contact with our neighbors. Until one day, Sarah was backing out of our driveway and our neighbor was backing out of their driveway too. Our cars collided in the middle of the street. The opportunity to connect with our neighbors appeared suddenly. The majority fault for the accident was our neighbors and they we’re quite ashamed. In the days that followed we were able to have conversations with our neighbors. Sarah especially showed love, kindness, and grace. She even took time one evening before we were about to leave for Quebec to share with them the gospel. It was her joyful obligation with a little help from an accident.

3. THE GOSPEL MISSION IS FUELED BY A PASSION FOR THE GOSPEL (16)

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Have you noticed that Paul talks about the gospel constantly? You do not have to guess Paul’s hobbyhorse. If you’re in a conversation with him for one-minute you can bank your bets on him directing the conversation to the gospel. Paul boasts boldly and bountifully in the gospel. It’s his passion. It’s his mission. He has no shame because the gospel has erased all and any shame he had before or after Christ. The gospel has set him free from shame. The gospel might bring shame upon Christians from a sinful world, but it’s message will remove the shame that stains the world.

According to Paul, the gospel is not just something that saves; it is the only thing that saves. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. So without the gospel there is no missions, and missions is not missions without the gospel. They go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Mission is a label put on many things. We can do a lot of good things that we ought to do (i.e. care for widows, orphans, build homes for habitat, feed starving children, cure aids, etc.) all motivated by a passion for God and compassion for needy people, but is this missions? Let it be known, healthy in hell isn’t our mission. Ministry without the gospel it is not missions. “Missions is the activity of God’s people partnering with God’s mission.” And God’s mission, from before the foundation of the world, has been to redeem a lost and broken world. Paul alludes to this earlier in Romans 1,

”Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:1-6)

If reaching the nations with the gospel is God’s passion, I want it to be my passion too. May our prayer mimic Amy Carmichael who wrote, “Give me the love that leads the way, The faith that nothing can dismay, The hope no disappointments tire, The passion that will burn like fire, Let me not sink to be a clod: Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.”

4. THE GOSPEL MISSION IS ROOTED IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD (17)

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

People desperately need hope, they need God’s love and goodness, they need His righteousness; a righteousness that originated in God, was prepared by God before time, is revealed in the gospel of Christ, and is offered to all. Missions is about God giving faith to people who previously had miscued faith and no faith in Christ. The gospel is God’s means to open blind eyes to the beauty of Christ’s righteousness,

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11; cf. Romans 3:21-26)

To recap, missions begins with you, the church, through your prevailing prayers and your community calling. Missions is your joyful obligation. Missions is fueled by a passion for the gospel. And missions is rooted in the righteousness of God. How are you actively partnering locally and globally with God’s mission?

it takes a village [to build up a follower]

When I think about Old Europe I am drawn to the massive cathedrals. These marvelous monuments to Christendom took hundreds of years, thousands of man-hours, and millions of dollars to build. Dedicated craftsmen have embossed cathedrals with ornate artwork, colorful stain-glass, meaningful sculptures, and rich relics, which all add to the message of Scriptural themes. To this day these cathedrals are engineering marvels.

The church is often misunderstood and misapplied. As beautiful as these cathedrals and churches may be they are not the church. The church is not a building—it is people. The church is built up by followers of Christ displaying the glory of God and discipling one another to godliness.

The purpose of the church is quite important as it relates to the growth of the people within the church. Discipleship is often described as a one-on-one personal if not private endeavor. As we disciple someone in Christ the first things we teach them is about private growth: practicing devotions, private prayer life, and personal obedience. This is good and true, however, the personal growth in Christ also happens biblically through community within the Body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:12]. Seldom is discipleship viewed as a community project.

EPHESIANS 4:11 And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 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, 14 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. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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.

Ephesians 4:11-16, teaches us about the corporate aspect of discipleship. Once a follower commits to Christ they can immediately contribute to the Body of Christ [cf. Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-10; 1 Peter 4:11]. Without contribution to the Body of Christ we fail to mature in our faith or have accountability to continue in our faith. Christian growth does not happen in isolation, rather growth happens in community. According to verse 13 there are three aspects of discipleship that cannot happen in isolation: unity, mature in knowledge, maintaining a measure of fullness of Christ.

Unity of the faith is the first and most obvious aspect of community discipleship. Communities have common goals for the benefit of one another. God’s people are moving towards the goal of one faith. Faith is not just personal, but it is a public way to stir one another to faith and good works [cf. Hebrews 10:22-25; Philippians 1:27]. This means followers are using their God-given gifts for His glory and the growth of the community. New believers need to see the unified community of faith [cf. Colossians 2:7].

The second aspect of community discipleship is maturing in the knowledge of the Son of God. Knowledge is not only a personal entity, but refers to the community of followers [cf. v.12]. The knowledge of Christ is the core of the church. Together we encourage one another know Christ and make Him known. This maturity of knowledge is illustrated by infants of who are immature and unstable, like a storm-tossed boat blown in all directions by the winds of false teaching [v.14]. Mature followers are able to discern more clearly what is true and false, but new followers need to grow in their knowledge of Christ. Knowledge of Christ is not an end in itself, rather being transformed by Christ is the goal of this knowledge [cf. 1 John 2:3-4].

The third aspect of community discipleship is maintaining a measure of fullness of Christ. This is the end result of community discipleship—being like Christ.[1] Now the church is already the fullness of Christ [1:23; cf. 4:10], but the future element is still present in our need to be like Christ. The maturity of this growth is measured by nothing less than Christlikeness.

Community discipleship is critical to the growth of the individual followers. Rechargeable batteries do not power up by themselves. They need to be plugged into a power source in order to be recharged. So it is with Christian maturity—followers cannot grow apart from being plugged into the church.

Christ is both the Builder and the Foundation of the church [2:20; cf. 1 Timothy 3:15]. Without a connection to the community of Christ—the local church—we cannot grow, as we ought. If we do not encourage new believers or immature believers to be connected to the Body of Christ they will remain immature, if not disillusioned by true Christian growth. A believer can growth through Bible Study, prayer and personal obedience, but more complete growth happens in the context of the church community. When this is happening the members of the body are being built up and growing the way God intended.

It takes a village to disciple a follower. The church is that village, and together we can encourage one another to unity, mature knowledge, and fullness of Christ. As John Stott says, “Maturity in unity which comes from knowing, trusting, and growing up in Christ.”[2]


[1] John Koessler, True Discipleship. Chicago, IL. Moody Publishers, 2003. 180.

[2] John R.W. Stott, God’s New Society. Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 1979, 169.