Book Excerpt

One Among Many

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Have you ever “unfollowed” one of your Christian friends on Facebook because you couldn’t handle their political views? Or maybe you received criticism because of who you voted for in the last election. Have you ever found yourself longing for the good old days in the worship service when the songs were recognizable and the volume was bearable? Do they really have to sing the same choruses over and again? Or can you recall a situation when you felt uncomfortable with “those kind of people” when you noticed them in a church service, people different from you in some significant way? Perhaps you thought they would be more comfortable in a service that was designed for their own kind. Politics, worship styles, and personal biases are just some of the challenges church folk face as they try to navigate their personal identity along with their membership in the body of Christ. The lens that the Bible uses to help us understand ourselves is both individual and collective. The church is one body made of many members (1 Cor. 12:27). We cannot see ourselves as mere individuals. Yet we do not lose our individual identity in Christ (1 Cor. 7:18–20). In the New Testament, the designation “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19 ESV) is ascribed both to the individual believer and the entire faith community. The church is a collective by nature. The bond that knits individual believers together is spiritual. We are joined to one another because we are united with Christ. Unfortunately, this spiritual reality does not guarantee either a cohesive culture or a community that expresses mutual concern for its individual members.

It’s no accident that the epistle that speaks most clearly of our identity as one among many was addressed to the sharply divided church in Corinth. It alerts us to the pitfalls we face in wrestling with our identity. Some in Corinth overidentified with their leaders in a way that set them against others. They even identified themselves with Christ in a way that set them against other members of Christ’s body. In order to have a biblically shaped identity, we must learn to hold our individual identity in balance with our corporate identity. And Paul shows us a way to do this in his letter to Philemon. We must know when to subordinate the particularities of our individual sense of self to our collective identity as part of the body of Christ.

DIVISIONS IN THE BODY IN CORINTH

One of the many problems the Corinthian church wrestled with was an overidentification with their Roman social identity. We see this unhealthy tendency in many of their actions. They were dividing around key personalities (1 Cor. 1:12). They over-relied on the world’s wisdom (1 Cor. 2:5). They had an inordinate trust in Roman officials (1 Cor. 2:6–9). They had a misplaced confidence in Roman law courts, which were central in enforcing Roman identity (1 Cor. 6:1–11). And their social hierarchy relied on patronage relationships, the primary economic model in antiquity (1 Cor. 3:3–4; 4:8; 11:17–34). Civic identity had become a problem for the congregation, which resulted in “divisions” within the body (1 Cor. 11:18). This was so much the case that Paul had to ask, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13).

We see Paul’s goal for the community in 1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” To accomplish this, Paul addresses issues related to identity in chapters 1–4, and then he instructs the Corinthians on issues related to individual ethics in chapters 5–10. In chapters 11–16, he offers guidance in the formation of the group’s ethos. Paul recognized that identity influences individual ethics, which when expressed in a group setting also produce a group ethos. Leaders seeking to maintain or restore unity in a church need to sustain a balanced focus on these three areas: identity, ethics, and ethos.

Paul focuses on the transformation of the group ethos in the last part of the letter, and after addressing issues related to worship practices, he writes, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). is may be another example of Corinthian Roman social identity causing problems in the church. e imagery of a group of people as a body was well-known in Roman politics. Menenius Agrippa used it to reestablish a hierarchical relationship between the senate and the plebeians. His point was that each segment of society had a role to play and should remain in their social stations for the common good. His purpose was to maintain the existing order for the ruling elites and to tell the masses they had no choice but to submit to this order.

In light of the problems in Corinth associated with Roman political identity, it’s likely that just such a status-based approach to communal life had taken root in the church, especially when one considers the mistreatment of the poor at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17–34). Paul, as an intercultural mediator, took this well-known imagery and reused it to point out the way status reversals are the norm within the church. Those who were undesirables among the Romans were given honor in the “body” (1 Cor. 12:22–24). It is likely that the problems associated with tongues were also linked to social strati cation (1 Cor. 14:18–20). Paul identified with the higher-status group initially but then switched to o er a transformed approach to worship. “In declaring this,” Kar Lim explains, “Paul is also instructing those who perceived that they might have higher social status because of the possession of the gift of tongues to give up their rights to speak for the sake of the weaker brother so that there would be no schism in the body (1 Cor. 12:25).” By doing this, Paul is marking identity boundaries for the group and noting that they are different than the status-based ones evident in the broader culture. The identity of the group as the body of Christ is made evident through the inclusion of the weak and poor, those the broader culture would set aside as deplorable.

IDENTIFICATION WITH CHRIST

Paul emphasized the close connection between Christ and those who claim to follow Him. This may harken to his experience on the Damascus road where the risen Christ associated the members of the church with Himself (Acts 9:1–5). Identification with Christ refers to the position every believer has in Jesus on the basis of His work and the appropriation of it by the individual believer’s faith. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit as an act of divine grace. Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 12:13 when he writes, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” And in Galatians 3:27, he describes this experience as being “baptized into Christ.”

We are united with Christ (John 15:1–6; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:6). Scripture’s teaching on our union with Christ is crucial for the formation of a salient identity. Theologian J. Todd Billings describes it this way: “Union with Christ . . . entails the giving of a new identity such that in Christ, forgiveness and new life are received through the Spirit. Union with Christ involves abiding in Christ the Vine. It means that through the Spirit, sinners are adopted in the household of God as co-heirs with Christ.” Those who are in Christ have at their disposal the cognitive, evaluative, and emotional resources to overcome a life of failure, guilt, and frustration—both personally and with others (1 Cor. 2:10–16).

The last phrase, “with others,” is especially important. Union with Christ is not just a personal doctrine. It is also a social one. As a result of being united to Christ the Head, all individual believers—members of Christ’s body—are united to each other. Naomi Ellemers recognizes that the three components mentioned above (cognitive, evaluative, and emotional) contribute to a sense of social identity: “a cognitive component (a cognitive awareness of one’s membership in a social group— self-categorization), an evaluative component (a positive or negative value connotation attached to this group membership—group self-esteem), and an emotional component (a sense of emotional involvement with the group—affective commitment).” These three components are important to keep in mind as we seek to uphold the unity of the church while maintaining and honoring our respective differences. Too often, union with Christ is seen only as a theological point and not a social one. It is more than a point of belief. It is also a way of life.

Seeing union with Christ only as a doctrine often results in the fossilization of Christian identity. Fossilization occurs when theological constructs designed to address earlier cultural settings are transported to a different era without proper contextualization. The way to overcome fossilization is to translate union with Christ in a way that retains its essential content while restating it in contemporary terms. Union with Christ doesn’t require only one way of living. Christian identity adapts to various cultural circumstances. William S. Campbell notes that in-Christ language is metaphorical. But on what basis is the believer’s being in Christ or in union with Christ construed as a metaphor rather than a reality? Being in Christ is conceptual (lending coherence to Paul’s writing) and also contributes to shaping these new realities based on existing ways of acting, knowing, and communicating. In this way, in Christ becomes a “metaphor we live by.”


J. BRIAN TUCKER (BS, Lee College; MA, Liberty University; MDiv, Michigan Theological Seminary; DMin, Michigan Theological Seminary; PhD, University of Wales, Lampeter) is Professor of New Testament at Moody Theological Seminary and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David in the United Kingdom.  In his spare time, he enjoys science fiction and playing and listening to jazz.

JOHN KOESSLER serves as chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute, where he has served on the faculty since 1994. He is an award-winning author who has written thirteen books and numerous magazine articles. He writes the monthly “Theology Matters” column for Today in the Word and is a frequent workshop leader at the Moody Pastor’s Conference. Prior to joining the Moody faculty, John served as a pastor of Valley Chapel in Green Valley, Illinois, for nine years. He is married to Jane and they live in Munster, Indiana.

 

Taken from All Together Different: Upholding the Church's Unity While Honoring Our Individual Identities by J. Brian Tucker and John Koessler (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

5 Reasons to Give Your Church Jesus

We have the tools and know the motives, but how do we give our churches Jesus? By preaching the gospel to ourselves and to one another. “What you really need is good news,” I told him. He didn’t understand. We had met time and time again and unknowingly, he was trying to perform his way into the kingdom. “You can’t do that,” I exhorted. “Otherwise you miss the entire point of Jesus and His performance on your behalf!”

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all need good news. Not just good news, but better-than-anything news. News that announces something spectacular—like nothing you could ever imagine or fabricate. And until you recognize this need, you’ll be helpless. Like an engine with no gas, your life, without a constant barrage of Jesus-is-King news, will stall.

I often tell my congregation that I have thirty-four years left in my ministry here, and for those thirty-four years, you will hear the gospel over and over again, not because you don’t know it in your brain, but because knowing it in your brain isn’t enough. We must know it—I must know it—in our hearts, and in our hands. Remember, the gospel isn’t the starting point—it is the point. It’s the point of everything! And until we understand this truth, we will continue to be lured away, enticed by other false gospels that over-promise and under-deliver. These things distract us from making war.

Martin Luther is reported to have said that he continues to preach the gospel each and every week because each and every week his people forget it. I’m sure he would include himself in this assertion because let’s face it, we’re all guilty as charged.

Because of this, there are five simple reasons why we need to hear about Jesus and His glorious gospel each and every day. “Give us Jesus” ought to be the rally cry of the church. If we are to make war, we must do so here. Over and over again, our hearts should be yearning to hear the gospel again and again—like my two-year-old daughter begging for a “horsey-ride” on my back, let us go back to the truth that sets us free. We make war using the preaching of the gospel to ourselves and each other:

1. So Our Affections Are Stirred

Our emotions are impressed with many things. Whether a good movie, television show, football game, or shiny new Apple product, we love an emotionally stirring experience. We thrive on it. But what happens when those emotions become sour? What happens when we just don’t feel like worshiping Jesus and finding joy in him? What do you do when your affections are clouded with bitterness, jealousy, envy, and anger? What happens in war if you are tired and just don’t “feel it”?

Jonathan Edwards is helpful: “Upon the whole, I think it is clearly manifest, that all truly gracious affections arise from special and peculiar influences of the Spirit, working that sensible effect or sensation in the souls of the saints.”

It is the Holy Spirit that drives our affections towards gospel holiness and one of the means by which He does so is through gospel proclamation. We need it. Fighting for joy is absolutely that—a fight; but joy in Him is absolutely worth it (Ps. 16:11). Only when old affections have been expunged by greater, far superior affections can we be free from idolatry.

You see, in war time, your affections can take a beating. You can be side-tracked by other things. You don’t have time to sit around and worry about those distractions. Making war is an all-out declaration that the only thing that matters in this moment, at this time, is that the gospel takes precedence against the enemy. You will feel overwhelmed. God gives you more than you can handle because the idol of self-sufficiency is destructive. You can’t make your heart feel good towards God. You need something from the outside, namely, good news. The gospel stirs up affections, like bubbles in a glass jar, so that what comes out of you is holy.

2. So Our Identities Are Clarified

Whether it is a counseling appointment with a young man trying to understand what he should do with his life, or a newly engaged couple looking for some premarital help, I am convinced that the root issue with all of our problems is an issue of identity. For example, no matter the marital issue, I can always trace the issue between the husband and wife back to the problem of a husband not being a biblical husband, and a wife not being a biblical wife. Identity matters tremendously.

If you think about it—sin is a loss of identity. When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden, they lost their identity as a covenant people with their covenant God. Subsequently, because of their transgression, their lives were marred by sin and ever since then, man, made in God’s image, has simply forgotten who he is in relationship to God. Everyone knows He exists (Rom. 1:20); however, the issue is identity amnesia.

Take the example of the pursuit of holiness. For the Christian, the battle of sanctification is a battle to be who you are. If you’re a redeemed saint, then act like one! When we give ourselves to sin, we lose our identity—hence the need for the gospel. We need a constant reminder that we are freely justified in Christ to rest in Him. Wartime has a tendency to distract us, so it is important to know who you are.

3. So Our Idols Are Uprooted

John Calvin wrote, “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.”32 Calvin was on to something. Every time we lose sight of the gospel it is because we have taken our eyes away from Jesus and placed them on an idol. Idols can be subversively deceptive, or they can be patently obvious. Either way, this side of glorification will undoubtedly be marked by a constant fight with idols. That’s what happens in war.

An idol cannot be uprooted by mere moral effort. It has to be uprooted and replaced by something far superior, namely, the gospel. And what better way to see an idol uprooted, than the goodness of the good news? The intensity of pain we feel when an idol is removed from us is directly proportionate to how far away we walked from belief in the gospel. If sin and idolatry is trusting, confiding, believing, and gaining identity from something other than God, then it follows that we ought to, through repentance and faith, trust, confide, believe, and gain our identity in Jesus. Idols are destroyed when good news is heeded.

4. So Our Covenant Is Kept

As talked about in the previous chapter, the New Covenant instituted by our Lord is meant to be kept. Sometimes we do not often talk like this, mostly because in portions of our culture we’ve lost the key concepts behind covenant. Regardless of unconscious ignorance, it is our duty—indeed it is commanded of us!—to “be holy” (1 Pt. 1:15-16; cf. Lev. 11:44). To be sure, Christ is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). However, we are still called to the covenant obligations of obedience. And because of the indwelling power of God the Holy Spirit, we can follow Jesus in obedience (Jn. 14:21) because the law has been written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33; cf. 2 Cor. 3:6). This happens through the work of the Spirit leading us to truth (Jn. 17:17) and glorifying Christ (the power of the gospel in us). You need to hear it, because the Spirit uses it to drive your obedience.

5. So Our Mission Is Spurred On

So having had our affections stirred, our identities clarified, our idols uprooted, and our covenant in check, what do we do? The answer? Make disciples. This is our mission. The gospel is news; therefore, it should be proclaimed. Boldly, I might add. After all, Jesus has been given all authority—we need not fear (Matt. 28:18; more on this in the next chapter).

If we do not continue to go back to the good news again and again, we will lose sight of our identity and purpose. The gospel is the engine that drives this whole thing. Without it, we are lost. Again and again, we need to hear, see, believe, experience afresh, enjoy, and understand the good news of Jesus’ work on our behalf: His virgin birth, His perfect life under the law of God, His perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures (Israel’s story), His substitutionary death, His resurrection, His ascension to the throne, and His current mediation—this is our gospel! Let it spur us on to do His work.

“I have stored up your word in my heart,” the writer says, “that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). The issue is not just hearing the gospel, but marinating in it as well. Whether proclaimed from the pulpit or shared over a cup of coffee, the gospel must take center stage, because we do not want to sin against God. When it is stored in our hearts and minds, we get all of the benefits mentioned above. But the ultimate benefit is that we get God. We need the good news because we need God. The war against sin is not a war against sin in and of itself. The war against indwelling sin is a war to get God. He is the prize worth pursuing.

Will you rest in the righteousness of Christ credited to your account? Will you walk in peace, knowing that peace is at the heart of gospel? Will you put on the helmet of salvation, knowing that your salvation has been secured because of Christ’s perfect work? Will you tighten the belt of truth so that your life is held together by the truth of God’s word? Will you hold fast and “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3)? Will you boldly take up your sword, trust in the authority of Scripture, and wield it with humility? If so, then you must wage war knowing the battle has already been won. Christ is victorious. Christ is King.

Rev. Jason M. Garwood (@jasongarwood) serves as Lead Pastor of Colwood Church in Caro, MI. Jason and his wife Mary have three children, Elijah, Avery and Nathan. He blogs at www.jasongarwood.com. Connect with him on Twitter.

Excerpt from Be Holy: Learning the Path of Sanctification available from G4S Books (2014).