The Marks of A Healthy Church-Part Three
February 11, 2007 | Randy Smith
The Marks Of A Healthy Church - Part Three1 Timothy 3:15
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith
Up until about ten years ago, I adopted the attitude that you can succeed in anything you set your mind on. Instruction plus practice plus perseverance, I thought was the winning formula to achieve mastery in anything this world has to offer. I now describe my experience as trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
It was the fall of 1994 and I had this notion that in a few years I would become a top-notch musician, singer and songwriter. I borrowed a guitar. I began taking professional lessons. I practiced nearly everyday. But the more I put into it, the more frustrated I became.
Maybe it was the fact that I broke a string nearly every time I tried to tune my guitar. Maybe it was the fact that my skills never improved. Maybe it was the fact that teens behind the soundboard turned my microphone off whenever I sang in the youth group band that I was a part of. Whatever the reason, after two years of hard work I came to the conclusion that I was terrible! I realized that God did not call me to be a musician.
Yet with all this as a background, what would you think if I called myself a virtuoso? Let's see, maybe a sign in front of my house, "Randy Smith, musician extraordinaire." You'd think I was a fool! Anyone with an ounce of common sense would say I am not able to back up that claim. It is easy to talk the talk. It is much more difficult to walk the walk.
It is no different for most places of worship today. They may call themselves a church. They may be advertised in the Yellow Pages under "churches." They may even have a sign out front that includes the word church in their title. But does the overwhelming preponderance of claims affirm that they are actually a church? As before, the title is erroneous if you are not living up to the billing. As before, it is easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.
Jesus said in Matthew 16 that He will build His church (Mt. 16:18). The church belongs to Him and He has given us His clear expectations for the church found solely in the Scriptures. It is easy to put the sign out front that says we are a church. It is a different story to say we are willing to follow our Lord's instructions and be found a true church under His definition.
Since this topic is so foundational to our existence, I have chosen to spend a few weeks (before we begin our next major book study) discussing the marks of a true church. In others words, those who wish to be identified as a church, those who wish to be blessed by God, those who wish to honor God and those who wish to be Spirit-filled, must give evidence that they are practicing Christ's expectations.
Without meeting the necessary qualifications, I have no right calling myself a musician. In the same way, unless we live up to these clear expectations from the Lord, we have no right calling ourselves a church.
As of now we have covered six marks of a Christian church. They are a commitment to: teach the Bible, practice church discipline, understand the Gospel, engage in discipleship, select biblically qualified leaders and abide by sound doctrine. This morning we will continue our series with two additional marks.
1. COMMITMENT TO OUTREACH
As we begin today I want to draw your attention back to one of our marks that we discussed two weeks ago. We said a healthy church must have a correct understanding of the Gospel.
The Gospel is the means whereby God saves sinners. The Gospel is the solution to the separation that exists between a holy God and sinful humanity. The Gospel centers on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ to remove our sin and grant to us His perfect righteousness on the basis of faith. The Gospel is the only hope that rescues sinners from an everlasting torment in hell.
In a nutshell, this is what we must be devoted to in order to be a Christian. And if we are totally devoted to this message, this glorious message should have monumental impact on our lives, specifically, the desire to share it with others. Therefore the seventh mark of a healthy church is a commitment to outreach or (as we say) evangelism.
Permit me to give you three reasons why all Christians cannot be indifferent to sharing the Gospel.
First, when we accept Christ, we accept Him as Savior and Lord. In Luke 2:11 the angels declared, "for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Paul told the Philippians, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20). Four times in Second Peter, the Apostle referred to Jesus as "Lord and Savior" (2 Pet. 1:11; 2:20; 3:2, 18).
Lordship implies ownership. It implies a willingness to do as our Master has commanded. It implies a faith that following Jesus' commands will glorify Him and increase our joy.
And among many commands mentioned in the Scriptures is the unmistakable expectation that the disciples of Christ will continue His work to reach the world with the Gospel. Just prior to His physical departure our Lord left us these final words: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mt. 28:18-20).
We need to seriously ask ourselves: Does our Lord give us commands we can neglect? Are the expectations of Jesus burdensome, unloving or meaningless? If, as Christ said, we express our love to Him through obedience (Jn. 14:15), what does it say if we fail to share the Gospel as He has called us?
Second, individually and corporately as a church, we should share the Gospel because we love other people.
Think about it. If love is the dominant mark of our lives as it should be, what does it say about us if we claim to believe the Gospel, but fail to share it with others? In other words, we acknowledge that in Christ we have abundant life and the fullness of joy (Jn. 10:10). We accept the fact that Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (Jn. 14:6). And we believe the wages of sin are an eternal death in hell (Rom. 6:23). Once again, what does it say about us if we claim to believe the Gospel, but fail to share it with others whereby they might experience the same blessings?
I will allow these comments from an unbeliever to answer that question. "Christians, if they are not the most inhuman people in the world, cannot believe what they profess - that men without repentance and faith must perish eternally - or they would be more earnest in endeavoring to save them. If I believed what they profess to believe - I would scarcely cease day or night to warn others of the wrath to come" (Author Unknown).
Again, we can place the tag over our door that says, "loving church," but unless we are willing and committed to reaching those outside with the biblical Gospel, we are as the unknown author said, "The most inhuman people in the world."
Whenever I walk through Asia,
Along the harbor blue,
I go by a great big church house
With its people strong and true.
I suppose I've passed it a hundred times,
But today I stopped for a minute
And looked at that church - That tragic church,
The church with no love for me in it
Alfred Joyce Kilmer
Listen beloved, the most loving thing you or I can do is tell the lost about Jesus!
Third we must be committed to sharing the Gospel for the sake of God's glory.
Possibly some rhetorical questions will help set the stage. How do you feel when your neighbor professes to be a Christian, but continually takes the Lord's name in vain? Or your coworker boasts about her frequent visits to the mosque? Or that same guy you pass regularly on your way to church worshipping his god on the eighth hole that? Do these occurrences bother you? Do they stir your heart in any way? They stir God's heart and they should stir your heart if you have a heart after God's own heart.
Consider a great example from the Apostle Paul. He made his way to Athens, Greece, a rather desired location for anyone in the first century due to her intellectual splendor and statues of beauty. But instead of seeing this town through the eyes of a tourist, he saw it through the eyes of God. In Acts 17:16 we read, "Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols."
What bothered Paul so much was observing humans created to worship the living God through Jesus Christ, bowing down and giving their allegiance to false gods. Instead of pursuing a relationship with the true God, they were committing spiritual adultery.
This provoked Paul's spirit and moved Him to respond with the only possible solution. The next verse reads, "So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present" (Ac. 17:17). To remedy the situation as an ardent defender of God's glory, he shared the Gospel passionately, frequently, accurately and joyfully.
A healthy church must be committed to evangelism locally and over seas. Since only God can grant salvation, we must be faithful to share the message regardless of the results. We must be motivated to impart to others through our words and actions the great news of forgiveness, meaning, purpose, freedom, community, satisfaction and hope that is found in Jesus Christ.
A zeal for the lost is a mark of a true church. As F.B. Meyer once said, "The church which is not a missionary church will be a missing church when Jesus comes."
2. CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF CONVERSION 1
In addition to a desire to share the Gospel, the eighth mark of a good church is a correct understanding of conversion.
Possibly this statistic will help explain what I am talking about. In a recent Barna Report, it was declared that six out of ten Americans claim to be personally committed to Christ. From my own experience through conversations with others, I would argue that those figures of professing believers might even be a little higher. Bottom line: most people, especially in our country, profess to be Christians.
Yet as I said before, talk is cheap. How can a person know if he or she is truly converted, truly changed from sin to follow a holy God, truly "rescued…from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of (God's) beloved Son" (Col. 1:13)?
This subject is extremely important because our Lord made it clear that many professing believers have tragically deceived themselves and remain outside His family despite their profession. In Matthew 7 He said, "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Mt. 7:22-23). Because, as He said a couple verses earlier, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter" (Mt. 7:21).
Also in this chapter we have the familiar warning, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Mt. 7:13-14).
In the final analysis, there will be a lot of self-deceived churchgoers populating hell.
So how can a person know he or she is really saved? Put another way, what should the healthy church be teaching regarding the signs of true conversion?
In one sense becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world. The Scriptures teach us that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. God will accept all who come to Him by these means. But again, how can we be certain we have truly believed and repented? How can we be certain we are not living in the dead faith condemned in the book of James (Jas. 2:17, 26)?
First we should have an unquenching desire if we are truly converted to glorify God. Jesus, our example, made it His goal to glorify the Father (Jn. 17:1, 4). He did this by doing the Father's will (Jn. 4:34; 6:38). We too, empowered by the Holy Spirit, should have as our number one goal, God's glory.
You see, before Christ all our actions were motivated to draw attention to self. Now with Christ we fulfill the basic call of discipleship to deny self (Mt. 16:24) and draw all attention away from self and to the glory of God (2 Cor. 5:14-15). When we evangelize we are saying, "Seeing another person worship and praise you God is worth the risk of diminishing this person's high opinion of me." When we attend church we are saying, "There is no other place I'd rather be than with Your people gathered around Your Throne worshipping You." When we display the fruit of the Spirit we are saying, "Look at the new person I've become thanks to God's work in my life."
This is the teaching of Scripture: Jesus said, "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (Jn. 15:8). Likewise, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Jn. 5:16).
Conversion is a change from self-centeredness to God-centered living.
Second, another sign of true conversion is changed desires and emotions.
Here is the common scenario. You are sharing your faith with someone. You give a clear presentation of the Gospel. Immediately the individual replies, "Stop sharing this stuff. I have believed in Jesus since I was a child." Though this response should encourage you, you are troubled and left in a pickle as how to continue the conversation. On the one hand you know belief is all it takes to be a Christian, but on the other hand, you know this person well and he has given absolutely no evidence he is saved. He continually takes the Lord's name in vain, never attends church, fills your e-mail inbox with dirty jokes, flirts with other's wives and persecutes you daily for your faith. Where do you go in the conversation?
I think a good direction is to explain that believing in Jesus means He is your number one desire. And then ask Him how His love for Jesus has influenced his life.
You see, when we are truly converted, our heart is changed and Jesus becomes our treasure chest of holy joy. He becomes our greatest passion and our hearts gravitate to dwell on His inexpressible beauty. Through a greater understanding of our salvation and God's daily working in our lives, we develop a greater hunger to meditate on Him and praise His name. Forsaking all, said Paul, that we might gain Christ and know Him better (Phil. 3:8, 10).
This passionate prayer from an unknown Puritan expresses a converted heart:
It is my greatest, noblest pleasure
to be acquainted with thee
and with my rational, immortal soul;
It is sweet and entertaining
to look into my being
when all my powers and passions
are united and engaged in pursuit of thee,
when my soul longs and passionately breathes
after conformity to thee
and the full enjoyment of thee;
No hours pass away with so much pleasure
as those spent in communion with thee
and with my heart.
O how desirable, how profitable to the Christian life
is a spirit of holy watchfulness
and godly jealousy over myself
when my soul is afraid of nothing
except grieving and offending thee, the blessed God,
my Father and friend,
whom I then love and long to please,
rather than be happy in myself!
Knowing, as I do, that this is the pious temper,
worthy of the highest ambition, and closest pursuit
of intelligent creatures and holy Christians,
may my joy derive from glorifying and delighting thee.
I long to fill all my time for thee,
whether at home or in the way;
to place all my concerns in thy hands;
to be entirely at thy disposal,
having no will or interest of my own.
Help me to live to thee forever,
to make thee my last and only end,
so that I may never more in one instance love my sinful self.
The Valley of Vision, p. 130
This love for God, rare even in many churches today, may seem strange to some. Again, it only shows how much we have been deceived regarding the nature of true conversion and fallen away from the Greatest Commandment to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Mt. 22:37).
Third, another sign of true conversion is living in obedience to Christ.
What we are talking about here is holy living. 1 Pet. 1:15, "Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior." What we are talking about here is a life in compliance with the Scriptures. Jesus said, "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me" (Jn. 14:21). What we are talking about here is a desire to repent from sin. 1 John 5:18, "We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin" (NIV). What we are talking about here is a desire to imitate Christ. 1 John 2:6, "The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked." We are talking about holy living.
This reminds me of the time the great preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, observed a drunken man leaning up against a lamppost. In slurred speech the man cried out, Mr. Spurgeon, do you remember me?" To which Spurgeon said, "Why should I?" The man replied, "I'm one of your disciples," to which Spurgeon said, "You must be one of mine because you are certainly not one of the Lord's."
When we talk about true conversion to Christ, we are not adding to the free gift of grace, but we are saying that when God comes into our lives there should be some evidence of His existence. We are not talking about perfection either, but we are talking about a progressive change from what we once were.
As John Newton, the writer of Amazing Grace, once said, "I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I wish to be. I am not what I hope to be. Yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was. By the grace of God, I am what I am."
Today we learned that a true church is committed to evangelism and a true church has a correct understanding of conversion. Though I planned to finish today, I need one more week to conclude this series.
A tradition I began a few years ago in early February is to go to the store and buy four chocolate hearts and four flowers for my four female sweethearts at home (that is one wife and three daughters if you are visiting with us this morning!). I always enjoy the looks I receive from others as I am making my way to the register with my purchase. They sort of cross between envy and admiration. They think I'm pretty cool to have so many valentines in my life.
Yet regardless of what they think, deep down inside I am pretty dorky. Did I tell you that I'm a pretty bad musician as well. So despite what others might think or how I might choose to identify myself, neither coolness nor musical talent are realities in my life.
In the same way, there are a lot of places that call themselves a church. But unless they are practicing the true biblical marks of a church, they are greatly deceived as well. May we at the Grace Tabernacle understand these marks and hold to them faithfully.
1 An excellent source I frequently consulted for this topic was Mark Talbot's work, The Signs of True Conversion (Crossway, 2000).