Before sinners needed saving or a broken world needed restoring, God asserted that something wasn’t right: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Who could have expected such an early plot twist? He’d created a beautiful universe, yet something was missing.
Eternally existing as the Trinity, God had always enjoyed relationship as Father, Son, and Spirit. Since Adam was his image-bearer, he was made to have relationships too. Our longing for family and friendship isn’t the result of the fall—it’s the result of God’s original plan.
We need community. When we don’t have it, we’ll feel an emptiness, a longing, a craving, one that isn’t rooted in discontentment but in our very design. Just like God created us to require oxygen and water and food to live, he’s created us to need one another. It is not good that man should be alone, and it never was. So God made the church.
Individual Salvation, Corporate Citizenship
In Western culture, the high regard for autonomy and obsession with individualism has come at a cost: community. This lack of community (coupled with other factors) has contributed to rising loneliness, affecting our physical and mental well-being. In the church, it’s affecting our spiritual health too.
When cultural Christianity was the norm, many who grew up in or around church inherited a false assurance of salvation. Mounting concerns over this problem harkened a new focus on personal relationships with Jesus. This wasn’t entirely ill-founded. God loves us as individuals and calls us as individuals to follow him. Going to church doesn’t save you. Having Christian parents doesn’t save you. Living in the Bible Belt doesn’t save you. Jesus does, indeed, require personal allegiance.
However, well-intentioned efforts to emphasize the importance of a personal relationship with God have inadvertently diminished the importance of our corporate relationship. It doesn’t end with just “Jesus and me.” God has saved us individually to become a people:
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 Pet. 2:9–10)
When we come to faith in Christ, we obtain citizenship in God’s kingdom. We aren’t lone rangers; we are indelibly linked to God’s people. If we imagine that life is just about “Jesus and me,” we won’t function as faithful citizens.
On Mission Together
God has set apart his church as a holy nation. One that exists to worship and proclaim the Lord. One that operates with righteousness and justice, where the prosperous share with the poor and the powerful protect the weak. One where individuals work for the common good, more passionate about corporate flourishing than selfish gain. A place where the inhabitants don’t only consider their own interests, but “decide never to put a stumbling block” and to “pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:13, 19). A place overflowing with truth and grace and love.
Surrounding this holy nation, a war rages. So while we await the return of our King, we arm ourselves for battle. We watch out for each other and protect one another from the flaming darts of the Evil One. Paul urges us to patiently admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, and help the weak (1 Thess. 5:14).
We carry out the mission together, inviting others to join the kingdom that will not be shaken. When enemies are in our midst—seeking to deceive and dismantle the kingdom—we drive them out. And when the battle seems bleak and our hope wavers, we remind each other that God has already won.
Growing in Holiness and Wholeness
Oh, what a lonely road it would be if Christianity was only about our individual relationships with God! Life is full of trials and tribulations. Jesus warned that we’ll be hated and scorned for following him.
Knowing that we’re not alone is profoundly comforting. We aren’t the first Christians to suffer for his name, and we won’t be the last. We are citizens who work together, soldiers who battle together, and elect exiles who joyfully await a better place. Together we’re called to fight the good fight of faith. Together we’re called to follow our King.
But since we’re still sinners who often fail to live this calling out, life in community is messy. It rarely seems like a sweet taste of heaven and can be downright painful at times. But as we live according to our identity in our local church, we will grow in both holiness and wholeness. We won’t be alone, and it will be very good.
This article is adapted from my book, A Hunger for More: Finding Satisfaction in Jesus When the Good Life Doesn’t Fill You (TGC/Crossway).