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July 15, 2018 Christ is Building Something - Are You a Part?

 

Scripture reading: Matthew 16:15-18; Hebrews 10:24-25.

 

[I. Introduction] When the Lord Jesus is speaking to Peter he says that he will build his church. He began building it upon his resurrection and this is the work that he is engaged in presently. He builds it upon the fact that he is the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God. This is the rock: the reality of who Christ is.

 

Jesus is building his church. Are you a part of his divine building? I do not ask if you are saved. I do not ask if you are a Christian. The reason I do not ask these questions now is because there is a great deal of confusion and misinformation about what constitutes salvation and what it means to be a Christian. Multitudes are under the impression that they are saved or are right with God when they are not.

 

Whether you are part of Christ’s building process, which is the church, says much more about whether you are a genuine Christian rather than some prayer that a person has said, some set of facts that they believe, such as Jesus being the Son of God and dying upon the cross for sins (remember that the demons believe those things, too), or even water baptism, as important as these things are.

 

Let me say at the outset that if you are not part of Christ’s building then, except in rare circumstances, you do not belong to Christ. Let me say this another way: If you are not being built together with other living stones in God’s building, which is the local church, then you do not belong to Christ. All you did was say a prayer or you only got wet.

 

Both the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, as well as the older Protestant denominations have taught that one must belong to the church in order to be saved. This has left many with the impression that if they just belong to a church or just attend a church then they are assured of heaven. This is a great error. The church does not save us, Christ saves us. Simply being listed on a membership role means nothing. Neither does merely attending a church. You can go to the gym every day. But if all you do is talk to people or sit on an exercise machine surfing on your cell phone (which I have seen people doing at the gym) and you do not exercise then you will not be fit and you are not an athlete. Being somewhere doesn’t make you truly a part of something.

 

But evangelicals have made the opposite error. They have taught that all one has to do is “make a decision for Christ” and you have a ticket to heaven. They have taught, or at least implied, that one does not have to an active part of God’s work on earth (which takes place through the church) in order to be right with the Lord. I tell you, this is a worse error than the teaching that salvation is found in the church. It is worse because there is an element of truth in Augustine’s famous quote that “there is no salvation outside the church.” Incidentally, it wasn’t just Augustine that said this. The early church fathers, all before the rise of the Roman Catholic Church in the seventh century, were agreed that one must be a part of the church in order to be saved.

 

Origen said, “Let no man deceive himself. Outside this house, that is, outside the church no one is saved.”[1]

 

Cyprian said, “He who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ; he is an alien, a worldling, an enemy.”[2]

 

However, although we respect the writings of the early church leaders, they are not our final authority. We look to the Scriptures. The truth is that our participation in the local church does not contribute at all to our salvation, but it is divine evidence that we are saved. This is an important truth. Let me repeat: Our participation in the local church does not contribute at all to our salvation, but it is divine evidence that we are saved.

 

We are either part of Christ’s building or we are not. There is no in-between. We either testify, by our lives, that we belong to him or that we are more comfortable in the world. You are either in the church or in the world. And, that is not determined  by some prayer you said 10 or 20 years ago, but by how you live. We are what we do! We are not what we say. We are not what we feel. We are what we do! (Matthew 21:28-31)[3]

 

[II.] We must be actively involved in a local church in order to obey God. As I prepared to give the divine reasons for the supreme importance of both belonging to and participating in the local church, I wrestled with the wording. Should I use the words, “We must be part of God’s building process,” or, “We must be actively involved…?” Using the word “building” appealed to me because it sounds deeper and more spiritual. It is also the wording that Jesus Himself used in Matthew 16. The apostle Peter used it as well. However, it is somewhat vague. I wish to be as clear as possible. What is the practical expression of being built into God’s house? It is being actively involved in the local church. You cannot separate these two things. Therefore, I will use the word “involvement” rather than “being built,” but please know that I mean the same thing that our Lord Jesus meant.

 

The first reason that we must be part of God’s building is this: We must be actively involved in a local church in order to obey God. This is always the simplest answer for any course of action, for any change in a person’s life. If God says it, we believe it. If God says it, we consider our lives and see if they measure up to what God has spoken. If they do not, we bow in humility and follow our Lord. We obey because we are children of God. Rather, I should say, we obey if we are children of God!

 

Hence, we read a moment ago:

 

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. [4]

 

We are directed to not neglect meeting together. Even in the author’s day, some developed the habit of not attending the meetings of the church. But the author of Hebrews has in mind far more than just attending the meetings.

 

  • We cannot stir one another to love by just attending.
  • We cannot stir one another to working for the Lord by just attending.
  • We cannot encourage one another in any significant way by just attending.

 

Do not misunderstand. Attending is a hundred times better than not attending. Attending is the start. Stirring up one another to love is the middle. Being ready for “the Day” is the end. It all begins with attending, but the divinely-directed author means to communicate an active life in the church!

 

The first reason we must be actively involved in a local church is in order to obey God. To neglect the meeting of the local church is to disobey God. It is that simple.

 

[III.] We must be actively involved in the local church because we need encouragement. We also saw this in the passage we just read. Do you know that it is easy to get discouraged? Many of us have had this experience.

 

Before I went into full-time ministry I worked for a federal agency. I worked all day, always trying to put in a good day’s work. I was vying for promotions, which means giving a lot of attention to my own work. I was involved in a church, teaching a Bible study. I was raising and training my own children. I was doing outreach at public events on some weekends. I was trying to please my wife (always a difficult task!). The busyness of life can get you down! I would get discouraged now and then.

 

Josie was a fantastic host. We would often have single brothers in the Lord over for dinner to talk about spiritual matters. (She always cooked up amazing meals!) One brother, John V., had the gift of encouragement. He was so endowed with this gift that all he had to do was show up (which he always did late…punctuality was not one of his gifts!) and as soon as you saw his smile your spirits were lifted! When he spoke you were just encouraged. Josie had this same experience. Just having him around encouraged you! But, one doesn’t need to have the gift of encouragement in order to encourage others. The words we speak will do that. We both need to encourage others and we need encouragement ourselves. This is why the local church is important.

 

A person’s own family can be a source of discouragement. This is especially true if they are not Christians. Jesus said, “A person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Mat. 10:36) That was particularly true in the first century. But it continues to be true today. Yet, it is not just unbelievers that can be a source of discouragement. There are critical Christians, fault-finding Christians, negative Christians that can be part of one’s own household. They can be a source of discouragement. Even great discouragement.

 

The church may have a few of these also. But there are many mature, joyful saints in the local church that will be your encouragement. The church is a place of encouragement!

 

[IV.] We must be actively involved in a local church to keep from sinning.

 

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.[5]

 

Observe, in verse 13, that sin is described as deceitful. It is! It sneaks up on you. It usually comes dressed as either virtue or seemingly harmless. Then, when we taste it we desire more. Soon, we may find ourselves captured by it. If we are captured by it, meaning that we begin practicing it for a time (although a true child of God will not live in sin continually [I Jn 2:4, 15, 29; 3:6-10, 15; 5:2]), then our hearts become hardened.

 

What is the way that this passage directs us to avoid the deceitfulness of sin? It is by being exhorted! We exhort one another. Exhortation has both a positive and a negative aspect. The positive aspect is encouragement. The negative aspect is gently warning one another. “If you take this course of action you will be subjected to severe temptation. Don’t do it.”

 

Along with exhortation, being involved in a local church brings something else that we need to avoid sin: accountability. Being a part of the covenant community brings with it the knowledge that if our brothers and sisters learn of a sin in our lives we will be ashamed. Shame is like guilt. It is a good thing when it happens prior to repentance and a bad thing if it continues after repentance. This is because repentance brings forgiveness. Shame, like guilt, leads us to repentance. Many Christians have evaded sin simply because of a fear that they may be found out. That is certainly not the best motive to avoid sin. But any condition that helps us flee from sin is desirable. The local church functions in that way.

 

When a Christian absents himself or herself from the local church it is much easier to be beguiled by sin. Many Christians think, “Oh, I love Jesus. I won’t fall into any big sins.” This kind of thinking manifests two errors.

 

[1.] The first is an overestimation of our own love for the Lord. It is true that the more we love the Lord the less we will disobey Him. The trouble is that there are many who assume they love the Lord a great deal when their love for him is lacking.

 

[2.] Second, people overestimate their ability to stand for the Lord.  Almost all who absent themselves from the local church think that they will stand without the help of the church. If they didn’t think this way they would be at the meetings of the church every time the doors were open. But, the apostle warns:

 

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.[6]

 

Paul writes this after he reminds us that almost all the Israelites fell into sin after they were delivered out of Egypt, which is a type of our own deliverance out of the world.

 

People think they will not fall. Yet, I say to you that if anyone is not actively involved in a local church they have already fallen! It is just that they may not be aware of it. How can I say this? Because the Bible does!

 

[3.] Third, people underestimate the deceitfulness of sin. We have just seen that. Sin is deceitful. We need others to help us see it.

 

[4.] Fourth, it is not just the “big” sins that we need to be wary of, but all sin. Little foxes spoil the vineyard. Little sins spoil a life.

 

We must be actively involved in a local church to keep from sinning.

 

We have seen three reasons why we must be actively involved in the local church:

 

  • We must be actively involved in a local church in order to obey God.
  • We must be actively involved in the local church because we need encouragement.
  • We must be actively involved in a local church to keep from sinning.

 

[V.] Lastly, we must be actively involved in a local church in order to fight the good fight. We have been called to battle, not to sit around and wait for heaven. But, in order to be engaged in the battle we need a battalion.

 

Look again at our Lord’s words in Matthew 16:

 

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [7]

 

 

In verse 18 we saw that Christ will build his church. He is building it right now. Then he says, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What are gates? Gates are a defensive apparatus. They are used to repel an enemy. God’s people are not called to just defend against wickedness. They are called to assault it. They are called to go on the offensive against hell.

 

We are called to destroy spiritual strongholds. We are called to destroy arguments. We are called to destroy lofty opinions that are contrary to God’s revealed will. We are called to take people’s thoughts captive so that they obey Christ. (2 Cor 10:4-5)

 

We cannot do this as individuals. It is only the very rare and gifted ones that can do it and even they need the financial and moral support of the church to carry on. It is the builded church that carries on the offensive battle. And, we must be part of it to be in the battle. If we are not part of a local church then we are not on the offense. Did you know that you cannot win with only a defense? We must be on the offense!

 

We must be actively involved in a local church in order to fight the good fight.

 

[VI. Application and Conclusion] If you have not been an active part of a local church you are invited to join us and be a part of our family. You will find acceptance, encouragement, strength to overcome sin, and tools to equip you for the battle.  If you have been coming to this blessed place but only occasionally, then commit yourself more fully. Be part of the offensive!

 

“Lord, thank you that you are building your church! What a great privilege it is to be a part of what you are building! O! Help us to be built with one another as a habitation for your glory. Amen.”

 

 

 

[1] In Iesu Nave homiliae, circa 240 AD.

[2] Unity of the Universal Church, circa 250 AD.

[3] Kudos to Dr. Laura (Laura Schlessinger) who shortened and further popularized Will Durant’s famous quote, “We are what we repeatedly do,” to the simple phrase, “We are what we do.”  This is the message of the Parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 10:24–25). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 3:12–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 10:12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 16:15–18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.