Community life in the body of Christ: Viewing shame, vulnerability, and worthiness in light of Him
This post was co-authored by Shanda Conger and myself.
After discovering this incredible TED Talk, we were amazed at how the truths expressed in it relate to the body of Christ. We believe that growing in our connection and vulnerability is vital for the church today. Below, we take a look at some of the ideas Brown discusses in her talk and how they find expression within a close community of believers.
From childhood, we are bombarded with the message that we need to be unique, independent, and to “have a mind of our own.” This thinking has found its way into the church today. We have lost sight of our corporate nature, as the body of Christ, and instead have chosen to focus on our individuality. We use phrases like “my personal relationship with Christ” or “my personal journey,” both of which instill in us the thought that we are to do this on our own, but it was never meant to be this way.
We know that we are a part of the body of Christ and yet we are taught that we should be able to “live out our faith” on our own. This understanding, though, goes against the truth of being members of Christ’s body. Think about your physical body. You would never expect that your hand could live life separated from the rest of your body. It must to be connected in order for it to function and live. In fact, its identity and purpose is bound up in its relationship to the body and if detached from the body it instantly becomes lifeless. In the same way, you and I cannot detach ourselves from the body any more than a branch can detach itself from the vine. We are each members of Christ and his body (1 Cor 12:12). This is the reality of who we are, whether we choose to believe it or not.
The truth is that “God himself is community. His purpose is all about community. The Bible from cover to cover is all about community. It is all about God’s eternal plan to have a community of humans who contain his life and express his nature” (Milt Rodriguez, The Butterfly in You). We see this in the many ways that the body of Christ is referred to throughout scripture: body, family, marriage, vine and branches.
The Christian life was never meant to be lived individually. It was always meant to be lived corporately. In fact, we cannot entirely discover our true identity and purpose unless we are part of a group of believers. Why? Because we cannot know our identity apart from Christ and Christ is corporate, both head and body (Eph. 1:22-23).
Shame, Vulnerability, and Worthiness
If we are built for community and the Christian life is supposed to be corporate, then why don’t we live in a way that reflects that? The reason is surprisingly simple. We don’t believe we are worthy. We don’t know the truth of who Christ is, and who we are in Him. And without knowing our true identity we live in the fear that we are not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, and so on. We believe the lie of the evil one, that we should feel shame about who we are and what we have done, that there may be something about us that if seen by others, would deem us unworthy of connection. These feelings, these fears, are extremely powerful. We want to be known, loved, and accepted, but we don’t believe we will be if we are fully seen. We live in fear of vulnerability and believe that the shame it may bring us will break us, when in fact, it is when we do not embrace vulnerability that we are hindered from living fully.
When Brown discusses wholehearted people she says that they are people who have learned to let go of who they think they should be, in order to be who they are. As believers, we are often taught countless ideas of what a “good Christian life” should look like, with lists of dos and don’ts. We spend our energy trying to measure up and feel shame when we fall short. This, again, is not the way we were intended to live. We have to let go of who we think we should be and rest in the reality of who we are.
So, who are we? Your identity, if you are in Christ, is now based on the new man (Christ) and not the old man (Adam). Your nature has been changed. You are a saint, not a sinner. In his book, The Butterfly in You, Milt Rodriguez beautifully states who we are:
“We are already saints. We are already holy. We are already blameless. We are already pure and spotless and without blemish. We are already pleasing to God. We are already in Canaan land. We are in Christ. This is the deception of all deceptions. To try and become something we already are. To attempt to get some place we already are. We have already been crucified with him. We have already been resurrected with him. We have already been ascended with him. We we are right now seated with him in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:5,6).”
Regardless of whether you choose to believe this or not, this is who you are. If you know that this is who you are, it changes how you view yourself, relate to God, and relate to others. When we see who Christ is, and by extension who we are (for we have his DNA) then we understand that we are enough (for we have him, all of him, inside of us), that we are worthy (because he has made us so), and that there is no fear in being vulnerable (because we know that we are worthy).
Brown states that wholehearted people are those with a deep sense of worthiness. What deeper sense of worthiness could we have than one that finds its identity fully and solely in Christ? She talks about living courageously, telling the story of who we are with our whole heart. When we are resting in who we are in Christ, when we have died to ourselves and become one of many members of the body of Christ, it is his story we are telling with our whole hearts. All of those pieces of ourselves that we fear may bring shame to us, we can now recognize that Christ has brought into who he is, and thus made entirely beautiful. Knowing this should give us compassion for ourselves and our shortcomings, but also compassion for others whose shortcomings we will see as we connect in community.
To live in close community is to risk much. Before true community life can exist, there must first be death that happens in each individual life. Why? Because, otherwise our lives, dreams, and personal interests get in the way of Christ and what he wants to do. He must have preeminence in all things in our lives. We see this in John 12:25, “He who loves his soul-life loses it; and he who hates his soul-life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” We lay down our lives, we choose to be deeply and vulnerably seen, and we choose to have courage, all so that Christ can have his own house, family, image, body, and bride.
Seeing through the spirit vs. the flesh
Brown describes the job of parenthood as one of recognizing a child’s imperfections but teaching them that, despite those, they are worthy of love and belonging. We all have imperfections, those things that may annoy or frustrate others. These imperfections can become magnified when we are living in close community with other believers. The question is how we are going to choose to react in these situations. There are two choices. We can either choose to view people through the flesh or through the spirit.
To know people through the flesh is to choose to live by the old man and not the new. It is to live by our lives and not His life. It is to focus on something other than Jesus. When we do this, we see believers for who they were and not for who they are now. However, to know people through the spirit is to live by His life and to focus on Him who is All in All. It is to choose to see them as Christ sees them. When we do this, we are able to see their true identity.
As members of Christ’s body, we must live in connection with the other members. Knowing who we are in Christ, we are free to make ourselves vulnerable, no matter the risk involved, as we acknowledge and rest in the worthiness we have received in Christ. At the same time, we should recognize the same worthiness in others who are in Christ and view them as he views them, giving them freedom to vulnerably connect in a community/body of believers. As Paul reminded us in Ephesians 4:16, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
When we, out of fear and a feeling of unworthiness, keep to ourselves the life that Christ has given to us, we hinder the growth and building of the body. Christ has placed his life in every member of his body and his life is most fully expressed in the world when each member functions, in connection and community, building each other up in love, growing together, and expressing Him corporately.