Why church membership matters.

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” -Ephesians 4:25

Sometimes people don’t like the word “member”. It sounds like it comes from a club or something. It sounds exclusive and shallow.

But “member” actually means something pretty crazy. It means a part of the body. And this concept has been around since the very beginning of church history.

So instead of disparaging the word, I think it’s better if we start trying to live up to the word. Maybe, instead of changing the word we use, we should say it with more intention and integrity.

This means a few things:

1. Since body parts don’t just jump around from body to body, I can’t just jump around from fellowship to fellowship. This runs deeper than just the place I visit once a week. This affects where I let my job take me, how often I move, how much I travel, and the way I spend my free time day by day. A body exists 24/7, not one day a week.

2. Since I need to commit to my church like a body part, it matters that the local fellowship has the tools to hold me accountable—which means transferring my membership to them. Otherwise, church discipline loses its power, and no one holds me accountable. My membership has been at the Willits SDA Church (which I really, really love), in California, since I was baptized. But I haven’t lived there for 10 years. Who knows what I’ve been up to? I do keep in touch with folks from Willits, but how can they really hold me to any standard? This is my bad—I should have transferred my membership long ago. I’ll be working on that.

3. Since the body is all connected, we’ve got to be honest with each other. On a person-to-person basis, with the local fellowship to which we’re bound. My church doesn’t only hold me accountable—I take responsibility for them in return. And honesty definitely makes things more intimate—like a body.

Commit to your church for more than once a week. Tie yourselves in locally, officially. Be honest with each other. Be a member.

 

Christ will establish you.

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” -2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Living in Christ involves deliberate action. The comfort of knowing Jesus does not satisfy you with human goodness—it moves you. Like a rope and a harness give a new climber the comfort to scale 80 feet of sheer plywood, so life in Christ gives a new believer comfort to reach new places in character, generosity, and service. If Christian life inspires you to action that anyone could logically justify outside of Christ, is your belief really in your Creator?

If you believe in Christ, and find your comfort in Christ, he will establish you in good works and words. Establishment involves time and scale: it is the beginning of a long-term entity with a far reach. And establishment is the definition of our present lives for anyone who believes. We are being prepared—established—for a time and scale without end.

So what good work or word do you know God wants to establish you in? And what short-term fear is stopping you from it? What comfort do you have in Christ?

Don’t let your shortsighted fear blind you to Jesus’ comfort, and in the end keep you from being established for life—all of life.

Three ways salvation sets you free.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” -1 John 4:4

The experience of salvation must be freeing. If your experience is not freeing, your experience is not salvation. In order to set you free, salvation does three things to you:

  1. salvation removes your burden of guilt,
  2. salvation changes–sanctifies–your desires, and
  3. salvation empowers you to achieve your new, sanctified desires.

Why do you need those three things to happen to you in order to be free?

Salvation removes your burden of guilt

This is the ultimate prerequisite for freedom. No one is free with a guilty conscience. And this was achieved when Jesus died for your sins and God resurrected him. Promise yourself that Jesus actually came like described in the scriptures, and you’re guilt has to go away.

Salvation sanctifies your desires

I think John Piper once said something along the lines of this: “freedom is when you can do what you want to do, and not be damned to hell for it.” He was making the point that true freedom comes when what you want to do (and what you can do) aligns with what you ought to do.

Salvation empowers you to achieve your sanctified desires

All through it, scripture promises you that you can live the way you ought to live: “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Even the Ten Commandments–what some think legalistic–promise it. Check out this explanation from Skip MacCarty’s In Granite or Ingrained:

A second, complimentary model of the law, “embedded in the very grammatical structure of the Decalogue,” also supports an experiential understanding of Galations 3:22-25. Davidson points out that the grammatical form of the original Hebrew construction of the Ten Commandments allows for them to be understood either in their traditional portrayal as commands (“emphatic imperative”) or as promises (“emphatic promise”). Thus, “while it is possible to interpret the commandments as prohibitions, we can also interpret them as divine promises. For those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, it is no longer the command ‘You may not have any other gods before Me,’ but instead, the promise ‘You will not have any other gods before Me.’ You will not make any graven images, you will not take My name in vain. I promise you! You will no longer want to do those things that interrupt our intimate personal relationship.”

You can’t have the One that is greater than the one in the world living in you, and still be burdened by guilt, enslaved to sinful desires, and incapable of doing what you ought to do. No, when the One is living in you, you overcome all of that. And you find freedom.

Do you want to remove all doubt about your sincerity?

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” -Colossians 2:15

It seems that God likes removing doubt about sincerity. From Noah, to Job, to Abraham and Isaac, to Moses, to Jesus and the apostles, God brings people into situations that cannot be faked. Anyone without faith would give up. But when someone does not give up, then their value is made known. No one can call them insincere.

Some people think Christians are insincere. Since our faith is unbelievably good news, our motives have to be unbelievably sincere. That simultaneously puts us in a vulnerable and a powerful position. Vulnerable because anything we do that might be, or appear, insincere will draw flack. Powerful because, if we are able to remove all doubt about our sincerity, we have a hope and a joy that nothing can rival and that everyone wants. Showing our sincerity beyond all doubt is perhaps the most powerful way to bring people to belief.

We should not chase persecution, I think. But we should, absolutely, live according to the standards of justice and mercy found in the Bible without regard for negative consequences to ourselves. Rather, when we see something bad coming, we should rejoice, because God will be glorified in our suffering.

Twice this year, the choir I’m in has sung a song called “In Christ Alone” by Koch and Craig. One of the stanzas goes like this:

And now I seek no greater honor
Than just to know Him more
And to count my gains but losses
To the glory of my Lord

The last two lines have been running through my head a lot recently: “To count my gains but losses to the glory of my Lord.”

Have you ever thought that your gains–your successes, your comforts, the extended length of your life–might actually be losses to the glory of the Lord? I love that Adventists are healthy enough to live on average 10 years longer than the rest of the U.S. population. Our health can be a testament to God’s power and righteousness. But I wonder if the fact that we actually do live longer–that we take our gift of health and stay in safe places, instead of using our health to go work in the hardest places where we might die sooner–I wonder if the fact that we actually do live 10 years longer is a greater testament to God, or to human security.

Would you rather live a life without problems, or would you rather take every opportunity you can to show people that God is worth everything to you?

Jesus made a spectacle of the powers and authorities by revealing his allegiance beyond a doubt. He came in order to do that.

As Christians, why have we come? Why have you come? What will you do?

 

You’re a sinner, and God doesn’t hold that against you.

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” -2 Corinthians 5:19a

Sometimes the gospel of the kingdom is not good news to people.

Not everyone shares my worldview from a Christian upbringing, and one of the pillars of that worldview is my sinfulness: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23,24)

And without that fundamental recognition of personal sin, the gospel is not necessarily good news.

But if you just don’t see the need for the gospel–or if you want it to be good news, but just don’t understand why–I have something for you to try, from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”

Previously, I wrote that obedience builds a connection between you and God, because it gives you the ability to understand things from God’s perspective. One thing God sees is the great sinfulness of sin, and the power of love to overcome it.

You’re a sinner, and God doesn’t hold that against you.

If you believe this, anything is possible.

“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” -Hebrews 11:3

The universe is such a crazy place. I can’t imagine the scale of things. Everything seems to get infinitely smaller the closer you look, and infinitely bigger the farther you look.

And God created it all.

In Genesis 1, and again in Hebrews 11, this is the first thing we are asked to believe about God. I think this is for a reason. If people are able to believe this one thing–that a Personality is responsible for everything around us–then hope can be found in the Bible. Without this, the Bible is an existentialist tool without inherent meaning.

If you believe this, anything is possible.