Community is something we all want.
No matter how you’re wired—introverted, extrovert, socially adept, or socially awkward—something in your soul longs for meaningful relationships with other humans. We long to know others and be known by them. We treasure friendships that allow us to truly “be ourselves.” Though some of us have never found this sort of community and though others have been deeply wounded by relationships, all of us still long for deep, authentic, real community.
How did we get this way? How did this craving, this longing, get hard-wired into us? The Bible answers that question by explaining that we are created in the image of God. God created us for community.
Created for Community
One of the oldest and most cherished doctrines of historic Christian theology is the doctrine of the Trinity. The Nicene Creed (c. AD 325) summarizes the Trinity this way:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all words; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father….And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified.
The Trinity means that God Himself is in the community. More accurately, God is community: one God, three persons. “Before all worlds”—before any sort of human community existed—there was God, dwelling in perfect, loving harmony in His threefold being.
In the biblical account of creation, this Triune God says: “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26). Human beings are made to image God, to reflect His likeness. That’s why our longing for community seems so pure and primal. It’s how we’re made as God’s image bearers.
So if deep community is something we all want, if it’s part of being made in God’s image, then what makes it so hard to attain? What keeps us from achieving the type of meaningful human relationships that God wired us for?
The Fall: Broken Community
If you think for a moment about the nature of your relationships, you’ll quickly identify another tendency that’s present—something darker and more sinister than your God-given desire for community. It’s the tendency to use people to meet your own needs first. It’s not hard to see how often we are self-focused, pursuing our own interests and protecting ourselves from people and relationships that will demand too much of us. For example, think of the times you’ve intentionally avoided someone who bothers you. Or the times you’ve said what people wanted to hear in order to avoid offending them. Or the times you’ve stopped pursuing certain friends because they were no longer useful to you. Or the times you’ve clung to bad or unhealthy relationships just to escape the feeling of being alone.
These selfish tendencies reveal that something has gone deeply wrong in our pursuit of community. Though made in God’s image, we have fallen from our original glory. We have devolved into something less than what we were made to be. There’s something selfish and self-absorbed about us that prevents us from imaging God the way we were designed to do.
Our inherent selfishness is evidence of what the Bible calls “sin.” When we hear the sin, we tend to think of bad behavior. But sin is deeper than external actions. The Bible often talks about sin in terms of unbelief. In other words, rather than believing what is true, we believe lies, which obviously leads to bad behavior and negative emotions. Unbelief was at the root of the first sin. Eve believed the Serpent’s lie about God and His intentions toward them: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it [the forbidden fruit] you eyes will be opened, and you will be liked God” (Genesis 3:4-5). Unbelief is a failure to see and believe what’s true about God, the world, and ourselves. It’s not taking God at His word, not believing His promises, not trusting in His goodness.
And sin’s impact is not just that we don’t believe, it’s that apart from Christ we are unable to believe. Sin has turned us in on ourselves and warped our relationships with others. We need Someone who can deliver us from our unbelief and selfishness and restore our capacity for true, deep, lasting community.
Redeemed for Community
This is where the good news of the gospel meets us. The word gospel literally means “good news”—a message, a proclamation, an announcement. One of the paradoxes of this message is that before it can be good news, it must start with bad news: we are sinful, broken people. We are rebels against God. We are mired in lies and self-worship, and we look to things other than God to give us identity and significance. We can’t free ourselves, make God happy with us, or do enough good works to make up for our sins. But God, rich in mercy, sent Jesus to earth as our substitute. Jesus took our place in his life as he obeyed God fully and worshiped him totally, things we failed to do. He substituted himself for us in his death, as he paid the penalty we owed to God for our sin and unbelief. If we humble ourselves, acknowledge our need, and turn to him, God the Holy Spirit will apply Jesus’ substitutionary work to us by faith. The Bible calls this redemption, a word that means “to be delivered, ransomed, or set free.”
What does Jesus redeem us from? Sin and all its effects. What does Jesus redeem us for? A life that images God and reflects his goodness to the world. In other words, one of the chief things that Jesus accomplishes when he redeems us is to restore our capacity for community. Not for a community of people who look and act just like us, but a community made up of people from every tribe and tongue and nation on earth (Revelation 7:9). God has created us for community, and Jesus has redeemed us for community. In doing so, he has made us into his very own body (1 Corinthians 12:27) that is able to live, love, and make known his “good news” to our friends and neighbors.
But wait: If Jesus redeems us for community, then why is community still such hard work? Why are relationships still fraught with brokenness, even among Christians? This is the tension we live in. Even though Jesus has delivered us from the penalty and rule of sin, he has not yet eradicated sin from the world. Because of sin’s ongoing presence, we are prone to unbelief. We easily forget the good news of the gospel and fall back into lies and self-worship. That’s why the Bible encourages us not just to receive the gospel, but to “stand” in it (1 Corinthians 15:1) and to “continue” in it (Colossians 1:23).
In other words, building and enjoying healthy community is going to require us to believe the gospel, to believe that what Jesus did for us has power and relevance for the way we relate to God and others. This requires an intentional focus on our part. It means identifying the unbelief in our hearts that hinders our ability to love and serve others and to receive love from them in turn. It means receiving the healing, liberating truths of the gospel in ways that allow them to soak deep into the core of our being. And guess where this work of ongoing transformation takes place? In community.
This article is adapted from The Gospel-Centered Community, by Bob Thune and Will Walker, a nine-lesson small group study from Serge.
Dan B. Allender, PhD, Author and Professor of Counseling Psychology and Founding President, The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology said, “This wise and biblically solid guide cuts beneath platitudes to address how the gospel seizes the heart and transforms our desire to do more than merely exist in community, and instead allows us to participate together in God’s merciful kindness.” Discover more.