Many people like Jesus Christ but dislike his church. I understand their feelings. The more I read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection, the more I want to be like him. But I have seen some of his followers behave in ways that must embarrass him and make the devil proud. Go to any church, and you’ll see the Seven Deadly Sins of pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth on full display.
Why don’t churches do a better job of destroying sin and building saints? (Real saints, not the holier-than-thou version.) Why are the Seven Deadly Sins on such prominent display in so many churches rather than the Fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5.22–23)? The answer, it seems to me, is that we have not internalized the good news of salvation. We talk about the good news. We think about the good news. But we have not yet felt the good news at the deepest level of our being.
This past week, we have been studying the good news as Paul outlines it in Ephesians 2.1–22. The good news consists of five themes:
- Sin: “you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (verses 1–3).
- Grace: “But God, being rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ” (verses 4–7).
- Faith and works: “by grace you have been saved through faith…not [as] a result of works” (verses 8–10).
- Peace: “[Christ] himself is our peace, who has…broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (verses 11–18).
- Church: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (verses 19–22).
What would it mean to internalize this message? It would mean, among other things, that we stop looking to judge the sins of others because we are so horrified at our own sins. It would mean giving the same grace to others that God has given us. It would mean setting the expectation that good works do not save, but the saved do good works. Didn’t Paul write, after all, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5.6)? It would mean setting aside our petty, external differences of race, sex, and class — as well as every other humanly created “dividing wall of hostility” — and focusing on what truly unites us. The church is not black or white, male or female, rich or poor, white-collar or blue-collar, Republican or Democrat — or whatever else — but sinners saved by grace. Period. Exclamation point!
One more thing: internalizing the good news of salvation would require that we stop thinking about church as something we do for God and starting thinking about it as something God does in us. “In [Christ] you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2.22) When we worship together, God is trying to live in us. Remember that when you go to church this weekend, and try not to get in God’s way with any personal agendas.