The primary “death” in the fall of mankind is the death of our relationship with God. Because of sin, we are separated from him. But you will notice in Genesis 3, that Adam and Eve’s sin doesn’t just separate them as individuals from God. It separates them from each other (Gen. 3:16). Sin has relational impact all around.
We even see this division reflected in the Ten Commandments. You will notice that the first four commandments correspond to our vertical relationship—Have no other gods, don’t make any idols, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, and keep the Sabbath. And then the second table corresponds to our horizontal relationships. Jesus Christ himself summarizes the Law using this vertical/horizontal construct, as well:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39).
The Ten Commandments and the Great Commandment remind us that our sin sets us in hostility with God and with our fellow man. Therefore, the gospel of Jesus Christ must bring reconciliation on both of these levels too.
The gospel doesn’t just unite us to God, but unites us to God together. In fact, the gospel truly believed serves to reconcile sinners one to another. The New Testament refers to this community of reconciliation in Christ as the Church! We see lots of pictures in its pages of the reconciling work of the gospel in community, but one of the most vivid—at least in portraying how the gospel works practically among the relationships of reconciled sinners in the church—is found in Romans 12:9-18:
Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone.
This passage shows us a picture of koinonia in action. Koinonia is the Greek word for fellowship, and it is used throughout the New Testament. As God’s people, we share fellowship with God through Jesus Christ because of His death and resurrection, and as Christ’s people, we share fellowship with each other, loving one another as God has loved us.
In Romans 12:9-18 we see the sinners who’ve been reconciled (vertically) to God through Christ reflecting that reconciliation (horizontally) with one another. Romans 12:10 especially shows us the beautiful stalemate of grace-driven relationships—each party is seeking to out-honor the other! Imagine if our churches were known for this kind “deadlock,” where we were all busy not looking out for our own preferences and needs but for the building up of others, going out of our way to make sure others felt welcome, encouraged, and comforted.
This is something the gospel does. It is something only the gospel can do. The gospel cannot make us into little judges of each other’s ministerial output. It cannot make us people who keep sizing each other up, measuring each other, rehearsing each other’s failings. It’s not tuned to the frequency of accusation.
The gospel is God’s love made manifest, and the church is the gospel of God’s love made visible. And God’s love cannot puff us up; it cannot make us prideful; it cannot make us selfish; it cannot make us arrogant; it cannot make us rude; it cannot make us gossipy; it cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, it stands to reason the less we would see those things and the more we would see of what is occurring in Romans 12:9-18.
See, you cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear.
Now, this scares people who believe God has delegated his sovereignty to them. But it honors the gospel of Jesus, in whom there is no condemnation and through whom we are being built together—as we “outdo one another in showing honor”—as a place of welcome for the Spirit of the living God. In the kingdom to which the church is meant to bear witness, people flourish and become at the same time more like their real selves and more like Jesus Christ. Once we were apart from the church, but now we have fellowship.