Having finished my sophomore year in college, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I should do with my life. Pondering questions about God’s will and such. Over the past year or so, I’ve gradually developed a crazy thought, which is simply this: God’s will for me, for everybody, is the Church. Before I explain why I think it’s crazy, I think I should first try to describe why God’s will is the Church (by will, I mean something like “God’s plan for your life”). And then, I’ll try to say something about how this thought might play out in real life.
What first brought me to begin considering this idea was a puzzling verse in Galatians, where Paul writes that through Christ, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (6:14). Despite spending most of the letter arguing for justification through faith rather than works, here, Paul seems to suggest a very real participation in the crucifixion, even saying that he bears on his body “the marks of Jesus” (6:17). Hence, although Paul no longer bears the burden of works righteousness, yet he does bear some other burden, one related to the crucifixion.
I think that Paul’s references to the crucifixion are related to the command in 6:2 to “Bear one another’s burdens.” This is also an interesting passage, for having refuted a righteousness that comes through the law, Paul now refers to bearing burdens as fulfilling the “law of Christ” (6:2). However, the idea of bearing a burden is not completely strange, precisely because Christ Himself bore the burden of the cross, becoming “a curse” for our sake (see 3:12). Hence, as Christians, we are called to bear a load–not our own burden, but the burden of another. This, I think, is true love, for it follows after Christ’s example that “[g]reater love has on one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
The community that Paul envisions in Galatians 6 can only be actualized in the Church, for the Church is the Body of Christ. The idea of bearing another’s burden is made possible only because Christ bears our burdens on the cross. Apart from Christ, our individual lives are demanded as payment for our sins. Any sacrifice we make for someone else would mean nothing, because we have nothing to give. But since Christ bears our sins on the cross, we are free to give our lives in loving others, to suffer like Paul for the sake of the gospel. We are called a Body not merely because we share the same beliefs, but because faith unites us to Christ Himself. By sharing in His Body, we also participate in His death and resurrection, giving us the freedom to give our own lives in serving others. That is why Paul can claim to bear the “marks of Jesus,” since Paul’s obedience to the Gospel to the point of suffering and persecution is the imitation of Christ on the cross (see Philippians 2:5-11). Christlike love can only occur when one has been united to Him, and to be united to Him is to be a part of His Body.
So here’s why I think our lives ought to revolve around the Church. The kind of life that is described in the Gospels and Epistles is one that can only occur when an individual is deeply committed to the Church. It is only in the Church that we have the basis for loving others in the same way that Christ loved them. We cannot bear one another’s burdens unless Christ has first borne our burdens. Apart from the Church (that is, apart from the BODY OF CHRIST), we are isolated individuals, incapable of bearing another’s burden, because we have our own burden of sin to bear. More than that, however, the Church isn’t just how we “ought” to live, it is the very fabric of who we are in Christ. Christ is the New Man, the Second Adam. The Church is where we live out the new humanity in anticipation of the second coming.
Hence, I think our commitment to Christ entails a commitment to the local church. And the first area that will affect is probably our decision-making. Try this thought project: What if our career choices weren’t based on salary potential or personal fulfillment, but on what would help us best build up the local church, given our God-given skills and talents? What if our decision to stay single or get married was based on what would allow us to best serve our local church (note: some people serve better single, others married)? What if we chose to settle down where our local church is, instead of where the best jobs (or schools) are? What if we made our lives about the church, instead of making the church about us?
Sure, this sounds crazy. Even impossible. I’m not saying we should do those exact things, but its clear that we’d have to give up a lot if we’re going to center our lives around the Church. Personal comforts. Personal ambitions. We’d get stuck with people we can’t stand. We’ll feel like we missed out when our friends are living the lives we thought we could have had. Regret. Suffering.
None of this is worth it if it isn’t for Christ. I’m saying that it is worth it, because the Church is the Body of Christ. “Truly, I say to you,” says Jesus, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). In this time says Jesus! Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out that the only way we can receive a hundredfold in this life is when we become part of a local church body. In the church, we gain new family, new riches, new promises.
I could spend the rest of my life searching for God’s will for me (me, me, me…is it always all about me?), but the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that God’s will for me, for all humanity, is the Church. Of course, that will look different for different people. I confess, this is an underdeveloped thought, but I hope it encourages us to think about how life would look if we seriously shifted our focus from me to Christ, from the individual to the community. Friends, fall in love with Christ, and in doing so, fall in love with the Church.