How the Gospel Creates Biblical Community
In the last blog post, we were reminded of the problem we face in cultivating and living in true biblical community: we’re all indoctrinated by our culture to think we don’t need anyone else. Our sin nature pushes us in this direction by distorting our views, both of ourselves and of community. We’re prone to elevate ourselves in our own minds, thinking too highly of ourselves, while diminishing the importance of others or of the ideal of “life together.”
But the Gospel shows us a better way.
Consider our world today, and consider how you might describe the culture in which we live. What are the values that drive society as a whole? What are the principles on which much of modern society is being built? Think about the individualism and the self-absorption of some, think about the lack of a willingness to sacrifice for the good of others, think about the place and power of the dollar and wealth and possessions, think about the pursuit of instant gratification at (nearly) all costs.
And then consider Acts 2. In Acts 2, of the early church community, Luke writes this:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.Acts 2:42–47
Note how they’re described: Devoted to the apostle’s teaching; devoted to fellowship; devoted to the breaking of bread and the prayers. They were together, not just in name, but having all things in common. That’s not referring to preferences or favorite sports teams, but life in common. They had a shared life. That’s evident when you see the following verses. They were sacrificing for one another, worshiping with one another, practicing hospitality for one another, all of this in their homes and in the temple, praising God and having favor with all the people.
Think about how different that sounds than what we’re used to, and ask yourself: What made the difference?
And what we find in Acts 2 is that the difference was the gospel.
This early church community were those who had recently heard the message of salvation proclaimed through the apostle Peter (see Acts 2:14–41). They heard the gospel, believed in Jesus, repented of their sins, were baptized into Christ and into the fellowship of the church. And what their lives looked like after that is what we read in those verses above.
The answer to the problem of individualism and isolation is found in the gospel, because only the gospel creates the true biblical community of God’s people. The gospel creates true community, true belonging, true fellowship.
How is that? Consider three significant ways that the New Testament describes the church:
The People of God
To the church, Peter writes this:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.1 Peter 2:9–10
The church is the people of God. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” Dr. John Hammett of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary writes,
This image can … serve as a corrective to the strong individualism in American society, for it reminds us that the church is a people, not a collection of isolated individuals. Most important of all, the people of God image reminds us that the church is more than a human institution. Eleven times the church is called ‘the church of God.’ God called it and God relates to it; the church is shaped in every way by its relationship to God.John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches
The church is a people––”God’s people.” This reminds us, as Bruce Milne points out, that
Scripture knows nothing of a solitary religion. The salvation it witnesses to is emphatically one which has corporate dimensions. No man can be reconciled to God without being reconciled to the people of God within whom his experience of God’s grace immediately sets him.Bruce Milne, We Belong Together
The Body of Christ
Second, the church is the Body of Christ. This is an implication of being united to him by faith, as we have seen in our study of Galatians. And, as we have seen in Galatians, this means we are united not only to him, but also to one another (see Galatians 3:26–29).
But while our union with Christ is featured in Galatians, it is in Paul’s first letter to the churches of Corinth where we see this imagery of the church being the Body of Christ.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.1 Corinthians 10:16–17
Later, Paul writes: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The truth is, because we are united to Christ, we are united to one another in Christ. Bruce Milne says simply: “To be a Christian … means being gathered out of isolation into the corporate life of the body of Christ.”
The Temple of the Holy Spirit
Finally, the church in the New Testament is shown to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 writes this: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
We need to keep in mind that the “you” in these verses is a plural you (“y’all”). That is, it’s the church corporately, the people together, who are in view here. We should also keep in mind what Paul means by the word “temple.” John Hammett notes that
“The word used here for temple, which is also used for the church in 2 Corinthians 6:16 and Ephesians 2:21, is naos, which ‘refers to the actual sanctuary, the place of the deity’s dwelling, in contrast with the word hieron, which referred to the temple precincts as well as the sanctuary.’ This tells us that the key point being made when Paul refers to the church as God’s temple is that God indwells or inhabits the church.”John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches
This means that we are the dwelling place of God, which constitutes us as a worshiping people; we gather together as his temple for worship. Together we participate in worship, together we approach God, and together receive blessing from God through the Spirit as we worship in accordance with the Word.
The church we see gathering together in Acts 2:42–47 is living out each of these. They’re functioning as a church, an assembly (ekklesia) of those called by God to be together as His people.
And as we live this out, we’re living in the way that God has set before us in Scripture and showing the way forward that our culture desperately needs.
We do this through living out true community, a community that is created only by the gospel, a community that we’ll continue to explore in the coming weeks.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.