Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Being Part of the Body

The traditional American ideal is rugged individualism. But the Bible pictures the Christian church as a body (Romans 12:4,5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Colossians 2:19). A body is made up of different parts that are intimately connected and work together as a whole. Now this stands in contrast, not only to traditional individualism, but to the modern idea that reduces everyone to replaceable cogs in the impersonal machine of society. Rather, the picture we are given is that each part is different and each part is important. Now it is true that we are all to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10), but that image can express itself in different ways through different people. Consider the writers of Scripture; God used them to write His Word, but He did it through their various personalities. A good picture of this is a stained glass window. It is made of many different sizes and colors of pieces of glass. But it is only when the light shines through that the picture emerges. In the same way, it is only when Christ works through our lives that we become the full expression of what God wants us to be.

Now I do not want to give the impression that what is produced when Christ works through us is merely the expression of the unique individuality that we already possess. Rather, as C. S. Lewis points out in “Membership” (in The Weight of Glory), our identity in the body of Christ is not a matter of who we are but of what God is making us into (Ephesians 4:15,16; 2:10; Philippians 3:12-16). In some cases this process may actually involve cutting away things we regard as vital (Matthew 5:29,30) in order to be made into the person God wants us to be.

But the one thing that is clear is if we are to become a body we must do it together. The Christian life is not something I am to go alone. This would be like seeing a disconnected eye or hand walking around by itself. Nor is the community there to serve my individualist purposes, but we are there to accomplish the goals of the head. Now each part of the body will, by being part of the body, have its real needs met. But when one part puts its selfish desires before the good of the whole body, it becomes destructive. We are admonished in Scripture to promote the unity of the body by putting others before ourselves (Philippians 2:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-6; Romans 12:9-21). But the result of this should be a community where we learn and grow together. Now I know from personal experience that the Christian church is not a perfect place with perfect people. (We are not going to see that this side of Glory.) But we are commanded by God to unite together with all our imperfections as His people that we might together accomplish His purpose in the world.

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