The Church’s Corporate Self-Identity: “We Are Sinners in Need of God’s Grace”

The Scripture speaks of the church as a building or temple in which God dwells. It uses the analogy to communicate several vital truths. Christ is our Builder and Owner (Matt 16:18). He is our Cornerstone and Apostolic/Prophetic revelation about Him our Foundation (Eph 2:20; cf Matt 21:42). We are being built by a team of “sub-contractors,” making competition and schism sinful (1 Cor 3:9-10). God lives in us, corporately (1 Cor 3:16) and individually (1 Cor 6:19). Since God lives in us, we’re warned against “defacing” His temple, either by harming the local church (1 Cor 3:17) or by participating in immorality (1 Cor 6:18, 20).

All of that is wonderful. However, another lesson from the “building” imagery has become increasingly precious to me: The church is a “work in progress.” Ephesians 2:21-22 and 1 Peter 2:5 both indicate that the church is being built. It’s not finished. We haven’t arrived. And construction sites—whether physical or spiritual—are usually messy. Every church could appropriately display a “pardon our dust” sign to announce its spiritual condition.

In light of this, I encourage you to consider what your “Corporate Self-Identity” is. How do you, your church leaders, and your fellow members view your local church? Is it the good church? The conservative or contemporary music church? The uncompromising church? The expositional church? The dressy or casual church? The our-children-are-perfect church? The friendly church? The fun church? The everything-runs-like-clockwork church?

I understand that every church will have a variety of descriptions that aptly describe it. But the most obvious—the one that pops most readily into every member’s head—should be this: “We’re a congregation of sinners in need of God’s grace. We’re the we’re-a-mess-and-we-need-Jesus church.” 1 Timothy 1:15 should be our calling card: “We’re all notorious sinners for whom Christ has provided salvation.”

Such a self-perception would turn most churches upside down. It would go a long way in prohibiting the charade church members put on each week in which they pretend that they’re growing, their marriages are happy, and their children obedient. It would encourage struggling Christians (and that’s all of us!) to get help for relationship problems, besetting sins, and addictions rather than working to keep up appearances. It would motivate godly transparency. It would increase mutual empathy and spiritual fellowship. It would help the church reach out to the lost, who are either frightened away or turned off by the “we’ve all got it together” air of many churches. It would inspire humility. It would invigorate worship. It would, most importantly, magnify Christ, who came into the world not to gather perfect people to Himself but to save sinners like us (1 Tim 1:15; Luke 5:32; 19:10).

So, what’s your church’s Corporate Self-Identity?


2 Responses

  1. Thank you Chris. That was most helpful.

    Jon S.

  2. Chris,
    We have a good number of people who are the only believers in their homes, i.e., wives, husbands, young people. They often are discouraged by their unsaved family members who deride them when they all too happily see some inconsistency in the professing believer’s life. The family members then say something like: “You are such a hypocrite. And you are going to go back to church. Why should you even be going?” I have found it helpful to encourage them by saying, “That is the exact reason why I need to go–because I’m not perfect and need to go and hear God’s Word and become more like Christ. It’s not a reason not to go, but even more reason to go.”

    I do think that when we do not understand total depravity, or as I heard it described recently as pervasive depravity, we become proud and look down on others, not recognizing that we are totally and pervasively depraved also. Nothing knocks down human pride as much as this biblical doctrine.

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