Once I had the pleasure of speaking at a missions conference in the United Kingdom. I flew into Heathrow Airport where I was met by a taxi driver who had been sent to pick me up. He was old (older than my dad) and round and kept calling me "sir," even though I was less than half his age and he was dressed twice as nicely as me. I asked him to call me "Mike" and explained to him that as an American, formality made me uncomfortable. He explained that as a Brit, familiarity made him uncomfortable. We agreed that since I was the customer, he would call me by my name. His name, I found out, was Roy.
We weren't on the road more than five minutes before Roy the cabbie told me about the way that Jesus had changed his life (he didn't know that I was a Christian). For the next forty-five minutes Roy related his testimony with unrelenting vigor and evangelistic zeal. But right before he got to the point where he challenged me to put my trust in Jesus, he took a breath. Seeing that he had made a tactical error, I pounced, "Roy, I am already a Christian!"
We shared enjoyable fellowship for the remainder of the ride. When we got near our destination (a lovely city called Luton--think of Detroit without all of the charm), I innocently asked Roy what church he attended. His face became red and his grip on the wheel became tight, "I have church right here in my car. I've got preachers on the radio and congregants in the passenger seat."
Roy hadn't stepped foot into a church in years, even as he tried daily to grow in his walk with Christ.
Well, there are a lot of things wrong with Roy's thinking about church, not the least of which being the fact that it is disobedient to a clear command in Scripture (Hebrews 10:25). But one thing that this incident particularly highlights is how badly we've misunderstood the role of the Christian community in God's plan for our growth in holiness.
The fact is, you can't be the kind of Christian you're meant to be without other people. You can't be the kind of Christian you're meant to be without real relationships in a local church.
Much of our growth in holiness comes in the context of relationships. So in Galatians chapter five believers are told to reject a whole host of "works of the flesh," including enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy. These are all sins that emerge when we are engaged in a community.
Isolated individuals don't usually have to worry about jealousy and enmity and strife because they are by themselves! It's easy for us to get along with ourselves; to quote Terrell Owens, "I love me some me!"
We're big fans of ourselves. But we don't learn how to shun many of the works of the flesh when we are alone. As we grow in Christ we will learn to say "No" to ungodliness in the context of community. We will learn to put away jealousy when we see others succeed. We will learn to be patient with the struggles of others and to forgive them quickly.
On the positive side, in Ephesians chapter four Paul instructs the members of the church to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Did you catch that? Paul tells us that walking in a manner worthy of our calling (that is to say, holy living) happens in relationships. God isn't interested in your growing in patience and gentleness towards yourself! He wants to grow in you a love for others that helps you bear with them. He wants you to love yourself less and love others more.
There are a whole range of sins you can't shun and graces you can't employ in Roy's car. Roy may have been kind and patient with me during our car ride, but he didn't have to spend much time with me. He didn't have to deal with me when I'm not at my best. He didn't have to love me when I sinned against him. He didn't have to be patient with me when I was being unkind and irritable. Those things are meant to happen in the context of genuine relationships in local churches.
God's plan for your life is far bigger than your individual salvation. He has saved you into a people that are his own, people who are eager to do good (Titus 2:14). He has made you a living stone in a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5). He has given each believer gifts of grace for the edification of the church body (1 Corinthians 12). He has called you to love your enemies and embrace those who are different from you (Ephesians 2:11-22). None of that can happen solely in your car, your office, or your family.
God has given us the gift of other brothers and sisters in the local church who can spur us on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). In turn, we have an obligation to do the same for them. We weren't meant to simply pursue holiness alone in our room (or in Roy's case, our car). We were meant to grow in holiness together as the body of Christ.
Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp