Continuing our series called “Shaped by the gospel”, we will look at a gospel shaped community. How do we know what a community shaped by the gospel looks like? We will attempt to answer this question in three points: One faith; One body; and One purpose.
A gospel shaped Community is not just a Bible study group or City group, or a ministry group. And it’s certainly not just a weekly meeting or Sunday worship. While healthy Gospel shaped Community include all of those things over time, its primary identity consists of a family of believers learning to follow Jesus together in every area of their lives for the glory of God.
1. ONE FAITH: A gospel shaped community consists of those who have repented and believed and have a common experience of the gospel, which is a message of grace.
The biblical metaphor for this is the “assembly” at Mount Sinai. There God said, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:4–5). “I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you … I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (Ex. 6:6–7).
Notice the order in Exodus 19 & 6. First God saves them from slavery and secondly, as a result, they now obey his law and live according to his will. They do not obey the law and then as a result of their merit are saved by God. They were saved by grace, committed themselves to “God, and so became a distinct “people.” What made the Israelites “a people”—a corporate body, a community—was a shared past of God’s grace.
This remains true for Christians today. In the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:9–10, Peter deliberately takes phrases from Exodus 19:4–6 and applies them to the church “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.”
We too are “a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9), because we have heard and believed the gospel and have been brought into a new relationship with other Christians, who are now our “brothers and sisters” (1 Peter 1:22).
If we come to God like the Pharisees of Luke 18 - with our performance and self- righteousness then we are not part of Gospel shaped community. On the other hand, if like the tax-collector we are aware of the holiness of God, of our sinfulness and are completely dependent on Christ’s righteousness or the grace and mercy of God to be accepted by God, only then are we a people and community who are shaped by the gospel.
2. ONE BODY: Gospel shaped community consists of people who deliberately share life together. (Romans 12:3-8)
The controlling biblical metaphor for this aspect is that Christians are God’s “family” and “household” (Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:19; 1 Peter 4:17; Rom. 12:10). A family lives life together - eating, living, and working together. The other controlling metaphor is “the body,” another powerful way of saying that Christians are not an aggregation of individuals but one coherent organism, with each member playing his or her part and deeply, integrally connected to the rest.
Paul says that in Christ’s body, “each member belongs to all the others” (Rom. 12:5). This goes deeper than the modern concept of being a “member” of a club, because the Greek word he uses, melos, was the common word for a part of the human body. Paul is saying, “You are the limbs and organs of one another. You are the eyes, arms, and heart of one another.” We are profoundly interdependent.
The implications of this principle are spelled out practically in dozens of “one another” passages in the New Testament epistles.
John Stott writes, God means his church to be a community of mutual support. “Comfort one another”, Paul writes (1 Thess. 4:18); “encourage one another,” and “build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11) … The word “one another” or “each other” (alleloi) emphasizes the reciprocity of Christian care. We are not to leave it to an elite of professional comforters or counselors. These have an important role to fulfill, of course, but supporting, caring, encouraging and comforting are ministries which belong to all members of the Body of Christ.
In Galatians 6:2, Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”. Notice it does not say “bear/carry other’s burdens” but “bear/carry each other’s burdens.” It means something like this: “Live in a community where you don’t let others carry their burdens alone, and where you also don’t try to carry your own burden alone. Help others and let others help you.”
It is a form of hypocrisy to be willing to help others with their weaknesses but to hide your own or refuse help. It takes a gospel-changed heart to give help unselfishly to others, and it takes a gospel-changed heart to receive help unashamedly from others. This for instance is not easy for Pastors, this is a big challenge. I never shared my weaknesses or challenges to people while I was pastoring for my community.
Are we a community where we share our life together? Bearing each other’s burdens? Comforting one another; encouraging one another, and building each other up?
3. ONE PURPOSE: Gospel shaped community is an alternative society that models distinctive ways to do everything in life and as a result God is glorified
Let’s read Matt. 5:14 & 16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”. One of the controlling biblical metaphors for this is the church as a “city on a hill” whose visible behavior shines out and shows the world the glory of God.
In the future, God is going to unite and heal all things under the lordship of Christ (Eph. 1:9–10; Isa. 11:1–9). Currently, the church is a model or a preview of what that future society or community under Christ will look like. We are to model the transformation that the gospel makes to every area of life. In other words, the Gospel Shaped community is supposed to be unique because of the presence of the Holy Spirit and the power of the gospel among us.
How is the gospel shaped community supposed to be unique or distinct or different from normal human community?
A. The first—and perhaps the most important way is Love
Let’s read Luke 6:32-36, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”
This is such a profound, counter-culture and provocative passage. What point is Jesus making about human nature here in this passage? He is saying, it’s natural to be good to people who are good to you. It’s human nature to like people who like us. But he is saying that a Christian or Gospel shaped community should be distinct and different from a normal human community. It is counter-intuitive - going beyond what’s normal. It should be unusual, provocative, and unexplainable—like God’s mercy to us.
Augustine, in his book, City of God, writes about a city within the city - “In the city, for the city”.
Are we different from a normal community by loving our enemies, and doing good, and lending without expecting anything in return? Are we kind to the ungrateful and the evil? And are we merciful, even as our Father is merciful?
B. Second characteristic or distinctiveness is joy.
If we have believed the good news of the gospel, and if we are experiencing the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit through repentance and faith, we will be a joyful people. Joy is one of the by- products of knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord. “The fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy” (Galatians 5:22).
So take a moment and let’s think about yourself:
● Are you a joyful person? Do people see you that way?
● Now think about your church or community group. Is it marked by radical joy? Would outsiders spending time with you comment on the deep joy they see in your community?
● Does your joy depend on stimulation or the gospel?
Many of us would have to admit that joy isn’t always a defining characteristic of our souls or our communities. And we don’t always recognize that as a significant problem. If our churches aren’t biblically literate, or if they aren’t missionally effective, making disciples, or if they aren’t growing, those are issues we think are worth talking about. Lack of joy isn’t usually that big of a deal.
Allow Martyn Lloyd-Jones, an influential twentieth-century British preacher, to answer that question.
Christian people too often seem to be perpetually in the doldrums and too often give this appearance of unhappiness and of lack of freedom and absence of joy. There is no question at all but that this is the main reason why large numbers of people have ceased to be interested in Christianity. . . . In a world where everything has gone so sadly astray, we should be standing out as men and women apart, people characterized by a fundamental joy!
C. The third distinction is Humility
When we read Mark 10:35, we see the disciples wanted to be great or fighting for position in Jesus’ kingdom but Jesus gave his kingdom’s principle which was a counter-culture radically different from the world. “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you”. And he said to them, what do you want me to do for you? And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory”.... James’ and John’s request is basically a request to be vice-president or cabinet members in Jesus’ Kingdom. They thought that if they could get into the right positions, they would be able to serve the Messiah – and themselves. But then, in verse 41 “And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. Why do the other disciples respond the way they do? They were indignant at James and John. Perhaps because they want the same thing what James and John do.
But Jesus’ pointed out clearly about his kingdom which radical, distinct, unique, counter intuitive: Verse 42, And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know what those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.
True greatness is found in serving others, which requires humility. Pride is the enemy of kingdom living. John Stott wrote, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.”
D. The fourth distinction is Honesty
Real, authentic community means being known “as we really are.” But most of us are worried that others won’t accept us or like us if they really knew us. So instead of letting our true selves be known, we hide behind a false self. We put forward a good image. We pretend. This sort of “image management,” though it seems okay, is actually deeply wicked. It’s a subtle form of dishonesty, manipulation, and lying.
Author Brennan Manning refers to this as “the Impostor:”
To gain acceptance and approval....We present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us. . . . Clothing with a false glitter what is least substantial and turning us away from what is real. The false self causes us to live in a world of delusion. The impostor is a liar.
By the way, we are skilled at playing the impostor. It’s exactly what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. When God created them, they were “naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). But once they sinned, they began to hide. They became aware of their nakedness and “sewed fig leaves together” (Genesis 3:7). Rather than being fully transparent, they were ashamed and began to withhold things from each other and from God. And we’ve been doing the same thing ever since. This is the reason Christian community is often shallow and stagnant. Instead we have to turn from this darkness, this denial of truth, and “walk in the light”, because we are the light of the world.
But how can we consistently walk in the light? What gives us the freedom to live in honesty and truth with one another? It’s the gospel. To do that, we need to turn again to what the gospel has to say about who we are. The gospel assures us that God fully approves of us and accepts us in Christ, despite our weaknesses and sins. It’s “the blood of Jesus cleansing us from all sin.” The more we truly believe this, the more we are freed from slavery to the approval or disapproval of others. We can walk in the light, confident in our identity in Christ, free to be known as we really are and to love others as they really are.
If we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. We have true community. We have real relationships. We’re finished pretending, hiding, covering up. You know the real me and I know the real you. And that’s a good recipe for true friendship and family.
So, let’s pause and ask yourself this question: “What keeps me from experiencing deeper or Gospel shaped community? What excuse are we making?
• I’m too busy; I can’t invest the time it requires.
• These people aren’t like me; there’s a limit to how “deep” we can go.
• If these people really knew me, I’m not sure they’d accept me.
Most of us have justified these barriers to community for so long that we don’t see anything wrong with them. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that we are God’s image bearers. So the depth of our community says something about God and his gospel! If we are content with a shallow community, we are content to reflect a shallow and superficial image of who God is.
The Scriptures call us to community. As we try to obey that call and move toward others, we encounter barriers that keep us from loving others as God has loved us. Those barriers reveal that we are more needy, broken, and sinful than we thought. Our natural response is to ignore, avoid, or excuse our brokenness. But Jesus invites us instead to acknowledge our sin and turn to Him in repentance, faith, and worship. As we do this, we are changed. We begin to see how desperately we need to depend on God every moment. We start to trust that our Father loves us and wants the best for us. And we are freed to love other people—our faith expresses itself in love for others.
So what does a healthy, vibrant, Christian, or Gospel shaped community look like? How does it avoid being shallow and superficial? It’s honest. Struggling. Loving. Failing. Clinging to Jesus. Repenting to each other. Forgiving each other. Placing others ahead of ourselves. Helping point each other to the cross. This is the beautiful mess of gospel shaped community.