Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Perfect Church: An Impossible Ideal?

What does it mean to live for God?

Did you grow up in a religious home? Did your parents take you to church or synagogue? If you grew up religious in Plainfield, then the odds are likely that you grew up Roman Catholic. And the odds are also high that you have given at least a little thought to what it means to live God's way. 

By now, you are older, and you have probably come to some sort of settled idea of what it means to live for God. Maybe you are living up to the standard you have in your mind, but probably not. If we are all honest with each other, we will admit that none of us fully actualizes the standard of good living which we think we ought to adhere to. But think for a moment about what activities you would include in your list of godly living. Go ahead and think about it. I'll wait. 

...

Did you give it some thought? Alright, now let's see what made the list. Can I guess? How about things like... 

Going to church services
Being kind to others
Donating money and time to charitable causes
Prayer (to God or possibly the "saints")
Religious rituals (if you grew up Catholic, you know about plenty of these). 

If you have been reading The Jesus Blog at all over the last several months, you can probably expect what we are going to do next. Let us take a look at what the Bible says about living for God. Now if you want a concise overview of godly living, the two best portions of Scripture I could recommend would be the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount (interestingly, both teachings were given by God on a mountain--one by Yahweh on Mount Sinai, and the other by Jesus on a hill near Jerusalem). However, this blog is about more than simply living for God on an individual basis. It is also about living for Him together as a community. And there is a passage of Scripture that speaks directly to that. 

Living for God together

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24. The biblical book of 1 Thessalonians is an epistle (letter) which the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Thessaloniki. In this portion of the epistle, Paul instructs the Thessalonian Christians on living for God, together, in view of the fact that Jesus Christ will be returning soon, to take His people to be with Himself forever. So in these verses, Paul lays out how a Christian community looks. Here is the list: 

  1. Respect church leaders who labor on their behalf (verse 12)
  2. Live peacefully with each other (v. 13)
  3. Admonish (warn) those who are lazy and irresponsible (v. 14)
  4. Encourage the discouraged (v. 14)
  5. Help the weak (v. 14) 
  6. Be patient with all of the above (v. 14) 
  7. Be kind to enemies, to other Christians, and to everyone! (v. 15) 
  8. Rejoice always (v. 16) 
  9. Pray continuously (v. 17) 
  10. Give thanks in every situation (v. 18) 
  11. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit (v. 19)
  12. Do not despise prophecies
  13. Evaluate everything and hold on to what is good (vv. 20-21)
  14. Abstain from every form of evil (v. 22)

Wow, is that all? So the Christian community (as found in the local church) is intended to be respectful toward authority, peaceful, hard-working and productive, encouraging, helpful, patient, kind and good to all (even enemies), joyful, constantly praying, always thankful, filled with the Holy Spirit, attentive to prophecy, critically thinking, cherishing good things, and completely free of any and all evil. 

That seems like a tall order for any one individual. Certainly, a community of people living, working, and worshipping together while meeting this description would be nice--no, make that fantastic and wonderful--but how is it possible? Is this list nothing more than an unattainable ideal? We can be thankful that Paul gives us the answer in the next couple of verses. 

Only God can make it happen

Look at verse 23: "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ" (emphasis added). The "you" in that sentence is plural; Paul is talking about the Church as a community, not the individual Christian. 

This passage makes it clear that God desires more than religious ceremony and charity. He desires a sanctified Church (meaning one set apart from the world, by God for God, and transformed to live and act like Jesus), one that is actually guilt-free and faithful. If you have spent any time with any group of people at all, you now how unrealistic this sounds. In human terms, this requirement is impossible.

Yet note what Paul says in verse 23 and then in verse 24. In 23 he says, "May... God himself sanctify you..." and then in 24 he makes this amazing statement: "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." 

This is more than a requirement, it is more than a hope, and it is more than a command. This is a promise. God Himself, the God of the whole universe, the one who reigns sovereignly as King over everything, He will accomplish this purification of His Church. 

As followers of Jesus Christ, Christians wait hopefully for His second coming. That hope, which is rooted in the historical fact of His resurrection from the dead, motivates us to live together God's way. And God Himself--God the Holy Spirit--indwells His Church, enabling Christians to live together in a way that our selfish selves could never do without God's help. 

As one of the pastors of Grace Pointe Church, I have seen firsthand what God can do through a community of people--sinners in the process of being sanctified--who hope in Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit. 

Incredibly, the more time I spend with God's saints, the more I see Paul's description of an ideal Christian community, not as an impossible ideal, but as an actual description of the community I am blessed to be a part of. Since Aliza and I have come to Grace Pointe, we have seen the kindness and generosity of God lived through the lives of His people in many, many ways. We have been floored by it. 

As a church, we certainly not totally finished yet, and we won't be until Jesus comes back or calls us home. But "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." We can see it, and we wait eagerly for it. 

If you want to know more about the Church of Jesus Christ at Grace Pointe Plainfield, shoot me an email (jsettecase@gracepointe.us) or hit me up on Twitter (@GracePointeJoel) or Facebook. 

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Joel Settecase is the Associate Pastor of Youth and Evangelism at Grace Pointe Plainfield, located at 143rd St. & Route 30, behind Family Video. Sunday worship service begins at 9 AM, and you are invited. Email Joel at jsettecase@gracepointe.us or read his blog at http://dontforgettothink.blogspot.com