Why is this happening to me? What is my purpose in this life? If God is so powerful, then why does He allow me to be treated this way by people who are opposed to Him? Will God ever give me victory over this particular sin?
These are the types of questions that pepper the ordinary Christian life. Christians want an explanation from God for their current suffering and a steadfast promise that their own life will turn out well. Christians know that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28), but it is one thing to memorize it in a Scripture memory program and quite another to believe it when life punches you in the gut.
But as all Christians discover in time, God does not always provide explanations for the suffering or the confusing events that sum up life in this broken world. And that is why the doctrine of the church is so important.
The church is the community of the blood-bought saints, scattered across chronology, geography, and ethnicity. The church is a collection of people dearly loved by God. That means that the story of the church is a tapestry, a stained-glass window of stories. Your triumphs and failures, your sins and sanctification, are a part of the story of the local church of which you are a member. The story of your local church is just one piece of the story of the church universal, helping us see how our own tangible experience that inspires such deep questioning of God is a small part of the story of the church as a whole.
This, then, is our touch point. So much of the ordinary Christian life starts, continues, and ends without a specific explanation from the Lord. But God has made promises as to how the story of the church will go in the world. When the Christian roots his story in his local church’s story, which is a part of the story of the universal church, he finds comfort and rich promises from the Lord.
THE CHURCH AND SPIRITUAL WARFARE
Are you ever discouraged by the spiritual warfare that is so often a part of the ordinary Christian life? Jesus reminds us in Matthew 16:18 that He builds His church, and the gates of hell will not stand against it. Jesus builds and protects His church. The church of Jesus will win in the end. With victory secured, your spiritual skirmishes are divine mop-up missions.
THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD
Are you ever discouraged by what the world thinks of you because of your testimony to Jesus? Do you ever wish that the gospel would be seen for what it is by all its naysayers? Because you are a part of the universal church and a local church, you can be sure that your story is careening toward a grand revelation of Jesus as King and His followers as glorious saints. Paul in Ephesians 3:10 encourages us that the manifold wisdom of God is being displayed in the church as the vanguard of that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
THE CHURCH AND GOD’S PURPOSES
Do you ever wish you could know for sure that you are a part of God’s unfolding plan? When Paul was converted, Jesus asked him why Paul was persecuting Him. Paul didn’t have a response because he didn’t know he was persecuting Jesus as he was persecuting the church (Acts 8:3; 9:4). Jesus so closely aligned Himself with the church that in several places in the New Testament the two—Jesus and the church—are synonymous. Simply put, God’s continuing work in the world through Jesus occurs in the church. So if you are an ordinary Christian, part of an ordinary local church, then you are a part of God’s ongoing and unfolding plan in the world.
THE CHURCH AND YOUR SIN
Are you ever weighed down by your sin, longing for the day that you will be free from it? In Ephesians 5:27, Paul promises that one day Jesus will finish His work of perfecting His bride, the church. On that day, she will be without spot and blemish.
Christian, you are a part of that church, so you will be a part of that spotless, beautiful bride one day. God’s work in you personally is a part of His work in your local church, which is a part of His work in His church as a whole. As you are sanctified, so the church as a whole is sanctified. And when the church is glorified in the presence of King Jesus, so will you participate in that glory.
Your name does not appear in the pages of Scripture. But the name of God’s people, the church, does. The normal, ordinary Christian life is framed by participation in a local church and so taps into all the promises of God given to this outrageously blessed group of people.
There is an answer to the difficult questions Christians ask. Your experiential questions find answers in the experience of the church about whom God has said much. Do you want to live a confident, ordinary Christian life that will bear extraordinary fruit for all eternity? Invest deeply as you participate in a beloved, ordinary local church.