Frequently I encounter Christians who are not connected to others in their faith-walk, or at least not connected in any real and genuine way. For years I too lived like that. Disappointed and disillusioned with church and ministry leadership, I slowly stepped away. Those small steps became problematic when they eventually added up and took me a long way away from being the “on-fire” Christian I had once been. Eventually the day came when I had no real Christian friends in my life.
I had deceived myself, thinking that I was an “independent” believer. I remember one time even telling someone that I was a “free-agent for Jesus.” Part of my deception was thinking that I “knew the truth” and that was what was really important. The wake-up call for me came one day when another person I knew was surprised to learn that I believed in Jesus. It pierced my heart when he said to me, “Really? I had no idea.” That was the smack of cold water I needed to wake up. Wow, and for all this time I had been convincing myself that others would “know I was a believer” by my actions. Clearly my actions had not really been demonstrating my faith in Christ, at least not for that person.
One of the lessons I learned was that we are not genuine followers of Christ because of what we “know” but because of what we do. In fact, Jesus often spoke of obedience to the Gospel, not in terms of hearing, but doing. He often cautioned people about the dangers of being “hearers only” and not “doers” of the Word.
God never intended that His Word be a book of pithy truths and sayings so we could simply fill our heads with knowledge about Him. He gave us a love letter filled with examples of what to think and do, as well as what not to think and do, so that we would obey Him. He desires a relationship with us– an obedience-based relationship.
As followers of Jesus we are automatically placed in a spiritual relationship with all the others who call upon him as members of the Body of Christ. We have a spiritual relationship with others in the Body that is intended to be expressed through our personal relationships with them. It is not enough to say, “I believe.” That is merely knowledge. We must act on our beliefs. The point of knowledge is that it should always lead to obedience.
For many years I read the following section in God’s Word, desiring the same thing for myself that Paul desired for the Colossians: that I too could be filled with knowledge and spiritual understanding. Certainly that is not a bad thing!
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
But what I failed to see for quite some time was that in the very next verse Paul clearly gives the purpose of that knowledge, which is to live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing him, and bearing fruit. The point is not the knowledge, but obedience.
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, …
The proof of the Gospel bearing fruit is always demonstrated through our obedience. The Lord wants us to “know” but only so we can “do.” In my case I was not doing what the Lord commands me to do because I was staying disconnected from others in the Body of Christ. There are over thirty instances in the New Testament where we are given “one another” commands, and it is impossible to obey any one of these if we are not in genuine relationships with others.
The doctrinal perspective that I have is not common among Christians, which can at times cause me difficulty in finding others who believe the same as I do. Nevertheless, given the immense size of the Body of Christ, I cannot use that as an excuse to not have Christian fellowship. We must make sure that our doctrinal beliefs, our knowledge, do not cause us to isolate ourselves from others in the Body of Christ. Isolation causes us to disobey the Lord’s “one-anothering” commands because we must be with “others” to “love one another,” “forgive one another,” etc. For instance, the book of Hebrews speaks of the importance of meeting with one another.
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another –and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
For years I lived as if there was a conditional clause that accompanied the above verse. A clause that said, “meet with one another, but only if you are in complete doctrinal agreement with each other.” Thankfully, an excuse like that to separate myself from others does not exist. The command is simple: “meet with others and encourage one another!” In essence, within the bounds of accepted Christian behavior, the “one-another” sections command us to be loving, connected, honoring, harmonious, edifying, like-minded, accepting, caring, serving, kind, non-provoking, burden-bearing, teaching, counseling, comforting, encouraging, stirring, non-slanderous, forgiving, confessing, praying, hospitable, friendly, and fellowshipping with one another.
We cannot be obedient if we present what we know in ways that we are divisive and antagonistic toward others. Sadly, some do so under the pretense that they are being bold for the Lord, when in fact they are actually acting from spiritual pride and arrogance. The truth divides people because they have a choice to either believe it or not, but that must never be an excuse for acting divisively. Like Jesus, we speak the truth seeking to reach the hearts of others to bring them into obedience-based relationship with the Father.
The final command Jesus gave his followers was to “go make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19, 20) Making disciples means training them in obedience, which can best be done in a group setting. This is the method Jesus used when he worked first-hand with his disciples. When I speak of a “group,” I am not specifically saying “church,” although a group could be a church meeting. The group can be small or large, but no matter how it is composed, it takes the time to focus on the things of God and help people growth as disciples. The command of Hebrews 10:25 to “not forsake meeting” does not also say, “Have meetings.” Connecting with others and fulfilling the various “one another” commands can be done in variety of ways and settings, both formally and informally. What is important is to regularly be with other followers of Jesus in a way that provides genuine intimacy and spiritual growth.
David Watson of Discipleship Making Movements points out some very beneficial reasons to be genuinely connected with others:
The Discipleship Benefits of Groups
Groups generally learn faster than individuals.
As individuals we have a limited ability to absorb information, whereas the group spreads the assimilation among many persons. Learning tends to require less repetition, and group repetition aids individual memory.
Groups remember more than individuals.
Collective memory is always better than individual memory, both in the amount and the accuracy of what the group as a whole remembers. The group is always better at reminding us of what we, as individuals, may forget.
Groups can provide protection against bad leadership and heresy.
Although there is always the danger of “group think” and strong “peer pressure” to conform, the group, when anchored on sound doctrine and practice, tends to protect itself against the intrusion of harmful leaders and false teachings. There is strength in numbers.
Groups tend to self-correct.
This frequently happens, especially when the groups measure themselves by the requirements of the Scriptures.
Groups can be better at keeping individuals accountable.
Generally, if a group member disobeys Scripture, someone in the group will know. When the members see each other regularly, someone should be able to respond quickly enough to help hold one another accountable.
Groups can replicate faster than individuals.
There is a collective synergy in a group that helps increase replication. Seeing others being added to the fold causes increased momentum in growth. Speed of replication affects frequency of replication.
I was confronted by the errors of my lonesome ways, and since that time I have taken active steps to participate on an almost daily basis with others in the Body of Christ. Some of the greatest personal growth I have experienced has happened because of those relationships. We all must do whatever we can to get connected to others because after all, as someone once wisely said, “Christianity is a T.E.A.M. sport!” and “Together Everyone Achieves More.”
 Jerry Trousdale, Miraculous Movements, (Nashville, TN, Thomas Nelson Inc.,2012), pp. 102–103.