Continuing God’s Vision
Last week we started a new series on the local church. Pastor Dave reminded us a local church is like a family. Now not everyone has had a good experience with the local church just like everyone has not had a good family experience either. But just because someone has had a bad family experience does not mean they cannot attempt to have or be a part of a healthy family. The same is true for our church experience. As we dwell on this truth let’s keep these words from Charles Spurgeon in mind:
“Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church…the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us…All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people.”—Charles Spurgeon
What Spurgeon is encouraging us to do is to commit to a local church. Many people today talk about “shopping local” in the hopes you will buy local. Committing to a local church is buying local. When we do this we are committing to a local expression of Christ in our community. This is why we are asking people to commit to “Christ Local.”
Last week we began to unpack our vision statement by focusing on “Gospel Proclamation” and “God’s Glory and Our Joy.” We did this through Ephesians 2.11-22 and that is what we are going to continue to do today. Let me quickly remind us of the Refuge City Church vision statement…We desire to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples for God’s glory and our joy.
1. All Peoples—Ephesians 2.11-14.
“All Peoples” means we proclaim Christ-centered unity. When we look at Ephesians 2.11-14 we can quickly see this. When this text mentions the “dividing wall of hostility” it is clearly speaking about the wall hostility between God and us. But there is also a dividing wall of hostility between humanity. Paul recognizes there is hostility between the ethnic group he grew up in, which he calls “the circumcision,” and other ethic groups, which he calls, “Gentiles” or “the uncircumcision.” But Paul says, “by the blood of Christ…[God] has made us both one.” For those who place their faith in Jesus Christ they are a part of a different bloodline now—the bloodline of Christ—members of God’s family. This is why anyone who would proclaim a message of racial hate or division is not proclaiming God’s message. Therefore, if anyone would go in and shoot up a synagogue they clearly do not represent the message of Jesus Christ. God sent His Son into the world to tear torn down walls of hostility between people not stir them up.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ was designed by God to bring unity among the nations. God told Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people, in Genesis 12 that through His offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This promise took place right after the story of the tower of Babel, where it seemed like God would leave us divided. But in Christ, who is the offspring of Abraham, God is making a new humanity. II Corinthians 5.16-17 tells us we regard no one according to the flesh anymore, but as a new creation or new humanity. II Corinthian 5.18 & 20 tells us:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.—I Corinthians 5.18, 20
As a local expression of Christ we are messengers here to tell people Christ has torn down the wall of hostility between us all. The wall of hostility between God and us has been torn down, but also the wall of hostility between humanity has been torn down. The church is meant to be diverse community.
While “All Peoples” pronounces unity in the Gospel, it also means we citizens of a different kingdom—READ Ephesians 2.19. What is the significance of strangers & aliens having citizenship? FIRST, our citizenship is NOT primarily American, but we are citizens of heaven. SECOND, we also know in the ancient world citizenship was extremely valuable. Some of you might remember from Acts 16 that Paul was proclaiming the Gospel and literally tearing down the walls of religious, physical, mental, and emotional oppression. Those in power did not like the way this was affecting their personal finances. The leaders liked keeping people in bondage. Eventually a riot broke out, Paul was beaten, and dragged into court for disrupting the status quo. But Paul knew his rights as a Roman citizen. As soon as the city officials heard Paul was a Roman citizen they knew the wrath of the Roman army could come if they were denying a citizen his rights. Christians are citizens of heaven and there are benefits to this as well. The local church is meant to function like an embassy, therefore, when a citizen steps in it is as if they are in another country within a country.
2. We Desire—Ephesians 2.19-22.
“We Desire” means we are being joined together by grace. God longs for our Gospel proclamation to be a shared desire among His people—READ Ephesians 2.19-22. Paul said if Christ is the cornerstone of the church then we will be in the process of “being joined together.” But what will be the driving force for joining us together? I know this may sound a bit like a reductionist mentality, but it is the GRACE of God. We have said the apostles and prophets saw the foundation of their teaching as the proclamation of Jesus Christ. But what is Jesus Christ? He is the grace of God—He is an unmerited gift that God freely gave to the world out of an abundant overflow of grace in His heart—READ Ephesians 4.4-7. We are ONE by GRACE. The grace of God “was given to EACH ONE of us” in Jesus Christ, and this is fuel that fans the flame of grace among us. When the grace of God is NOT the fuel of a church it quickly becomes an ugly, dirty, nasty place. Like a family, churches will be full of people who are mature and immature people, and that means tensions will get high. Come over and spend some time with my family, and you will quickly see that.
Let’s take a few moments and examine how this maturity in grace might help us deal with our past wounds from other Christians or churches. When we get hurt in a church we do the same thing we do in our dating lives or friendships. The more we are hurt, the more we put our guard up, the more skeptical, cynical, bitter, and resentful we become. We begin to nip-pick about anything we don’t like about a church. We end up always dating the church but never commit, because no church is good enough. Or we commit thinking with a “pull myself up by my bootstraps mentality” thinking we can deal with the churches shortcomings through grit and will power. But deep down we have not been truly healed of our wounds. So we enter all our new relationships cynical, bitter, jaded, just waiting to pounce on a wrong that looks similar to our past ones.
But here’s the thing, when we live in our hurts we are living in the bondage of bitterness and cynicism, not grace. When we are consumed by our hurts we are prisoners of them. Out of these prisons of hurt we develop LAWS that we think will protect us from getting hurt again. Paul reminds us in Romans 7 that laws can be helpful guides, but they can always become a prison—holding us captive. This is why Ephesians 2.14-16 reminds us Christ broke down the wall of hostility by setting us free from the captivity of the LAW.
Now when we examine our wounds through the lens of the Cross of Christ we can forgive our enemies as God has given us. We can extend grace because grace has been extended to us. We now have reservoir of grace instead of a puddle. The apostle Peter tells us this, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Pet 2.24). We are not healed by our wounds but by His. Dear friend, please trust me, I know what it is like to be hurt. More importantly Christ knows what it is like to be wounded. When we truly embrace the healing offered to us in Christ wounds then God Himself teaches us how to walk with people the way He does. God desires we can walk in humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with each other in love, and eager to maintain unity because this is what God has done through Jesus Christ. We were once His enemies but He did all these things with us in Christ. And if we have been called upon by God to be His ambassadors, then we continue Christ ministry. When the grace of God is truly the chief desire of our hearts we are empowered by God’s Spirit and become what God envisioned for His people—the Church—Christ Local.