When we were called through grace by Christ unto salvation, we were given new and born-again identities. But these identities were never meant to exist in isolation.
Jesus Christ also spoke about the Great Commission and the great heart of service. Above all, He spoke about love, both for God and unto others. We are called to love each other in the same way we love ourselves. None of this has any meaning without a community, and the Church of Christ is precisely that.
For the last six years, a relatively young church has grown by leaps and bounds. Its pastor is an unassuming man of humility and non-dominance, but he derives an extraordinary and singular love from those who know him. Though the church has grown to be quite sizeable today, most of the congregation knows each other intimately and the church is like a huge family.
Recently, The New Covenant Church (tNCC) at Damansara Kim celebrated their sixth anniversary, and Pastor Peter Sze shared a message about the meaning of Christian community. It was a message that was not just relevant to tNCC itself, but also one that serve as a great reminder for the Church at large.
‘Anniversaries are a time of celebration and as we look back over the last six years, we come together to celebrate God’s goodness throughout the years,’ Pr Peter shared. ‘We want to thank Him. We want to acknowledge that it is He who has made it all possible. You know, we don’t even have a single person here who’s paid to do anything. Everything is done by volunteers all over, and it is because it is their passion, it is because they want to do it.’
What is the secret behind such a dynamic and united community of believers of Christ? Pr Peter conveyed that, first of all, right from the beginning, God has great plans for each of us individually. We respond, we come into the Kingdom individually. It involves a personal response to God. We acknowledge who Jesus is and then we accept Him as our Lord and Savior.
‘No one can do it for us. We must do it ourselves. This is true and it is also true that God truly loves us and wants to bless us and prosper us. But that is not God’s grand plan. His grand plan is to have a people for Himself and that is always true throughout the Scriptures.’
God came not so that we would have many good solo Christians hanging around doing their own thing. He wants us to come together as a family, as a community, as a people, so that we may work out our salvation together, so that we may work out the truth that we know about Him, within our community, that we may find people to love and receive love in return.
1 Peter 2:9-10
9But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
‘This is what God, our Heavenly Father is doing. He’s bringing together people from different backgrounds, from the whole spectrum of the Malaysian society. We might not have known each other 5 or 6 years ago but today we are part of one big family. Once we were not connected in any way but now we are the people of God.’
We are a community of God’s people. What then constitutes a community of a People of God?
A New Covenant Community
First of all, we are a people of a New Covenant. What does it mean to be under the New Covenant? While the Old Testament described God’s love as conditional or reciprocal only upon obedience, the New Testament described God’s love as an agape type of love.
In the Old Testament, if you obey the Law, you were blessed. If you disobey, you would be cursed. But there was also grace in the Old Covenant. God provided them a way out and for their atonement through animal sacrifices. And though the animal sacrifices could only provide cover for sins temporarily, it also pointed to the Cross, where the Lamb of God would deal with sin once and for all.
Jesus was and is today the Lamb of God, our High priest and the Ark of the Covenant. When we have faith in Him and in His finished work, we are included into the New Covenant. In the New Covenant, there is forgiveness. There is right standing before God not through our own righteousness, but through the imputed righteousness that comes from Christ.
Most significantly, there is Sonship. We are more than servants in God’s Kingdom. God considers us His family, His community. In Christ, we are: made alive, a new creation, free from condemnation, righteous before God, blessed and rich in Him. Christ in us is therefore our hope of glory.
A Community of Grace and Truth
Secondly, we are a community of Grace and Truth. We experience and exhibit God’s grace in our lives. We live out the truth of our identity in Christ, not merely as servants anymore, but as sons and daughters of God. We practice Grace and Truth consistently.
Pr Peter shared a verse from John 1:14 in which we are reminded that Jesus is full of Grace but also full of Truth. ‘We cannot separate these two attributes from the person of Jesus. Jesus is not all grace but without truth, nor is He all truth but no grace. Jesus is fully Grace and also fully Truth.’ How does this translate to our daily lives?
If we have Grace but no Truth we will have a lepak culture and we will not know the full richness of a life in Christ. If we have Truth but no Grace, we will have a legalistic culture full of judgment instead of a community of love and redemption. If we have neither Grace nor Truth, we will have a tidak apa culture devoid of anything meaningful. Jesus’ community is full of both Grace and Truth.
Pr Peter communicated that as Christ’s community, we must also be full of both Grace and Truth. God’s community must be motivated by love, committed to radical grace and uncompromising in Truth-telling and –listening. Loving others involves accepting each other as they are, not according to a code of standard. A commitment to truth-telling means speaking the truth in love to one another, even if it’s not easy.
As a family, we need to help each other pick up the pieces and walk through our failures, mistakes and brokenness. In God’s community, we are all in a safe place where we stand together and help each other in the journey. Where we don’t have to hide, pretend, or try to look more spiritual than we really are. No matter where each person may be in their spiritual journey, we work out our issues together, alongside a partnership with God and with each other.
A Community That Reaches Out
Christ also gave us the Great Commission. God’s community is also one that is called to reach out. We can do this through various ways, through providing education to the broken and the poor, in supporting missionaries and their work, or in street ministry. Wherever we are, God has called us to a privileged role of redeeming the world unto Him.
A Supernatural Community
Alongside the call to reach out, we are also given supernatural empowerment through the Spirit. Whenever calamity threatens to fall upon us, the Lord intervenes in our lives with favour and blessings. His grace enables us to will and do what pleases Him. Through the gifts of the Spirit, He empowers us to impact others.
A Discipling Community
Why do we reach out to others? We are called not just to get decisions, but also to make disciples. Pr Peter conveyed that the essence of discipleship is to learn to become like Jesus, both in character and competency.
Christ was always in control. When the people around Him needed food, He fed 5000 of them with a few fishes and a few loaves of bread. When the storm came upon the boat where He and His disciples were, He spoke and the storm died. When the Pharisees tried to challenge Him, He always confounded them with divine wisdom. The specifics and level of spiritual authority may differ but the analogy of having control over our circumstances is apt.
Discipleship has to be developed and it takes time and discipline. It has to be caught from a good mentor rather than taught. It must be both structured and spontaneous. It must be both organized and yet organic in its growth and development. It has to involve a formal element and yet involve some informality in that it cannot become rigid.
Ultimately, what defines a community of God’s people? Jesus’ community is a New Covenant community of Grace and Truth that are supernaturally blessed and empowered to reach out and make disciples.
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