I’ve never been much for organized sports. (Some of you may want to stop reading after that statement, but please hear me out.) I see the value in all kinds of sports, but my interests have alway been in the outdoor sports like hunting, fishing, hiking, climbing, mountaineering and the like. This is one of the reasons I love living in Northwest New Mexico – there is a myriad of outdoor opportunities all around waiting to be experienced.
So I hike as often as I can. Sometimes I hike to summit a mountain. Sometimes I hike to see a grand view or special place. Sometimes I hike to get to the place where I can find my rock hounding goals. Each time I hike there is a goal in mind. I must overlook the discomfort in order to reach the goal. I must be willing to carry the necessary equipment to achieve success and keep from harm. I must be willing to take step after step no matter how tired I get for the sake of success in the end. It is in the journey to the destination that I grow stronger. Growth is rarely found at the destination.
It is like this in our spiritual life as well. We are given certain goals in our life as followers of Jesus. One of these goals is to be transformed into the likeness of the Son, Jesus himself. It is the goal to live a righteous life expressed in love to one another.
Back to hiking…
What if I gave in to my discomfort? What if I wasn’t willing to take the necessary supplies? What if I constantly lowered that goals I have set? Would I grow? No!
But this is what the church has done over the centuries.
In Christianity today there is a lack of desire for the word of God (we aren’t willing to carry the right supplies). There is a justification for our continuation to sin using grace as a license more than as a gift (we have lowered the goal) which gives us an excuse for our lack of righteousness. We choose personal pleasure (the lake, sleeping in, shopping, hobbies, etc.) over spiritual disciplines like gathering with the beloved and celebrating communion and many other such disciplines.
When you read the New Testament you see a high bar of expectation for the lifestyles of those who claim to be followers of Christ. When you look at churches today you see people with the moniker “Christian” but their lifestyles don’t look anything like the church of the bible.
Why is this so?
As a minister, I see the need for the church to come together in community. We have gathered for study for so long that we have forgotten that the study was supposed to teach us how to live in community better. We choose to come together to open our bibles and look at the preacher while ignoring the spiritual needs of the person sitting next to us.
There was a lifestyle of accountability in the New a testament as the church did life together, coming together in the larger gathering as often as they could – eager to do so. This accountability helped them stave off the temptations to fall back into a lifestyle that looked just like the world. They were encouraged to save one another from falling back into sin(Jude 22-23). They were warned that a person could lose his or her salvation by continuation in sin (Hebrews 6 and 10). Their standard of lifestyle was that of Jesus, and they were warned not to use grace as a crutch excuse to continue to sin (Romans 6).What if our churches went back to the desire for righteousness we find in the New Testament writers? We would lose some people who want Jesus while continuing their lifestyle of sin. But the church would become stronger as lives changed for the better, and conversions would actually be conversions rather than just professions of faith. If the church looked more like Jesus she would love everyone – even her antagonists. If the church looked more like Jesus every member would be an evangelist. If the church looked more like Jesus there would be more joy and celebration of the forgiveness and grace that came through his sacrifice. If the church looked more like Jesus it would be a place where sins were forgiven, but change would be cultivated so that sin could be exterminated.
This is not a call to legalism. Legalism kills. In our rejection of legalism, however, we have reacted to the point of selling cheap grace in the name of Jesus. James, the brother of Jesus, makes it clear that your faith should be showing itself in your life by producing fruit. So let’s come back to the middle – celebrating grace while expecting a higher standard of righteousness.
Jesus said “you cannot serve two masters.” Let’s remember this as we choose between our sin and the call of Jesus.