Gretta was a self-made woman. She was raised by a single mom who had to sometimes work two jobs to support the family. As the oldest of the three, Gretta was responsible at a young age for her siblings. Her upbringing prepared her to be competent and capable.
She went to college on an academic scholarship and graduated with a Marketing degree. Before long, Gretta was working for a large company making good money; far more than her mother ever made. She climbed the corporate ladder while making her way through several relationships until she and Chad married. Sadly, his substance abuse and unwillingness to be faithful to Gretta resulted in a dicey divorce that left her more committed than ever to rely on no one…but herself. Being raised in the church provided her with some security that God cared. But a demanding schedule didn’t allow time for the church thing.
Mostly because she thought of the church as a building decent people should go to once a week or so.
One of the often overlooked aspects of living a Christian life of costly obedience to God is the place the church holds in the equation. Last Sunday Benny preached a message called, “The Church and the Purposes of God.” In it he provided a flyover of the history of God’s relationship with His people that illustrated the theme of his sermon: “God’s eternal purpose is to dwell among a people He has made for His own.” From the Garden through the Old Testament to the time of Christ until He returns to take His chosen to the city He is preparing for us, God has always had a people of His very own. He still does.
The church isn’t a pretty building with a white steeple; an institution; a place people go to silence their conscience or pay God off by putting money in the offering; a social club or Sunday morning ritual. The church is a gathering of beloved followers of the only God who stooped down to die so we could know Him. It’s not an organization but an organism. Alive. Vibrant. Oozing with life, mentoring, service, tears, compassion, wrongdoing, forgiveness, training in godliness, gift deployment and doing life together. And it’s comprised of flawed and broken people like Gretta.
The problem is Gretta doesn’t know she needs the church and it needs her. She needs a place where she can be regularly taught that Jesus Christ didn’t just come down to save and forgive, but resides within to help and sustain. A place she can use her many gifts to help, encourage and mentor others. A spiritual family she can laugh and cry with; brothers and sisters to help bear the burden of sadness over the divorce and check to see how she’s doing after an exhausting business trip. Where friends can show her that loyalty and faithfulness still happen. Where children can sit in a lap she has no hope of filling with someone who looks like her. And where she can risk being open with her temptations to sin with a married man who is giving her the attention for which she longs — but thinks she’s too “used” to get from a stand up guy who probably isn’t out there anyway.
You can be a Christian and not be a part of a church, just like you can be a Christian and not do other things the Bible requires. Once we experience saving faith and have been declared not guilty by God, nothing will separate us from His love. Yet to allow anything (schedule, past negative experiences, flawed fellow believers, work, sleep, kids sports, leisure) to prevent us from consistent involvement in the place God has chosen as a primary means of our growth and connection to other Christians is simply near sighted.
My involvement in Redeemer Church isn’t because my husband is the pastor. Okay, I’ll admit it. There have been numerous times over the years when I would have skipped a meeting or event (or two, or three, or twenty) if pride in my reputation hadn’t made me think my absence might have reflected negatively on my husband. But everyone, not just pastors wives, has to make costly decisions to choose time with the people of God over other things, just like we also have to choose going to work or doing laundry or keeping a dentist appointment when we don’t feel like it.
Going on Sunday mornings, to weekly Community Groups, to picnics and baby showers and lunch after the meeting and worship nights with Redeemer Church is a priority to me because I’m God’s daughter, not because I’m Benny’s wife. It’s also because God has chosen to dwell among His people when the church gathers.
Yes, He lives in each of us individually and we could spiritually survive on a desert island.
But we were made to live in community where love, trust, forgiveness, instruction, worship, service and persevering love gives us the opportunity to be like the triune God who Himself lives in constant fellowship as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. If God doesn’t live in isolation, why should Gretta? Or me? Or you?
Author and pastor Paul Tripp says: “The Bible speaks of Christian experience as deeply and expansively and comprehensively relational. We were not hardwired to live this Christian experience by ourselves. If you are going to grow and be the instrument of growth in others, you have to understand that I move toward you not because I trust you, but knowing we’re both broken and this is potentially messy. I move toward you because there is hope for us because of the cross.”
Costly obedience means being willing to agree with God that living in community is His wise plan. It’s a pricey plan. It requires me to say no to autonomy and hiding my sin; to sleep or Sunday morning leisure; and to thinking I can figure out life for myself rather than humbly soliciting the counsel, correction, assessment and friendship of others.
You see, for forty years I’ve been a part of churches where God has used the teaching and relationships to change me. Otherwise, I am Gretta. Without an understanding of what the Bible teaches about the church, I would only selectively open my life and heart to others. I would choose to work through my hurts and temptations alone, opening my heart to anyone only after I’ve come to a solution. I would choose self-reliance over healthy interdependence on other flawed sinners any day if God hadn’t given me a vision for His church.
Costly obedience, though, means I choose to live in community with others. Even when I don’t feel like it.