Sunday, January 23, 2022

In and Among

“I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them.”

You and I were saved for a reason: to have fellowship with God. To know, love, commune with, enjoy and be enjoyed by him forever.

Now, that may not be the reason you became a Christian or decided to live like one. Probably it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t the reason I did. My reasons were all about me. I had been experiencing the consequences of a series of selfish, ill-advised choices, and I didn’t like them at all. But I had been brought up in a Christian home, and I knew the answer to my problems was obedience to Christ. So the day finally came when I hit rock bottom, gave up and said, “You win, Lord.”

That was pretty much the process. I wasn’t exactly looking for fellowship. I’m not sure I even knew what that was.

The Next Logical Step

Well, let me clarify. I knew what fellowship was in theory — again, brought up in a Christian home — but I had no idea what fellowship with God felt like, or what it involved. And there was certainly no intellectual process by which I sought it out and discovered it. The only thing I knew for sure when I decided to give up and do whatever God would tell me to do was that I needed to get back to church. So I went, the very next morning. (It was conveniently a Saturday night when I had my mini-epiphany.) Some long-suppressed spiritual instinct said, “You need to be with God’s people. That’s where God is.” No voice or anything mystical like that; just a strong impression that going to church was the right thing to do.

Now, I know God is everywhere. He is present universally. He was certainly present with me and speaking to me in the rain outside the arcade that Saturday evening when my life took an abrupt u-turn. But there is also a very specific sense in which God is locally present among his people. He brought each of us out of our various “Egypts” in order to dwell among us, not just in us. God is building a community of believers headed by his beloved Son, pictured in the New Testament as a body, a building, a bride and so on. I get that now, because the Bible teaches it, but at the time I wasn’t thinking about it that way at all. It just felt like being with other Christians was the next logical step in getting myself on track.

So I went to church.

Good Works in a Vacuum

You may notice there’s nothing in Exodus 29 about God making his home inside individual Israelites. That’s because the indwelling of the Holy Spirit would not be a thing for another 1,500 years, not until the miraculous Pentecostal experience of the early first century. So God living in his people individually was not yet a reality. The human body was not a temple in the sense it can be today. But God among his people has always been the intended goal. The idea of a Christian off on his own enjoying personal fellowship with God and nothing else is foreign to the spirit of the New Testament, as well as foreign to the spirit in which God brought his people out of Egypt as recorded in Exodus. God brought Israel out of Egypt in order that he might dwell among them. And today, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

And you can’t do good works in a vacuum, can you. You can’t do good works in view of some abstract spiritual concept. You need real, living, breathing people to do them for and with. “In him [Christ] you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” It’s right there in the context in Ephesians. Together.

Now, sure, I can have fellowship with God in the privacy of my own heart: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” That’s a solemn promise of personal fellowship from the glorified Christ. But it’s also exceptional. It comes in the context of a Laodicean church — wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked — in which the Head of the Church himself is pictured outside the door instead of dwelling where he belongs, among his people. In a normal situation, the evidence I am having fellowship with God is how I treat my brothers and sisters in Christ when we are together, not just in a church building but any time we interact with one another.

Why God Saved Me

Why did you get saved? Like me, it was probably personal. And that’s not unbiblical. Jesus himself said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That’s a very personal, individual thing. I don’t know what sort of burden or burdens you were carrying. It could have been anything — loneliness, emptiness, addiction, grief, weariness, fear of judgment, intellectual dissatisfaction with the answers the world provides — but whatever it was, it was probably personal, and God graciously provided the “rest” you needed in bringing you into relationship with him.

But asking why we got saved is different from asking why God saved us in the first place. Yes, he cared about us individually, with all our problems and needs. But above and beyond that, he saved us in order to bring us into a community in which he plans to make his permanent residence. That is the end game of everything God is doing. That is the finish line:

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And I have to ask myself, is my Christian life being lived so as to forward that goal? Am I spending my time occupied with what being saved can do for me — with the state of my life, my family, my enjoyment of my faith, my feelings and my spiritual progress — or am I occupied with how I can contribute to making my little corner of Christ’s church a dwelling place fit for him? If I make that my goal, I absolutely guarantee my own needs will be met along the way. The tears, the crying, the mourning and the pain are all slated to disappear forever, and that’s great, but it doesn’t happen until God is dwelling with man. When God gets what he is looking for, man gets what he needs.

Thousands of years have passed, but God’s plan has never changed. Have you gotten with his program yet?

1 comment :

  1. This is very helpful. I am reading John Websters Evangelical Ecclesiology and just thought I wonder what are these folks thoughts on the church.