I remember growing up in church and even enjoying church. I got to be with friends, and as I got older I got involved in the choir and bell choir. Church was a part of my life, but in all of my looking back I do not ever recall understanding that Jesus was a part of my life. Sermons were stories that certainly had moral content, but I do not recall much about the truth of the Word. The need for Jesus was not necessarily something I felt I needed. I had learned about God throughout Sunday school classes, but I do not recall ever being pressed on my beliefs and my faith and I went through confirmation classes. The focus was on the process and not on the person. Today this experience in church is something that guides my thinking when it comes to church and expectations of church.
Like it or not we all come to church and to the foot of the cross with biases and expectations based upon what we were told and how we were raised. Unfortunately often times those biases cause us to put up walls around ourselves that keep ourselves in the realm of being saved while excluding many others, but this is not what God intended for us or for those around us. Try to think back, if you can, to when you first decided to try out church. Why did you go? Were you looking for something?
The reality is that when people make an active decision, in other words when their parents do not make them go to church, they are often times looking for something. They are likely looking for hope, guidance, encouragement, maybe they are just looking for something real that is greater than themselves, but they are looking for something none-the-less and God is working through their searching to draw them in to Him. But, if we are not careful, those who are already within the church can sometimes create barriers to people meeting with God by placing restrictions or rules in the way. This those is contrary to what we, the church, are supposed to do and it is exactly what the Jewish leaders did back in Jesus’ day.
Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.
Paul said that Christ already accomplished the purpose of the law and that all who believe in Jesus are made right with God. So what people need to know is what Jesus did for them and why they need to accept Him as their Lord and Savior, they do not need to be restricted by rules and laws that keep them from knowing God. Now of course that does not mean that once saved they can keep on doing whatever it is that they please, but the Holy Spirit living within them will begin to guide them toward holiness, just as He is doing with you. The process of change is not immediate nor is it ever ending while we are here on earth. We each carry so much unholiness within us that we will never reach the level of holiness that we need in order to make it to heaven which is why we need Jesus. His blood has covered our sins and when we chose to follow He we are guaranteed a place in heaven.
The Israelites knew all about God and about following His commands but they failed to understand who God really was and what He desired of them. His primary desire was for a relationship with them. He desired their faith in Him and their love for Him. All other things were to flow from this place of understanding God and His desires.
16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”
Without faith there is no hope and there is no purpose. When we truly understand what it is that we believe we realize that our actions do have meaning. Without Christ what hope of a future do we have? If there is not both heaven and hell than no one is responsible for their actions because their actions mean nothing. And without Christ a person can do whatever they please, but try as they might they will never find true happiness.
2 Corinthians 5:19-20
16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
People come to church to find out about God and how to get to heaven, but what if these people discovered that God wants to fulfill them while on earth as well, not just save them for heaven? Coming to church and to Christ under the sole premise of being saved from impending death and judgement falls short of God’s desire for us.
5 For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. 6 But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). 7 And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” 8 In fact, it says,
“The message is very close at hand;
it is on your lips and in your heart.”
And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: 9 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is a gift given by the grace of God. Not all who hear the call respond, not all who hear the message will understand, but by God’s grace His love enters into our hearts and our minds, not by our own power, but by His tenderness. It is because of this tender grace that we MUST learn to know Him more. Think back if you will to the time when you met the love of your life, assuming that you have, or look back to when your child was born. During these moments our love is so great and our actions reflect that love, but when we start to take that relationship for granted we start to put less effort into the relationship. We even start to talk less about the relationship. Eventually if we let this go far enough our relationship will begin to suffer and maybe even break. Does this mean that the relationship was not real? NO! But relationships take constant nurturing and effort. Love is not a feeling, but a choice. When we choose to love God we do so even if we do not feel the love like we used to. We must continue to show our love by our actions and by the way we treat Him.
How have you been treating your relationship with God? Do you meet with Him regularly in prayer and in His Word? Do you sing out to Him from the depths of your being or do you simply recite the words of the songs without any intention? Do you talk about God in public? One of the greatest indicators of our love for something or someone is if we talk about them. When we are no longer talking about God then something has gone awry in our relationship and we MUST fix it or we will never be effective in sharing the Gospel and people will miss out on the opportunity to know God and to have life.
The Christian life is not about going to church or acting in a certain way, it is about following Christ out of love. When we come to the point where we are able to do these things we become who God intended for us to be and we become a light to the dark world around us. We need Christ to shine in us and through us so that not only can we be saved, but we can help bring others to Christ as well.
My prayer is that you will reflect upon who God has created you to be and to seek Him out in prayer and if necessary in fasting. God has a plan and a purpose for your life and He desires your love and your praise. When we begin to understand how much God loves and cares for us we begin to take on His heart and to see others in the same way.
“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).