This past week I was having a conversation with a friend who is a member of a denominational church. She mentioned to me that she wanted to come visit us and that she had told her “pastor” that she was going to visit us. Her “pastor” asked who we were and my friend responded, “the church of Christ.” The “pastor” said, “Are you sure you want to do that? Those folks are different!”
There are many members of the church today who would react negatively to that analysis. They would say, “Oh, we’re no different than any of the denominations around us.” To these, it is an embarrassment that they are considered to be different by the denominations. These would want to change the church into just another denomination, to legitimize and acquire instrumental music, to destroy the autonomy of the local congregation, to call the preacher, “pastor,” to get rid of the name “church of Christ,” etc. until the church is no longer distinctive from those around us. However, that would not be the way of God or Christ.
We read in the scriptures that God has always demanding of his people that they be different. In Deuteronomy 14:2, Moses tells the children of Israel that they are different. He says, “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” The word “holy” means to be set apart, different. God wanted the children of Israel to be a “peculiar people.” The new English Standard Version translates this phrase “treasured possession.” Certainly something that is a treasured possession is different from everything else one has and is set apart.
In the New Testament as well, Peter quotes from this passage in Deuteronomy and applies it toward “Spiritual Israel” – Christians. Peter writes, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). God wants us, as Christians, to be different. Paul writes to Titus these words regarding Jesus, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). Jesus died so that we could be different. We read in 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” In order to be God’s children, the church must be separate, distinct, unique, different.
So, are we different? Yes, we are, and I am glad that we are. Today we live in a time when denominations around us are conforming to the world. We hear of denominations who condone abortion, homosexuality, fornication, and adultery. The church of Christ does not condone such activities because God’s word condemns these things. Instead of conforming to the way that the world would have the church, the church ought to be demanding of individuals that their lives be transformed through repentance and renewal of mind. In Romans 12:2 we read, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Are we different? Yes, we are. We are different because we have been transformed by Christ to be a people who are holy, the children of God, separate from that which is sinful; different from the way the world would mold religion in its own image today. It is our differences from everyone else that define who we are as Christians. We should never be embarrassed of that! The world and the denominations may think us “strange” (1 Peter 4:4) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. One day, Jesus will return and all will bow and God will be glorified, not because of our similarities with the world, but because of our differences (Matthew 25:34).
Satan’s Dream Society
I recently listened to a sermon that put forth the question, what would a society look like if Satan were completely in control? The immediate answer that comes to mind would look something like a modern Sodom and Gomorrah. Pornography would be plastered everywhere, homosexuality would be rampant, abortions would be available on every corner, violence and theft would be regular occurrences in every neighborhood, and the Bible would be completely absent. While that’s one possible answer and it’s not necessarily wrong, the preacher offered a much more frightening possibility.
Rather than achieving a society completely absent of morality and anything good, many times Satan operates in another way. He offers comfort and a false feeling of safety. Therefore, this alternate society would be one in which homosexuality, pornography, and abortion aren’t really an issue. The family isn’t under attack. Atheism, secular humanism, and postmodernism have no real influence on society. That sounds pretty good, right? The catch – the Gospel is not truly preached within the church buildings and the transformational power of Jesus’ blood has little to no effect on lukewarm Christians. It doesn’t permeate their lives.
Which one of those would we choose? Undoubtedly the second, but each is equally dangerous. Quite frankly, the second scenario was not unlike what we had here in America in the last century, and it was that comfort that led to the first situation described. That brings up the question – what is our aim? What are we hoping to accomplish as a counter-cultural, Christ-preaching, Bible-living church?
While society continues to deteriorate, many of us who are located in the Bible Belt live in communities not unlike the second one described. Are we content to have “good” people around us who haven’t been reached by the Gospel? In most cases, yes. However, just because they aren’t trying to persecute us for being anti-homosexual or for believing in God doesn’t mean we can continue to operate in an “I’m ok, you’re ok” manner. We must view the world the way God views it – either for Him or against Him. Paul described himself and his readers as former enemies of God (Ephesians 2:3, Colossians 1:2). Those good, nice people who make up our neighborhoods, schools, and work environments have been an excuse for Christian stagnation and silence for far too long, and it’s time that changed.
Where does that change start? In our hearts. We can’t look at ourselves as mostly good people who needed a little forgiveness for small, insignificant sins. We need to view ourselves as wretched, worthless sinners who were bought by blood. Once we have an accurate grasp of the cost of just one sin, we can begin to see our comfortable, upstanding communities as they truly are, desperately in need of God’s healing power. We all come together to cry out against media silencing of Phil Robertson, the Benham Brothers, and other public figures who have been labeled hateful because they teach the Bible. Once that storm blows over, though, we go back to our comfortable silence. Until we view the world as a daily battlefield for hearts and minds the way God does, nothing is going to change.
Are you comfortable living in a “good” community that is yet to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord? As long as the answer to that question is “yes,” Satan may just be doing his best work yet.
No Pain, No Gain
There is an expression among those who exercise regularly, “No Pain, No Gain.” The expression basically means that if you are not willing to work hard and suffer a little for your efforts, then you are not going to accomplish very much. Just doing the easy and simple exercises that don’t challenge one’s body won’t lead to lasting results. The same principle is true in life as well. In order for one to be productive in business, for example, one must be willing to make sacrifices of time and money; one must make an effort in order to do well. In our personal relationships also, we understand this to be true. The more we put into a relationship the better it is going to be. The parent who makes an effort to spend time with his children is going to have a better relationship with his child than the parent that doesn’t. The husband who spends more time with his wife will have a better relationship than one that is always gone.
Should it cause us to wonder, when we come to the spiritual world, that if we don’t make an effort at serving the Lord that we’re not going to get anything out of our relationship with God? The same principle is true here as well. “No pain, no gain.” Sometimes I think that people expect church to be some kind of spiritual playground where we can just relax and have fun in the glow of God’s goodness. While I certainly believe that coming to church can be rewarding, it doesn’t quite work like a playground. Our worship and service requires of us some effort, both mentally and physically. The more effort we put into our worship and service, the greater our relationship with God will become.
Our efforts must start with our attendance. If we don’t attend services or if our attendance is sporadic, then we’re not going to get very much out of it. Attendance to the worship services is where we get our encouragement to continue to live godly lives and be faithful to the Lord (Hebrews 10:25). It is absolutely critical to our relationship with God. It is as important as families having dinner together on a regular basis. To miss such an appointment is to undermine one’s relationships.
We continue our efforts with how we worship. We must engage our minds to worship God (John 4:24, Matthew 22:37). That means we need to listen attentively to the prayers and the sermon (1 Corinthians 14:15). We need to sing with all of our heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). We need to give with purpose and thanksgiving in our hearts (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). And we need to remember the death of Jesus as we partake of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19). How many times do we catch ourselves thinking about what is for lunch or what we’re going to do later in the day instead of focusing on the worship. We cheat ourselves out of a relationship with God when we don’t engage our minds in worship.
When we leave the church building our efforts must continue. If we simply leave what we’ve done at the building behind, then we are going to limit our relationship with God. However, if we take what we’ve learned and tell others about it, we will not only help others but ourselves as well. This may mean doing good to those who are in need (Galatians 6:10); it may means being a good example to our children (Ephesians 6:4); it may mean teaching someone about the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20); it may mean setting an example of model behavior for our coworkers (Ephesians 6:6). Regardless who we influence, there must be the effort of influence.
What will happen if we engage ourselves in the work of God? We will grow as individuals. The church will also grow also; others will see the wonderful things working in our lives and they will want to be part of it. Our efforts will not go unnoticed, and we, as individuals Christians, will not be the only ones to benefit from our work. “No pain, no gain” means that if we want more out of our relationship with God we need to work harder at it. Let us all resolve to renew our efforts to serve God in all things.
Columbiana, AL 35051
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