(This is part 1 of 2 on Spiritual Introversion.)
Floating around the internet is a poster called “How to Care for Introverts.” It contains a list of twelve things you need to know about introverts, such as “Give them time to think. Don’t demand instant answers.” The extrovert version is out there too. These types of personality profiles are fun to pass around; we can see ourselves, our family, our friends. They help us understand how personality can shape our actions. We can learn to appreciate the diverse ways God created each of us to function.
But a downside to such “profiling” is perhaps that we too easily make excuses for ourselves, for our weaknesses. It’s easy for my introverted self to say, for instance, “Don’t push me to make lots of friends: I’m a one best friend kind of gal” and use it as an excuse not to be loving, friendly, or hospitable. I don’t allow for Christ’s power to be made perfect in the weaknesses of my personality, as 2 Corinthians 12:9 encourages me to do, because I don’t have a weakness, after all; I have a personality trait. Doing this, I miss out on the opportunity to boast in Christ and proclaim His sufficient grace.
Similarly, we can fall into a kind of spiritual introversion that excuses away any weaknesses we may have in interacting with the other members of the body of Christ. This kind of introversion makes it easy for me to think my personal spiritual growth, my sanctification, is just that: personal. I wouldn’t deny the importance of participating in the body: singing during corporate worship, sharing at a small group Bible study, praying aloud. But I write off whatever I am uncomfortable with as “not really my spiritual personality.” My attitude, by and large, is that I can do this “thing” on my own. Of course, my personal time with God is precious. Our sanctification does require this. But it also requires so much more.
As David Powlison explains (in this video), “the very goal of sanctification involves the church”:
If you are in Christ, you are in some intrinsic way wedded to the welfare of others. . . . There is a sense where I am not perfected until you are perfected. We are not perfected until every single one of us, the children of the living God, is perfected, which means another person’s struggle, I have a stake in that for my sanctification [sic] . . . our glory, which is the ultimate goal of sanctification, is when all of us arrive together and all of us together have grown up into the image of Jesus Christ.
This idea opposes the individualistic mentality our culture praises: using our individual abilities to make individual advancements. Instead, God first calls us to dependence on Him for our faith, the grace in our lives, and our gifts. Then, He calls us to be mutually edifying through those things He gives us (1 Cor. 12:7). God calls us to humble interconnectedness and interdependence. In this environment, God’s grace is amplified and God glorified more. I can grow in grace not only through God’s working in my own life, but through the ways He lavishes His grace in another sister’s life. My ability to grow individually in grace is multiplied exponentially through my interactions with sisters. We aren’t racing to the finish line individually. We are working together to move the whole body toward the goal and Christ is glorified exponentially in the many ways He strengthens the members of His body to do this.
This is a messy process because we are sinful. I get along with myself pretty well; some other “members” not so well. I can understand the value of my perspective; I don’t always “get” my sisters. I don’t have a lot of patience for the “toe” or “finger” or “eye” that seems to be slowing me down. My attitude, again, is that I can do this “thing” on my own. I love myself; I do not love Christ’s body.
This, however, is not Christ’s attitude towards His body: “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (Eph. 5:29-30). God has composed this body and He did not include any unnecessary parts (1 Cor. 12:21-27). Necessary doesn’t mean there are parts we “put up with” because they happen to be there; necessary means indispensable, essential for proper function. This means every saint (in some imperfect but necessary way) moves the body forward in sanctification to glorification with Christ.
Not only has God created the members of the body to need each other and to glorify Him in the process of needing, the church, Christ’s body, expresses the fullness of Christ: “[God] put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Eph 1:22-23). Christ fills all of us, His saints, in all ways so that as a body we can express His fullness. We are united together because Christ is our head (Col. 1:18). How awesome and humbling to know that God chose each one of us and joined us to His body! In this, God purposes for us to look away from ourselves and to the awesomeness of Christ’s filling us up as we come together as His body. In this, we glorify God. I miss out on that experience of fullness when I act like a spiritual introvert.
I do not want to miss out on God’s fullness because my personality claims something “really isn’t my thing.” I do not want to try to “go at it” alone, reluctant to share in my sisters’ lives because of pride or fear. I need to see the mercies of God in your life, to hear of your faith and love and the other great gifts of God so that “with one voice [we can] glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6). I want to hear all the ways God enlightens your heart and reveals Himself to you (Eph. 1:15-19). I want to grow with you, His saint, in grace . . . not merely around you. I pray that you and me together with the rest of the saints can know the love of Christ and be filled to the fullness of God (Eph. 3:14-21). I do need you . . . so we can boast in Christ and proclaim His sufficient grace as we strive together (no excuses!) for our mutual perfection.
Further Reading: Pastor Josh’s Sermon: Membership: Stop Dating the Church