If there’s one thing essential to understanding the Christian life, it’s the communal nature of our being: We are made in the image of God, a communion of three persons we call the holy Trinity. Think about that: You are made in the image of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three in one, a communion, a community. The implications couldn’t be more profound for how we live our lives. Though the world tells us otherwise, constantly selling a myth of radical individualism and self-actualization, the truth is that we become ourselves only when we live in communion with God and others: The Christian life—the process of our sanctification, which is properly understood as becoming truly human—is simply inconceivable without other persons, divine and mortal both.
In Jesus’ famous illustration about the vine and its branches, we learn the importance of abiding in Him—that there’s no life to be found if we are cut off from the source of our being (John 15). And yet, it’s possible to focus so much on each of us being a branch, connected to the Lord’s vine, that we fail to really consider one branch alone can’t create a barrel of wine. In Jesus’ thinking, in fact, the point of being a branch is not simply that our lives would become heavy laden with fruit. The greater point is that we ultimately would come to understand our “branch-ness” means we are part of a great and eternal vineyard—that the wine of new life would overflow from our devotion to and communion with God to a world of desperate thirst. That as a result of our love for one another, it will be possible for neighbors, colleagues, friends, family, and even our enemies to taste and see the Lord is good (John 13:34-35). It’s the same principle at play in 1 Corinthians 12, where the apostle Paul outlines one of those most potent metaphors for our life in Christ:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-20 ESV).
We may find it easy enough to assent to this idea intellectually, but the modern way of life—with all its on-demand technologies, seemingly eliminating our reliance on our community one app at a time—can lead us to a false sense of autonomy. The more power we have at our fingertips, the more self-sufficient we appear to become and the deeper we fall into the delusion that we have no need for God or others.
As a result of our love for one another, it will be possible for neighbors, colleagues, friends, family, and even our enemies to taste and see the Lord is good.
Walking with God day by day is a life of working in harmony with the Holy Spirit. It is not a life of struggling alone to please a distant King. There are no solo chores. There are no marching orders. The Spirit-filled life is a relationship wherein two—you and God—work as one. In considering these wise words, we should take care to remember that this relationship wherein two work as one does not preclude the very necessary presence or dependence on others.
The Spirit-filled life is one where we don’t struggle alone, but he doesn’t say it’s one where struggle isn’t present. Hard times will come to all of us who believe, just as they have from the earliest days of the church. How much better to go through life with others by our side, bearing our burdens with us (Galatians 6:2), in the grace of God?
Yes, Christ is sufficient for each of us, and the Holy Spirit carries us through our greatest trials. But God gives us the blessing of sisters and brothers who ear us up when the weight grows too heavy, just as He strengthens our legs to support our fellow travelers when they falter. This is where we find the richness of following Christ: in walking together.