“And He has qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
2 Corinthians 3:6
I want to be clear from the get-go: the church is the body of Christ, not a building. After all, Jesus destroyed the need for a building to have access to God. He also replaced the requirement of a human middleman to receive forgiveness, with Himself.
Yes, it’s still a healthy thing to gather with other Christians, to love and encourage one another. But the church is you and me, believer. Not once was a church building referred to in the New Testament but only groups of Christians. However, for this devotional I’ll be using the word church in the context of our building gatherings. I’d like to point out some unhealthy characteristics of today’s churches so we can repent and grow into the full measure of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
People are leaving churches in droves. According to a recent survey, more than two million have left their church, every year, for the past seven years. 62% of churches either have no growth or their congregations are declining.
What’s strange is, on Christmas and Easter our churches are packed. So why not during the rest of the year? The answer is simple: the message. The message isn’t the gospel. The gospel is good news, not bad news, and it’s hard to find good news being preached to us non-Creasters.
Christmas and Easter sermons are normally about the birth and resurrection of Jesus, which is good news. But why can’t we hear good news sermons all year long? Because the message is changed the other 50 weeks. We’ve believed the lie of the enemy, that good news might lead to bad behavior. The reality is, bad behavior is already happening plenty with not-such-good-news preaching.
It’s as if many churches think God is naive, or that He baits and switches us, before and after salvation. For them, once you’re saved, the good news turns into really bad news. As a result, we get behavior improvement sermons, sin management sermons, “Just be like me, I’m your best example of holiness” sermons, and of course, “Try harder, do better, surrender more!” sermons. None of which is good news.
Churches aren’t normally filled to capacity 50 Sundays of the year because many of them turn back into a country club for members only. Volunteer requirements, tithing to be blessed, and pastoral worship replace the simplicity of the gospel. Sometimes you won’t hear the name of Jesus an entire teaching, but the pastor will repeatedly talk about how influential they are, or how we need to rebuke the devour by giving until it hurts.
To add insult to injury, many churches want to “keep things balanced” by placing us into the Old Covenant while ignoring the New Covenant completely–as if it never happened. This is subtle, but deadly. If microscopic pieces of glass are placed in our food, even though we can’t taste the glass because it’s so small, ingesting it will eventually harm us in great ways. When the Covenants are mixed the Old Covenant becomes those shards. Most don’t realize what they’re being fed, they think because it’s coming from a person on stage it has to be the truth. Unfortunately, Covenant-mixing theology is destroying many lives.
Here are a couple examples of what I mean:
Easter and Christmas are the open houses to attract new members but if the New Covenant isn’t being preached all year long the sermons are of no deep value. The Bible says we are only qualified to preach the New Covenant, and nothing else. The New Covenant is complete reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 3:6, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 5:1). Therefore, if we aren’t teaching people about the peace they have with God, right now–or can have instantly–there’s no competency to our message (see 2 Corinthians 3:5). Our churches have got to start preaching the good news every time because it’s the goodness of God which leads people to change their actions and attitudes (see Romans 2:4).
“Matt, you just want pastors to tickle ears!” one might say. “Our planet is in terrible shape because of ear-tickling sermons!”
Friend, I’m not saying tickle ears, I’m saying preach the good news. There’s a huge difference. This planet isn’t in bad shape because of the good news being preached but the opposite. In fact, Paul told pastor Titus it’s the good news–the grace of God–which will teach people how to live authentically as saints:
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12)
Paul never said, “That’s too much grace! Balance it with Law!” No, he said it–grace–is what teaches us how to live godly, self-controlled, upright lives. Pastors don’t need to talk out of both sides of their mouths, confusing their flock. They need to preach grace. I’ve never seen anyone who has finally understood the grace of God shout, “I’ve got a license to sin! Sweet!” It just doesn’t happen.
God knows this and that’s why He wants us to think we’re holy so we’ll live holy:
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (See Proverbs 23:7)
You will act like who you think you are. If you think grace empowers you to live in a godly manner, guess what will happen when you embrace grace as the air you breathe? A life of godly choices and thoughts inspired by His Spirit within.
What’s more is, grace is not cheap, as the self-centered person will yell. They think it’s cheap–as did the Jews who refused to believe Jesus was Messiah (see Hebrews 10:29)–but God’s grace is the most expensive thing ever and Christ paid for it in full at the Cross. Grace only becomes cheap when we try to water it down by adding to it through our own efforts or feeble attempts at Mosaic Law observance (see Romans 11:6, Galatians 3:2-3, 5:4).
Titus 2 is overwhelmingly powerful Scripture in regard to God’s mighty grace and what it does for His children on a moment by moment basis. If our churches wouldn’t dabble in grace, but instead, dumped it on the crowds in buckets, sinful lifestyles wouldn’t stand a chance. If you don’t understand this fact reread Titus 2:11 and 12 daily until you do.
GRACE. EMPOWERS. US. TO. LIVE. PROPERLY.
I don’t know how much simpler God could have made it.
Yet still, most churches won’t teach this. Rather than water their parched people with grace, they heap flies into sticky ointment. Fear-mongering, guilt trips, and scorekeeping of sins-to-good-deeds are their hallmarks. Scattering both the lost and saved alike, they’ll say, “Oh yeah, we teach grace, but Pastor does it with righteous anger.”
What? Are you kidding me?
Grace insults the most sanctimonious folk because it’s completely unfair. “These newcomers need to repent and be like us! We ain’t going crazy on grace!”
We should be going crazy on grace.
Paul calls the gospel, the gospel of grace, in Acts 20:24; and if we look into Scripture, the only time ear-tickling is mentioned is in 2 Timothy 4. And guess who were the targets? Non-believers, not Christians, “Those who turn away from the truth.” Who is the truth? Jesus (see John 14:6). It’s impossible for a Christian to turn away from Jesus because God has hidden us inside of Himself with Jesus. Nobody can snatch us out of His hand and we can’t jump out either. He’s combined our spirit with His Spirit forever. The only way this could possibly be undone is if Christ dies again. That will not happen (see John 10:28, 14:19, 2 Timothy 2:13, Colossians 3:3-4, 1 Corinthians 6:17, Hebrews 7:25).
So who really wants their ears tickled? The people who spit on the Cross. Those who want teachers to give them more spiritual disciplines and stuff to improve their completeness with God. Those who want to prove to God how holy they are by what they start and stop–and through “gifts.” Those who are bored with Jesus and want more sermons of Jesus-plus-this and Jesus-plus-that.
It’s impossible for a Christian to have itching ears because we have the same ears as God because we’ve been reborn of God (see John 1:12-13, 1 John 3:1). But most churches won’t teach this. They teach us we’re at battle with God, even as His own children. This is wrong. This is not the gospel.
The gospel is Jesus. The gospel is grace. The gospel is good.
So today, my friends, know this: If today’s churches would preach the message of the undiluted gospel they’d be overflowing all year long! What Jesus has done for us so He can do to us so He can do through us–this is good news! 52 messages a year should be good news!
A prayer for you: Father, today I pray that our churches will begin to embrace the simplicity of your grace through faith in Jesus, as well as our new righteous identity. I pray that the message changes into what you want it to be. I pray for a new revelation to sweep the minds of behavior-centered church-goers, those who belittle your grace and the work of Jesus. Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of these dear readers have experienced harsh, double-talk teachings. The craziness of Covenant-mixing has harmed their thought life tremendously. I ask for you to begin revealing just how much Jesus has accomplished on their behalf, according to the New Covenant. As they grow in this grace, teach them how to be their true selves day by day, moment by moment. In Jesus’ name, amen.