It is within the community of the church that we live out the gospel. The church is often thought of as an optional add-on to our relationship with Christ, but it’s essential for our growth in grace. We need each other - our different strengths, but also their attendant weaknesses. It’s through living out the Christian life together that our sins and struggles collide. We grasp the gospel in deeper ways by believing its truth as it applies to one other. When conflict strikes people often flee, thinking there is something wrong with the church. That, of course, could be the case, but generally it’s how the conflict is dealt with that displays if a church is healthy.
In our world, differences typically result in the wrong kind of scattering. Through the gospel, gathering together and staying together is possible. We can have hard conversations and come through them stronger. We covenant together, promising to stick with one another and help each other grow. Much like as in marriage, the church isn’t primarily about our happiness; it’s about our holiness. God will grow us in the gospel through each other. Then we’ll experience joy.
One way we’ll be seen as holy - as set apart and devoted to our Lord - is by our love. We’ll display God’s glory to the world as we work through differences and extend each other grace. In John 13:34-35, Jesus says to His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our world longs for community. We were created for it! Living in this way can be used by the Lord to draw others to salvation.
Additionally, though, it displays that we have experienced salvation. In his landmark work Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards argued that true conversion manifests itself in two ways: affection (or love) for God and affection for our brothers and sisters. The book of 1 John clearly teaches that one cannot have genuine love for God that does not result in love for others. Most in today’s world claim to love, but the church gives us real, tangible people to love. Love is brought from the realm of the abstract into the concrete. The church is a laboratory where our experience of the gospel is confirmed and developed. It’s where we display this triune love that’s existed before time began. Church is gospel community. It can be a mess at times. But it's a beautiful mess. That's because Jesus is involved.