By JANA HENRY|CONTRIBUTOR
“Scripture calls us to things that are utterly counterintuitive, utterly countercultural, and demanding in the extreme, but Scripture shows us the Savior and His bride. This glorious sight motivates us to live under God’s authority and to serve Him through the local church, for His glory and our good. Falling in love with Christ means falling in love with His Church.”
The whole process of sanctification is countercultural, when we realize that if we are going to walk worthy of our salvation, we must not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing our mind. We need our affections for Christ to grow so we can loosen our grip on this world. And as our affections for Christ grow, so must our affections for His bride, for together we are members of His body.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between the global church and the local church where God has placed me. I think it’s important to realize that we are connected to a larger body of Christ that spans the globe—past, present and future. It should move us to pray for the persecuted church in foreign lands, for our missionaries, and the spread of the gospel. Many of us have moved around quite a bit in our lifetime and we have Christian friends and family scattered throughout the world. It warms our heart to know that even though we are far apart, the same spirit connects us, forming a bond that transcends time and space. These are good things.
But, in today’s world there is a tendency to over-emphasize the global church, while minimizing the importance of the local church. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this. I’ll mention just one. Technologies that connect us with the larger body of Christ can also drive us away from the local church when we choose to try and “work out our salvation” online, rather than walk hand-in-hand with fellow believers as a family in the local church.
Sisters, this will not work. The more I read God’s word, the more clearly I see that the commands concerning sanctification (the process of being made holy) are given to a committed body of believers, submitted to one another, accountable to the leadership of that body, and ultimately to the head, which is Christ. And I am talking about much more than just showing up once a week to hear a good word from the pastor to encourage you for the week ahead.
Sinclair Ferguson, in his recent book on sanctification, has this to say about the importance of the local church in the life of a believer:
“While we are called to be holy as individuals, the author of Hebrews unites with Paul in teaching us to never lose sight of the important role that fellowship plays in encouraging perseverance. (Hebrews 10:24; 3:13) There is a communal dimension to biblical exhortations. We are to seek harmony with others; we are to guard fellowship with one another. (12:14) We are to see that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (12:15).
We need to be encouragers for one another as much—if not more—than we need to be encouraged. We need the kind of encouragement that has mutual harmony in mind. The kind of encouragement that seeks to keep the root of bitterness out of your heart and mine.
Sinclair also says: “We are to receive the ministry of those who are called to take care of us spiritually and to shepherd us. Hebrews describes their ministry very specifically as ‘keeping watch’ over us (13:17). Spiritual health involves a willingness to obey and submit to those who lead us.”
We need the accountability the local church provides, especially with regard to the leadership in our church. We’ve had several new members added to our CPC family lately. One of the things that we promise when we join the church is that we will submit to the church and the discipline of the church. How many of us truly understand what that means? And, understanding, how many of us truly mean it? Church discipline is all but ineffectual today, because if we don’t like what the discipline is, if it makes us uncomfortable, we can just go down the street and find another church to attend, or not at all. We can just go it alone, read our devotional, and “have church” at home.
Well, we think we can. The fact is that we can’t do that, because that is not church.
And finally, Ferguson hits it home when he writes:
“Independent-mindedness and isolationist tendencies are inappropriate for the Christian who is conscious of the continuing influence of indwelling sin. Growth in holiness, we have seen, is set within the community life of the church family. We are not to neglect fellowship in worship, ministry, and discipline. We are to encourage one another.
This raises a very important question: In my pursuit of holiness am I exercising a genuine pastoral concern for my fellow believers? Am I really concerned, not only to grow myself but that others will grow with me? Or is my pursuit of holiness little more than a quest for self-development rather than a concern for the glory of God and increased love for, and Christ-like service to his people? Any kind of holiness that is concerned only about itself cannot be authentic.”
And there we have it. There is no sanctification without a love for other believers.
Sisters, do you love your church family? I know it can be hard. Ligon Duncan, in his sermon, Falling in Love with the Church, says that the ugliness of the life of the church in a fallen world often blinds us to the beauty of the assembly of the living God, the body of Christ. Church life is messy—we sin and we are sinned against, and the tendency is to withdraw and isolate. But this is the worst thing we can do. God has ordained that we are to work out our salvation with one another in the life of the local church. As you consider these things and the call for women’s ministry that we have been given in His Word, will you pray with me this prayer?
Dear Heavenly Father,
Teach us how to love you, by teaching us how to love one another. Give us a vision for your bride, holy and without blemish. Burden our hearts with a desire to see others grow in holiness, heart-to-heart and hand-in-hand, as we work out this great salvation you have given us in Christ Jesus our Lord. By the power of the Holy Spirit may we live out our days serving you by ministering to one another in and through the context of the local church where you have placed us.
All praise and honor and glory be yours, forever and ever,
For further encouragement from Jesus, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” John 13:14
Further encouragement from Paul, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you 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.” Ephesians 4:1-3
Encouragement from Hebrews, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” 3:13, and, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.“ 10:24, 25
Encouragement from Peter, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” 1 Peter 1:22-23
And, finally, encouragement from John, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:10-12
 J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 52
 Sinclair B. Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 210
 Ferguson, 212
 Ferguson, 212
 Duncan and Hunt, 46