This week Pastor Keith Welton continues the sermon series Identity in Christ. You can read, view, or listen to the sermon below.
We are in a series called Identity in Christ where we are focusing on some key things that should mark followers of Jesus. These seven marks are part of our Discovery Group curriculum that has a Bible reading tract for each mark. Today we are talking about being family members.
Jesus died to reconcile people to God
Their sin had separated them and brought them into enmity with God. But Jesus dies on the cross to atone for their sins. His death reconciles people to God, and it also has a horizontal dimension of bringing people together in deep and meaningful relationships.
Part of our identity as Christians, and followers of Christ, is that we are part of the people of God. We are of the household of God. God is our Father. We are sons and daughters. We are to identify with God as father and the church as the family of God.
One of the most missed teachings of the Bible is the doctrine of the Church. Everyone loves Jesus, until he starts telling you what to do, until his commands become inconvenient. We love thinking that Jesus came to give me the best version of myself. We recoil when he says you have to take up your cross, deny yourself and follow him. Commitment to church is one of the most inconvenient teachings of the Bible. But it can also be one of the most nourishing and life giving. God works in and through the faithful but imperfect family of God– the church.
The Church is a family of people experiencing the grace of God and sharing in the privileges and responsibilities of making Christ known.
God is drawing people separated from him and each other into the relationship. The people in Ephesus lived in a divided community. Great divide of that day was the Jewish and Gentile. Jews were those who had the promises of God. Ethnic Israel. Gentiles were “outside the faith.” All the other nations. Separated from God. These two people wouldn't eat with each other. There was hostility, prejudice, and separation. But in Christ those who were near and those who were far are brought together.
The Cross levels the playing field. Everyone is a sinner, and that is their chief problem. Jesus solves it. Those who were dead to sin are now made alive to God. They are restored in relationship to God, and that restores relationships to others. They are now brothers and sisters with those who do the will of God. They are family with those they may not have associated with. They are brought into a new community.
Reconciled through Christ. Jesus was the solution to all the barriers that existed in human society.
Things that describe the church: members of the household of God, one Father, no longer aliens and strangers, but fellow citizens.
A family centered on Christ
Many people want this community but they don’t want Christ. Impossible. The deepest level of human relationship is relating with others about our relationship with God. Jesus diagnoses the problem of our sin, he introduces the cure for our sin, and he shows how God is at work in all we do, and that God’s glory is the supreme goal of our lives. When you share those convictions with other people a depth of relationship opens up that does not exist when all you talk about is football, the weather, or your latest social media post.
The cornerstone. The whole structure is joined and grows. built together into a dwelling
Jesus opens up relationships with other believers. Gives us a love for all people, and especially the church. Impossible to love Jesus and be indifferent to the people he died for. They are our family.
Many people are indifferent to church. Need to see the privilege we are brought into. Need to treat it as family.
These are my family, those who do the will of God. Allegiance to Jesus supersedes all other relationships, but it is in the context of these relationships that we begin to see how human relationships are able to flourish. It's not a mistake that Jesus said his church would be the light of the world. The relational connectivity of Jesus Christ should set it apart and on stage.
God created you for himself. God created you for community. The family of God is the convergence of those two things.
Relational connectedness (concreteness). This is the church. Great problem today. You are there for one another and they are there for you. People want support, but then push aside any commitment that might impede upon them.
Plants need soil to grow. Can’t keep messing with it. Needs to be constant so the roots grow into it. Intertangle. Keep uprooting, and the trees are shallow. We live in a culture that has no roots. Time where you can see and do things previously unthinkable. Travel and vacation. Great perks.
Terrible place to find community. It is a great place to build community.
Experiencing the grace of God
The church consists of people who experienced the transforming grace of Jesus Christ in their life and surrendered their lives to him. He is their king. He is also alive. He is working. His work is past. But it is also present and ongoing. It is also future.
This is all current and continuous action. The church is in process. It doesn’t have it all together. It never will. If the church were perfect you would be tempted to trust in it and not in God. He will not allow that.
*It is inescapable and essential that you be disappointed by the church.* The church is meant to point you to Jesus and not to itself. He is the Savior, not the church. The church is the conduit, not the essence.
And yet, the church is where Jesus is working. It is where people are experiencing his grace. So if you want to experience God then you need to get around the people of God.
“I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail.”
What is Jesus doing in the world? He is building his church. Do you want to be a part of what God is doing in the world? Then be a part of his church. For many people God feels distant and remote and irrelevant. They have separated themselves from what he is doing in the world. Yes, you can encounter God in the mountains and beach, and there is a place for that. But he also calls us to exercises, disciplines, that bring us into his presence. If you want to get strong, you might pray about getting bigger muscles. You might also consider working out. If you want to experience God then certainly pray, but also get involved in the church. Some of you only go to church when it is easy, or when things are really bad. Jesus calls it to be a way of life. “Don't give up meeting together as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25).
Don't wait to be dying to go to the doctor. Don’t wait for life to be falling apart to go to start a relationship with God. Don't waste your life. Seek after him. Live in light of what Jesus has done for you.
Deconstruction movement. Reading an account this week. Some churches have made terrible decisions and created cultures that don't honor Jesus. Some are imperfect and weak people doing their best. Hard to know the difference. No one judges the church more harshly than the people most committed to building the church. Jesus died for the church, he also criticized it and told them they lost their first love. Paul criticized the church, but at no point did he give up on God’s design for church. Imperfect people working hard, fighting for faith, fighting to be faithful, fighting to understand and be understood by family members. Laboring in prayer. But we are fighting, we are working, we are pushing each other.
Don't let the imperfections of the church keep you from church. You need that reminder in your own life. Nothing is perfect, you are not. And God doesn’t wait for us to be perfect to work in our life. We do need to come to him though. We surrender ourselves to him.
Sharing in the privileges and responsibilities
In the church we are a family, a household, we are fellow citizens. The imagery conveys the idea of one organism with many parts, and each part has a function. There are blessings for being together. There are also responsibilities.
Everyone wants a perfect church. Very few are willing to do the work. Few people are willing to sacrifice their time to serve the church. Not willing to sacrifice to do one of the most essential things that Jesus calls us to.
New culture is emerging that does not want commitment. And certainly doesn’t want to commit to an institution of church. Church is hard. You have to deal with people in hard circumstances. You have to deal with people who are not making good decisions or honoring Christ. It is inconvenient, tiring, but you learn so much in that, if you apply yourself.
This cultural phenomenon is not just the church. Read a book by Mark Sayers on this. He pointed out all institutions are suffering. His book he talks about al Qaeda struggling to recruit. Said it was one thing when bin Laden and others left great wealth to sacrifice for a cause they believed in, but then they had soldiers coming in who wanted to take selfies on the battlefield and look the part but not really engage in the hard work. It's everywhere. Organizations are built with many people doing a part, and the output of the whole is greater than the sum of the part or what any individual could do alone.
Can others depend on you? 1 Corinthians 12 describes the church as a body. If one part suffers then all suffer.
Many pastors and leaders are struggling. Struggling because of how little people are willing to sacrifice to be a part of a church. Someone says something they don't like, they leave. Worship could have been just a touch better for my sophisticated tastes. This meeting didn't meet my standards so I m not coming back. All that in the midst of a massive assault of the enemy on our ability to meet.
This church has been sustained by a small group of people who said we don't care if COVID is here, we want to meet. We don't care … I'm willing to volunteer my time, my talent, and treasure to invest in the church. The result is more people are coming on Sunday. More people are joining Bible studies and small groups. More people are getting connected relationally. More people are growing in their walk with God.
Great place to come and lay down your life.
-anti institutionalism. If you are a Christian you should believe in institutions. Difference between institutions and institutionalism. We are not about protecting the institution and the people of the institutions. We are about serving Christ. Sometimes that means being a Joshua and coming to hold up the hands of another. Sometimes it means being a Nathan who came to rebuke the king. Church is an organized community. We are building a community. Not a collage of great Instagram pictures. Not a place to hear a great TED talk, not a great place to get a free lunch. A community to participate in.
We all have a part to play in making the church that type of community. If you are a believer, a follower of Christ, then be a part of the church of God. Do your part in the household. Everyone has some chores to do. First and foremost own your walk with God. Get in the Word, get into a small group, learn and grow with other people. Find things to do to build the community. Serve on Sunday. Let us know your gifting and interest.
Do you know the needs of anybody in the church? Anybody other than yourself. If you don't then you are missing out on being in real relationships and being used by God.
The richest things in life come with great sacrifice. Want a great family? It's through sacrifice. Want a great marriage? It’s a sacrifice. Want a great career? Sacrifice. Want to see a thriving community of people following Jesus? Sacrifice.
You will not develop meaningful relationships if you are in and out. Minimal investment. Minimal sacrifice. Great families come with great sacrifice. There is life in sacrifice.
A family that is making Christ known
A temple was the place to encounter God. It was the place to grow in knowing him. What's amazing is that place is now the people of God. Not a particular place and structure but a people. We come together as a family to foster the work God is doing. We want others to be strengthened by that. We want others to know what he has done for us.
Place to know what God is doing in the world. Place to understand right and wrong. Place to know the love of God. Place to understand sexuality, marriage, purity, healing.
It takes effort. When the world is doing away with institutions because of the self, we have to check ourselves. If Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and if we can be reconciled to God through his work, and if the church is the place we grow in knowing him, then surely we should be willing to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and commit to being a part of the church and building it up. Surely if there is any organization we ought to want to come together to help support, build up, and see influence the world, it is the church. What we give up demonstrates what we love most. If we are not willing to give God our Sunday mornings then it says we love other things more.
Our mission is to bring others into the life we have with the presence of the Father. It’s not to create a master app. Create a website. And then find someone else to manage it and deal with all the people who come on it. Don’t make God’s mission inconvenient for me! This app will do everything you want. Temperature of house, location of car, order from Amazon, and usher you into the presence of God with answers to everything, complete with his presence. If we are brought into a relationship with God and experience him with other people, then there is no substitute for time together in the presence of God.
Is America post-Christian or pre-Christian? I don't know. But I do know there is opportunity all around us. To live genuine lives before a lost and dying world. To love them in ways they have never seen.
If you want to follow Jesus, join the church. Simple as that. Pray a prayer. That's important. But you can't pray a prayer and never join the church.