Belonging Still Matters

Belonging is never discovered in isolation. Even the most introverted among us yearns to belong with others. We may not love crowds, but no one loves constant isolation.

This is the way God made us; it was his idea. From the beginning, he intended us to be in unhindered relationship with him and with each other. Sin fouled all that up, and continues to do so, but it’s still God’s intent that we belong with one another.

God’s Story Is Full of Belonging

The Old Testament is essentially the story of God forming a people, a nation, for himself. It was supposed to be a community following God and walking closely with him. But it’s also the story of how they repeatedly broke relationship with God and with one another and the devastation unleashed each time. This story sets up the coming of Jesus, showing us our profound and undeniable need for a Savior, Redeemer, and Restorer.

We know Jesus came to die for our sins, to save us from judgment, and to restore our relationship with God. Western Christians can easily come to think of that relationship individually—as in, Jesus saves me from my sins to restore my relationship with God.

What we sometimes overlook is Jesus also came to establish a kingdom, a community of believers who collectively follow him and represent him to the world. This is the kingdom to which all Christians belong. It’s a kingdom of souls transformed from death to life, from bondage to sin to freedom in Christ. It’s Christ’s church, across the globe.

True Belonging Is a Moral Reality

True belonging is both a moral reality and a comforting reality. Belonging to a church is a morally good thing—something God smiles on—and it brings comfort and joy because it draws us closer to the heart of God.

Belonging to a church is a morally good thing—something God smiles on—and it brings comfort and joy because it draws us closer to the heart of God.

If something is morally good, we have an obligation to act in obedience. So part of belonging is being purposeful and committed.

Our tendency is always toward inertia, toward ease and passivity, but Hebrews 10:23–25 offers a clear call to take intentional action as part of the church—to stir one another up to love and good deeds, to not neglect meeting, and to encourage one another. But the tone isn’t heavy-handed. It’s not “do this, or else.” Such pressure would make church a place of burden rather than belonging. Instead, we discover a warm urging to build one another up, a command that makes belonging both easier and richer.

True Belonging Is a Comforting Reality

God has given us a clear direction, and by following it we find a clear reward. We’re participating in welcoming others into belonging and finding belonging ourselves.

Belonging is defined by obedience to God’s summons (moral reality) and by the promise and heart of Jesus (comforting reality). In John 17, Jesus prays what is often known as the “High Priestly Prayer,” in which he speaks to his Father on behalf of his disciples and the church through the ages—all those who would one day believe in him through the preaching of the gospel. (That’s right, Jesus prayed for you!) In verses 20–26 he lays out his desires for his people through the ages: for us to be one, unified in him in the same way he’s unified with his Father.

This isn’t something we can just commit to and make happen with the best intentions and good hustle. But Jesus wouldn’t desire something for us that he doesn’t also make available to us. So there’s a built-in promise.

This is a supernatural kind of togetherness, given to believers by the Holy Spirit. It isn’t defined by how we’re similar to one another but rather by how we overcome the differences the world around us might see as insurmountable barriers. (Ephesians 2:11–22 explains and portrays this magnificently.)

Jesus wouldn’t desire something for us that he doesn’t also make available to us. So there’s a built-in promise.

Jesus is promising his Spirit will reside in his church and be our unifying, defining reality.

Jesus also makes clear he wants us to know and show his love; he wants us to be with him. He’s offering and promising a context of absolute, unhindered belonging in and through himself. And it’s not self-serving belonging, only existing so we as individuals can have our needs met and find a place of comfort. Yes, the church provides deep comfort, but it’s upward-pointing belonging “so that the world may know that [God] sent [Jesus]” (John 17:23).

Ministry of Belonging

Our togetherness, our belonging, is to be a public evidence and invitation to the transforming, freeing, life-giving, comforting presence of Jesus Christ.

To belong as God created us to belong is so much more than finding a place of commonality or a comfort zone with those who share interests or oddities. It’s more than gaining a level of comfort and familiarity. Certainly, those are wonderful discoveries and can spark significant friendships. But God made you and me for something greater.

He made us to be members of his kingdom—of his church. Specifically, he made you to be part of a local body of believers. This is where and with whom you’re meant to find belonging.

So we’re to belong to a church because it’s a command. And we’re to belong to a church because it’s good.

Barnabas Piper

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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