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What Does Church Membership Mean?

May 16, 2013 Leave a comment

IAmAChurchMember_R2.inddChurch membership is a subject I’m passionate about, but all too often I’m not as passionate about the church itself as I should be. I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer has reminded me both how important loving the church is and what this love looks like. Rainer’s book is short (less than 100 pages) and divided into six short chapters, but I Am a Church Member edifies the reader more in this short space than most books do in three times as many pages.

The six chapters comprise six statements in a church membership covenant. The new church member makes these promises upon joining a local church:

  1. I will be a functioning church member.
  2. I will be a unifying church member.
  3. I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires.
  4. I will pray for my church leaders.
  5. I will lead my family to be healthy church members.
  6. I will treasure church membership as a gift.

In these chapters, Rainer draws six significant conclusions about church membership from the Bible:

  1. Each church member should lovingly serve the church to which he/she belongs. “One of the ongoing questions you should ask yourself and God in prayer is: ‘How can I best serve my church?’ You should never ask yourself if you should be serving your church” (16).
  2. Each church member should lovingly promote unity in the church.”You have a responsibility as a church member. You are to be a source of unity. You are never to be a divisive force” (24). Promoting unity in the church means eschewing gossip and being forgiving.
  3. Each church member should love other church members sacrificially by putting his/her preferences aside for others’. “As you are overwhelmed by Jesus’ undeserved love for you that caused him to sacrifice everything–including his preferences–you will be able to do the same for others” (40).
  4. Each church member should pray for the pastor’s preaching, family, protection, and health because a pastor’s “day is filled with mountaintops and valleys. He is adulated by some and castigated by others. He needs our prayers” (46).
  5. Each church member should model sacrificial, loving service to his/her family. Even if you’re single, “you can be assured that others are watching you. How you love your church could have a significant spiritual impact on their lives” (63).
  6. Each church member should view his/her membership in the church as a gift from God. “Church membership is a gift. We respond to gifts with gratitude. And one key way we express our gratitude is to serve like Jesus did and like He told us to do” (74).

I found myself agreeing with everything Rainer was saying in this book. I was reveling in this book’s biblical messages in chapters one through three. I have emphasized in numerous sermons that every Christian has a role to play in the church to which he/she belongs. I have recently preached on the danger of gossip, and I have also preached about the importance of unity in the local church. But chapter four began to prick my own conscience. I began to feel the logs in my own eyes and was no longer so focused on recalling others’ specks. I don’t pray near as often as I should (1 Thess. 5:17). I don’t pray for my pastor as much as I should, even though I myself am–to a much smaller degree than he is–aware of the hardships and challenges of Christian ministry. This is to my shame, and I felt my failure keenly as I read this chapter. May God break my spirit to pray “without ceasing” for my pastor as I ought!

Chapter five was similarly convicting, particularly Rainer’s conclusion: “As a church member, I am not merely to like my church or serve my church well. I am to fall deeply in love with my church. Christ is the bridegroom, and the church is the bride. My commitment is to love that bride with an unwavering and unconditional love” (62). I realize that my love for the church sometimes wavers because Rainer is absolutely right: “Unconditional love is not always easy,” but I should nevertheless love the church unconditionally, which “means I will continue to fall more deeply in love regardless of the response. It means my love for the church will grow even as I may disagree with something or encounter disagreeable people” (62). O God, make my love for your church unconditional! Give me the grace to love your people even when it’s hard! You have loved me, unlovable though I am, and how often have your people loved me despite my many imperfections! Help me to see more often the logs in my own eyes than the specks in others’.

I Am a Church Member rouses me to closer examination of my own life because it is Bible-saturated. Rainer quotes Scripture on nearly every page and consistently draws his conclusions and applications from the Bible. I cannot more highly recommend this book to every church member, whether young or old. By God’s grace, I Am a Church Member will convict us and lead us to repentance. What more can we ask for in a book?

Repent of Selfish Ambition

May 20, 2010 1 comment
  • Return to God in deep repentance of and brokenness over sin, denying self, and coming to God with complete humility.
  • Repent of any and all sin that has prevented you from being fully used by our Lord in fulfilling the Great Commission, such as selfish ambition.

Another sin that can hinder our usefulness in fulfilling the Great Commission is the sin of selfish ambition. This can plague the even brightest and most promising Christians, and we must always be on guard against the subtle seeds of selfish ambition.

Read more…

Repent of Idolatry and Pride

May 16, 2010 1 comment
  • Return to God in deep repentance of and brokenness over sin, denying self, and coming to God with complete humility.
  • Repent of any and all sin that has prevented you from being fully used by our Lord in fulfilling the Great Commission, such as idolatry and pride.

Idolatry and pride are two sins that can hinder us “from being fully used by our Lord in fulfilling the Great Commission.” Idolatry prevents our evangelism because in idolatry, we are not worshiping the God of the Bible. How can we share God’s good news if we are serving a false god? Pride prevents our evangelism because pride fools us into thinking that we are better than the unsaved. Both idolatry and pride are dangerous sins that we should repent of.

To commit idolatry is to elevate something—anything—above God. Let us be careful not to commit idolatry. Paul warned the Corinthians against idolatry in 1 Corinthians 10:1-7.

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”

When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, they all “ate the same spiritual food.” But these Israelites committed idolatry and “God was not pleased” with them. In fact, God overthrew them “in the wilderness.” Of the Israelites who left Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb entered the promised land. Idolatry was not a new sin, nor did it stop with the Exodus. In fact, whenever we elevate something above God, we commit idolatry.

In carrying out the Great Commission through evangelism, discipleship, and everyday life, we must be careful to repent of idolatry whenever we commit it. Is there an idol in your life now that is preventing you from sharing the gospel? Are you rejoicing in something more than you are rejoicing in the Lord? If so, repent, in the confidence that God will forgive us of our confessed sins (1 John 1:9).

But at the heart of all idolatry is pride. Pride is the root sin; it is Satan’s first sin, and it is the sin with which Satan tempted Eve (“You will be like God”). Pride lies under all sin. Pride says, “I am sovereign in my own little universe. I deserve anything and everything I want because I don’t need God.” We simply cannot have this attitude if we are to faithfully fulfill the Great Commission! To evangelize lost sinners, we must always be wholly reliant upon God! We cannot save sinners—only God can! We can’t enliven dead hearts—only God can! We cannot have a spirit of pride if we are to truly evangelize the lost.

Not only does pride say, “I don’t need God,” but pride also says, “I’m better than other people.” This was the Pharisee’s problem in Matthew 9:10-13.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

When Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees ridiculed him. In Matthew 11:19 the Pharisees would go even farther can call Jesus “a glutton and a drunkard.” The Pharisees thought highly of themselves and little of others. They were proud, arrogant. We as Christians, however, should be humble, even as our Lord was humble (Philippians 2:1-5). Therefore, as Christians, let us repent of pride whenever we notice it seep into our lives.

As we seek to live out the Great Commission, let us repent when necessary of the sins of idolatry and pride.

Repent and Commit

May 12, 2010 Leave a comment
  • Return to God in deep repentance of and brokenness over sin, denying self, and coming to God with complete humility.
  • Commit to the total and absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of your life, understanding that Christ’s lordship is inseparable from all aspects of the believer’s life.

We implement our worldview for Great Commission living by repenting of sins and by committing to the total and absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of life. In the following posts, I will look at specific sins of which we can repent (by God’s grace) and also at specific areas of our lives in which we can commit to Christ’s Lordship. In this post, though, I will lay out the Scriptural truths of repentance and Christian commitment.

Read more…

The Gospel Response

May 3, 2010 4 comments

When we have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ—that he is both fully God and fully man; that God is righteous Creator King but we have sinned against him and in our sin we are separated from him and condemned justly—we are responsible for responding to the gospel. Mark 1:14-15 sums it up nicely:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

In Jesus’ own words, we must “repent and believe in the gospel” because “the kingdom of God is at hand.” For us to enter the kingdom of God, we must respond to his gospel properly—we must repent and believe. But belief and repentance are not works; rather they are both from God. In Jesus’ own words, we read that

“unless one is born again (or from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. … Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:3-6, 18)

When Peter preaches to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, he testifies that the Old Testament bear witness that all who believe in Jesus “receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v. 43). And while Peter was saying this and the verses prior to it, “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (v. 44). The Holy Spirit fell immediately before the moment of belief. Greg Gilbert helpfully and succinctly writes about the necessity of (grace-given) faith and repentance for salvation:

To have faith in Jesus is, at its core, to believe that he really is who he says he is—the crucified and risen King who has conquered death and sin, and who has the power to save. Now how could a person believe all that, trust in it, and rely on it, and yet at the same time say, “But I don’t acknowledge that you are King over me”? That doesn’t make any sense. Faith in Christ carries in itself a renunciation of that rival power that King Jesus conquered—sin. And where that renunciation of sin is not present, neither is genuine faith in the One who defeated it. (What Is The Gospel?, p. 80)

Our response to the gospel (both faith and repentance) are grace-given and continual. Faith and repentance are not a one-time decision; rather, they are God-given graces that will continuously characterize us throughout the rest of our lives after we have for the first time believed “that he is who he says he is.” Ephesians 2:8-10 is a wonderful summation of the truth and character of the true gospel response:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We are saved “by grace through faith … not a result of works.” Faith then—and also repentance, which is the flip side of the coin of faith—is not a work that we do on our own, but the God-given cry of a newborn in the kingdom of God. Faith and repentance, however, are not one-time occurrences. Whenever we sin, we are to repent (1 John 1:9). We are to continue believing in Jesus throughout our lives—we are a new creation and should walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5). In Romans 12:1-2, Paul puts it this way:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is god and acceptable and perfect.

Here again, we come to our need of discerning “the will of God,” which we must know Scripture to do. For us to stir up continual faith and repentance in ourselves, then, let us ever meditate on and pray about Scripture as the psalmist does throughout Psalm 119.

Paul Washer’s “Shocking Message”

April 3, 2010 1 comment

What a wonderful message! This is “setting our minds on things that are above.” True Christians are those who will persevere and grow in godliness. There are a few points that Paul Washer makes in this video that he clarifies in the video below:

May we all “make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). Bro. Washer’s sermon was so wonderful and Spirit-filled; when you have a solid hour to listen to it, do so. Prayerfully. Reading along in the Word. And if you need some points clarified (especially about repentance and faith), his 12 minute video will clarify those questions you have.

Thank God that He did not leave us orphans but gives us the Holy Spirit of adoption.

“A price will be paid when you give yourself away.”

November 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Have you ever listened to a song over and over again, but then you listen to it just for fun one time and a line or two in the song suddenly knocks you down? If so, then you understand what I have recently felt. If you are familiar with Casting Crowns’ song “Slow Fade,” then you may recall the line “A price will be paid when you give yourself away.” I have heard this song many times before, but when I last heard this song just a few days ago, this line hit me like a ton of bricks (as the saying is). If you give yourself away, a price will be paid, namely your life. Ultimately, you will “fade” into nothingness under your sin. This theme of giving yourself into sin is found throughout the Bible and western literature. Adam and Eve gave themselves to sin by eating the forbidden fruit. Faust’s pact with the devil is now a literary archetype that symbolizes any giving oneself away to any vice. And on and on I could go. Instead, I will cut to the chase and come right out with it: when we give ourselves away to any sin, we begin to fade away. Recall Paul’s seemingly harsh language in Romans 14:23:

… For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Anything not done in faith is sin! Anything at all, even things that are “good” can be—rather, are—sin when we do not do them out of faith! Specifically, “Slow Fade” by Casting Crowns deals with the sin of adultery (see their music video), a sexual sin. Their song deals with a father’s infidelity to his child’s mother (his wife). In this post, I will branch off for a moment to confront a sin that is in the lives of many young people and has even been a part of my own life in the past: the sin of “giving one’s heart away.” Or to put this in another way, as the Shulamite maiden (Solomon’s betrothed) says in Song of Solomon 3:5:

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem [though this exhortation applies to both men and women], by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.”

“Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” What admonishing words. The modern dating experience is a joke. People are getting hurt over and over again—for what? A few nice dinners with an attractive person? To feel the exhilaration of “love” only to be thrown down into the deepest pits of despair? I say, enough is enough. I say, let’s stop being carried about by every passing attraction we feel toward another person—however admirable they may really be. I say, let’s give our hearts to God! Let us renew our commitment to Him! Let’s truly believe that He will provide that spouse in the future in His perfect timing. Is it wrong to be proactive in relationships? No, but don’t jump the gun. Am I going to say people need to get married right out of high school? No. Am I going to say people need to get married only after they’ve got a six-figure salary and loads of money in the bank? No. I’m going to say that we need to exercise Biblical wisdom in our lives—and our faith should carry into our “love lives.” Be patient; don’t worry about tomorrow (Matt. 6:34, 1 Pet. 5:6-7). We trust God for salvation, we should trust Him to provide a godly spouse—and to empower us to be godly spouses when the time comes. The world’s wares are fleeting; they do not last, and they are worthless. God, however, has what is best for you as His child in His mind. If he gives you a spouse tomorrow, praise God. If he gives you a spouse in ten years, praise God. If He never blesses you with a spouse, praise God; you are better able to devote more time to Him (1 Cor. 7:17, 10:31).

I am no expert on this subject, but I say these things not on my authority, but on the authority of the Bible, God’s Holy Word: “Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” If you’re like me, though, it’s too late: you’ve done this before. But the glorious thing about God is that He forgives His people when they confess their sins (1 John 1:9). God’s Holy Spirit that indwells us enables us to repent and to be always reforming and conforming to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). When God first brought this sin to my attention a few months ago, I was appalled. Being impatient with this, as with any other aspect, shows a lack of trust in God, a lack of faith: sin. As Kevin DeYoung writes in Just Do Something:

Worry and anxiety … are sinful fruits that blossom from the root of unbelief.”

Rather than jumping the gun on love, let us exercise Scriptural wisdom. Let’s be patient; let’s trust God. Should we be proactive? Yes. Should we be preparing ourselves for future marriage? Unless God has called us to singleness (both singleness and marriage are ministries), then yes. But we should be doing so in whole dependence upon and faith in God. “A price will be paid when you give yourself away.” Remember, you are not your own; as a Christian, you are God’s.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

“Glorify God in your body.” Do not give yourself to someone who is not your spouse. You hurt not only yourself and your relationship with God, but sins—even forgiven sins—have consequences. God forgave David of committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, Uriah, but David and Bathsheba’s son still died because of that sin. You will experience pain from giving your heart—even a part of it—away for any length of time. Sometimes, that pain will last. But joy and peace are found in our Lord Jesus Christ. Confessed sins are forgiven sins. Do not go away condemned, fellow Christian, go away renewed in your commitment to the Lord. Go away from this blog rejoicing that your sin is forgiven in Christ, and that by His grace you can do the impossible: by His grace, you (and I) can trust that the Lord will provide a spouse just as He has provided salvation. Jesus’ words on this are most helpful:

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness [Christ; Jer. 23:6], and all these things [physical needs] will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow; for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” –Matthew 6:33-34

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