21 November 2008

"Deep Rooted" Follow-Up 2b: More on Sanctification

Much more can (and should) be said regarding the sanctifying effect of the committed community of the local church.

How, specifically, does commitment to a local church aid in my sanctification?

First, a quick restatement of my working definition of a "committed local church."  This is a community of believers that does not easily part ways and, when it does, only then for the preservation of truth and proclamation of the Gospel.  Jesus places a high value on oneness in the church in his prayer in John 17.  That oneness is expressed objectively in local churches and only when loyalty to each other transcends issues of convenience, standard of living, difficulty in relationships, differences in ministry or leadership styles and "feelings" about the church.  When these issues take priority in decisions regarding my participation in a local church, my priorities trump God's priorities, namely Christ-exalting unity.

Now with that gritty, through-thick-and-thin loyalty to your church in mind, consider these sanctifying effects of that church:
Commitment to a local church helps me see my need for the Gospel (for forgiveness)
If love is the summation of the Law and if salvation gives us a new, Law-abiding heart, then salvation is intended to make us loving people.   The New Testament is filled with specific descriptions of this love.  Take, for example, Colossians 3:8-15: 

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:8-15 ESV)

If I take seriously the command to bear with one another, then my relationships in the church will have some longevity and there will be some sinful offenses.  Inevitably, I will not live up to this standard and it will be obvious.  A committed community renders my sin conspicuous.  For example, who knows my sin better than Shelli?  Why?  Because we are together and committed.  Exposing my sin is a good thing because it leads me to repent and to trust in Christ's forgiveness.  

A lack of commitment allows me to leave and avoid exposing my sin.  Proud, I remain deceived in my belief that I am without sin (at least in my church relationships).  I miss the gospel (my only hope for sanctification) and God is NOT glorified.

Commitment to a local church helps me see my need for the Gospel (for empowerment)
Forgiveness is amazing and refreshing but it is incomplete.  If the Gospel only granted forgiveness, then the admonition to "put on..." and "let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts" is useless.  Indeed, with man the radical love described in Colossians 3 is impossible and commitment to a local church helps me to see that clearly.   My futility to love well brings me back to dependence on God because with God all things are possible.  This dependence empowers me to a new way of freedom and love (sanctification) and God's power is made perfect in my weakness.

A lack commitment opens me to the deception that I'm a pretty loving person - all on my own because the surface-level relationships are well within my ability to maintain.

Commitment to a local church helps me see my need for the Gospel (through congregation-specific, Holy Spirit-directed, truth in teaching)  
In the next sentence, Paul admonishes the Colossian church to be immersed in the Scripture...together.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

Consider how Jesus spoke to churches in Revelation 2 and 3.   Each church had a life of its own.  They had their own weaknesses and strengths and Jesus, accordingly, had specific admonitions for each church.  Commitment to a local church will include a commitment to teach and admonish one another with Gospel truth and the Holy Spirit will direct that teaching to specificFont sizeally address that church.  The teaching in your church may not be flashy or polished, but (assuming your church believes the Bible to be true) it will be directed by God for you as a congregation.  

Bouncing from teacher to teacher and community to community lets you listen in on the word of Christ directed to those communities, but it misses that thrilling (and sanctifying) experience of hearing God's word to "us" as a family.

Commitment to a local church sanctifies me by helping me see my need for the Gospel.


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