Public Disciplines

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As important as the personal spiritual disciplines are to godliness, the interpersonal ones are just as important. In other words, the Bible teaches gospel believers to engage in some spiritual habits that are private and some that are corporate; some we’re to practice as individuals and some we’re to participate in with others.

So, for example, while we should worship God privately, we’re also to worship God publicly. Similarly, we should pray alone, but we should also pray with the church. A few disciplines are practiced in a private way. But many disciplines, such as fellowship and participating in the Lord’s Supper, require the presence of others.

Why Practice Both?

The reason we should practice both the personal and the interpersonal spiritual disciplines is that the Bible teaches both, and Jesus — who is not only our Lord and Savior but also our example for spirituality — practiced both. For instance, we see Jesus engaging in a personal spiritual discipline when “he went up on the mountain by himself to pray” (Matt. 14:23). But Luke also tells us this about Jesus: “As was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16). Though Jesus could have been teaching and healing instead of going to the synagogue, He wanted to be identified with God’s people.

The Spirit creates a similar desire in those who follow Christ. In other words, Christ causes Christians to love Christians. Jesus put it this way: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This is because the gospel — the message of what God has done for us through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ — not only causes us to love and prize Christ Himself but also to love and treasure what is precious to Christ. And Christ’s bride — the church (Eph. 5:25–27) — is supremely precious to Him.

This reflects one of the radical transformations that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in those who believe the gospel, namely, that He gives them new loves and new loathings. For a new disciple of Jesus, some things that were once despised, boring, or irrelevant become precious, and vice versa. And one of the dispositions created in the heart of those born again is an attraction to the life of God found among God’s people in a local church. This new affection for interaction with other Christians is such a determinative indication of salvation that the Apostle John wrote, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14).

Connected to Both Hand and Body

Thus, the gospel confronts the Christian individualism that pervades Western culture with its over-emphasis on private spirituality and its view of participation in a local church as optional. The Apostle Paul used another analogy that is helpful here, referring to the church not only as the bride of Christ but also as the body of Christ (Eph. 4:15–16). This means that the gospel doesn’t just place the believer in an individual relationship with Christ; the gospel also places him or her in the body of Christ. So if you are connected to the Head (that is, to Christ), then you are also connected to the body. If there is a living relationship between you and Jesus, there should be a living relationship between you and His body.

Spirituality and the Church

To speak of this in terms of spirituality, there is no Christlike spirituality apart from the body of Christ, His church. Intimacy with Christ and conformity to Christ must be pursued through the interpersonal spiritual disciplines as well as the personal ones. To use yet another analogy from Paul, though it’s true that each individual Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), the New Testament emphasizes far more often that the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit (3:16–17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19–22; 1 Peter 2:5). And while there are unique spiritual pleasures to be enjoyed when seeking the Lord in one’s private piety, there are also experiences with God that will occur only when we encounter His presence in the temple of His people.

Have you ever noticed that every description of people enjoying God in heaven is a scene of congregational worship? Our only, but certain, hope of entering into this heavenly worship of God is through the gospel of Jesus Christ — a gospel that not only brings us into fellowship with God but also into fellowship with God’s people. The time to begin enjoying fellowship with both through the interpersonal spiritual disciplines is now.

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