More of a Sinner Today

guilt_womanMore of a Sinner Today

I wrestled with this for years; maybe some of you have also. Waking up one morning after a long “sinless streak” where you haven’t done that heinous thing that you used to do frequently – and then you do it. It hurts terribly. Your day is destroyed. You can’t pray, read your Bible, or really even think without feeling the guilt in your gut trying to rip its way through you. You resolve once again, “I’m not going to do it.”

The bigger issue is that the feelings that we have about ourselves are these vile, deceitful representations of who we really are. On the days that I wouldn’t fuel that wretched addiction, I perceived myself as more righteous than I’d ever been. The days that I fell, I was more of a sinner than ever. I lived in this back-and-forth world full of lies on both ends – more righteous today and more of a sinner the next.

The funny thing about sin is that it is all bad; and the funny thing about the church is that we only talk about the “bad ones”. You only hear about pornography, adultery, drunkenness, addiction, self-injury, eating disorders – and so on. When I didn’t “do a bad one,” I felt better about myself. When I did “do a bad one,” I felt much worse.

The truth is that we are always living in a tempestuous sea of temptation to choose ourselves over God – and anyway you cut it, it is sinful and idolatrous. One particular activity doesn’t change anything. This gave me a much clearer lens through which to view the gospel.

I was under the assumption that what sealed my daily position before God was whether I chose that one particular activity or not. I needed to learn that God loved me just as much on the days that I “did the bad thing” as on the days that I didn’t. God’s love for us, in the eternal, justifying, electing sense is unmitigated by our actions. He loves and loves and loves, unchanged, forever. God’s disappointment is never that “you didn’t live up to what you were yesterday” because yesterday you were still battling, just different things.

At the same time, God’s paternal, relational love still remains disappointed by our sin. Meaning that my sin doesn’t make me any less God’s child, but it does get me the stern, pursed-lip look from my loving Father who wants what is best for me. His disappointment is not that we have let Him down, but that we have chosen idols that are less than satisfying. His disappointment is not vindictive, but validated that we have chosen something less than the best. His disappointment is motivated not by anger and revenge, but by a self-giving love that seeks the very best for His children.

Meaning, it is impossible for me, in God’s eyes, to be more of a sinner today because I chose some particular activity. I am always just as dependent on Him as the day of my conversion. And, by the grace of God, I am always just as accepted and loved based on the life and sacrifice of Christ. That is the resolving tension of the gospel – my natural state of wretchedness is covered over by the blood of Christ, and in my wretchedness today, I am dependent on the blood of Christ.

Why is this important?

This matter is of extreme importance for our daily interaction with God. We have a tendency to allow our fellowship with Him to be determined by how we’ve performed. Instead of repenting and turning to Him, we wallow in our guilt until we are far enough removed from the situation to no longer feel guilty. The gospel, however, frees us from this silly game and allows us to enter into God’s presence with a repentant heart moments after sin. Willfully remaining out of fellowship with God because of guilt over bad daily performance is akin to rejecting the gospel.

Either way, the point is to take your eyes off of yourself and place them steadfastly upon Christ, our hope.

If a First-Century Christian Visited our Church…

I’ve often wondered what it would be like if an individual from the first-century church visited one of ours. My suspicion is that there would be little that they would recognize. The way that we use “church language” would be dramatically different; our practices would be dramatically different; our stewardship of resources would be dramatically different – and so on. The following is a fictional conversation (obviously) between a first-century Christian visiting a twenty-first-century church. There are no time travel implications to this piece, so you lovers of physics will have to find that elsewhere.

21st Century:

Hi, welcome to Velocity, formerly known as Life Community Church, formerly known as 2nd Baptist Church of Maranatha.

Would you like to download the app to follow along with the message that the pastor will be preaching?

1st Century:

Umm…I’m sorry, I thought this was where the church gathers. Am I at the right place?

21st Century:

Yes, you are at church, silly. Come on in, I’ll show you where the sanctuary is.

1st Century:

You have a sanctuary? Is that like a synagogue or a temple? And what do you mean “I’m at church.” Where is the church?

21st Century:

Where is the church? You’re standing in it! That’s a question I’m not used to getting. Where did you used to attend church?

1st Century:

I’m sorry, I’m just having a hard time understanding your question. Do you mean where have I gone to gather with the church? 

21st Century:

Oh, I see what you’re saying, that whole “the church is the people” thing. Yes, our pastor talked about that last week in his message.

1st Century:

Your pastor? You mean one of your overseers or elders?

21st Century:

Oh, heavens no – our pastor! Our elders don’t really preach. I mean, they have before, but our pastor really does all the preaching.

1st Century:

 Okay, that’s interesting, different from my experience. Isn’t teaching one of your elders responsibilities? If they don’t teach, what sorts of things do they do? Do they care for the needs of the people in the congregation?

21st Century:

Kind of. They meet a couple of times a month and discuss the business of the church. They make sure that our budgets are on track and that the staff are meeting their goals. They also discuss matters of church discipline and so forth.

1st Century:

Wow, you just said a lot of things that I’m not familiar with. What do you mean “they  make sure that the budgets are on track”? And who is “the staff”? You know what, never mind, I’m sure that I’ll learn more about all of that. I’m still a little confused, where does the church gather? This is a pretty big building.

21st Century:

Well, our church service begins in ten minutes in the sanctuary.

1st Century:

What is a church service? Is the church serving somewhere? Our church is constantly serving. Anytime that we see someone in need we bring them to our gathering, feed them, and share the message of Christ with them. Is that what you mean by “church service”?

21st Century:

Wow, we really have had different experiences with church, haven’t we? Our church service is like the focal point of our church. Every Sunday we meet here in the sanctuary at 11 am, we start off by singing some songs, someone usually gets up and makes some announcements about children’s ministry, or youth activities, then our pastor gets up and preaches for like thirty minutes (sometimes he goes a little long…), we sing a closing song, and then we go home. You’ll love the band that leads our music; they are SO good. They even released a CD earlier this year. Some of the older people complain that it’s too loud, but they are way better than the band at my last church.

1st Century:

I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re going to have to slow down for me a bit. Clearly the church that I have gathered with my entire life is quite different. Does your church not eat together? Aside from Christ, the meal is the focal point of our church.

21st Century:

Eat? Well, back in our 2nd Baptist days we had potlucks, but since we started attracting so many new people to our church – after the name change of course – it’s really not possible for us to eat together. We sometimes go out after service together.

1st Century:

How do you commemorate the Lord’s death without eating together?

21st Century:

Oh, we take communion once a quarter.

1st Century:

You commemorate our Lord’s death once every quarter? That seems a bit minimalist. Well, when do you pray together? Do the other prophets in the room not get a chance to speak? How do you discuss the passage of scripture?

21st Century:

Pray together? I sometimes pray silently in my seat during the music time. And, sir, we don’t really believe in prophecy like you may have experienced. Did you previously attend a Pentecostal church?

1st Century:

Ah, Pentecost, what a great day! Finally something that we have in common!

21st Century:

No, not Pentecost. That’s in Acts 2. “Pentecostal” is those churches where people speak in tongues and are slain by the Spirit and so forth…I think they prophesy.

1st Century:

Hold on, your church doesn’t really pray together? How do you survive? Don’t you want your family members and friends to trust in our Lord?

21st Century:

Well, I pray for my friends and family members. Sometimes I’ll pray with a friend about something, but no, in our Sunday morning services we really just sing the songs and listen to the pastor preach.

1st Century:

I think we’ve hit another roadblock in our mutual church experiences. In my church, many of us pray and discuss God’s Word together. It is much more like a family gathering to share encouraging stories, and exhorting one another to remain strong in our faith.

Let me ask this then, where are all of the people that the church is caring for? Like, where are the orphans or the widows? I have recently come into some money and I wanted to make my contribution to the overseers so that they could share it with the appropriate people who need it.

21st Century:

Oh, you don’t have to worry about that; the offering plate will come around during the service.

1st Century:

But how will I know that someone is being cared for? I really would like to know so that I can pray that this income will bless them and help them.

21st Century:

Oh, our offerings go to all sorts of things. It pays the salaries of our staff, and it covers the expenses for the building. (Don’t tell anyone, but I even heard that our band gets a budget to buy clothing.) Our church does all sorts of great things with the money from the offerings! Heck, I put in 10 bucks every week just because I love this place!

1st Century:

Wow. I—I, I don’t even know how to respond. I must be honest; I am gravely concerned with the health of this…organization…or whatever it is. I have to tell you, I am going to have to find the church here in this city; they will be equally disturbed and broken by my report of this experience. And you pay for this enormous building? Why would you do that? Do you know how many needs you could meet with that money in the name of our Lord Jesus?

21st Century:

Listen, I don’t appreciate you talking that way about how we do church. Sure, it may be different, but that’s our prerogative, it’s the twenty-first century. Times change, the church should too! People like loud music, videos, and ministries to serve their needs. People won’t come if they don’t get what they are looking for.

1st Century:

Well, I apologize if I have offended you, but you have merely illustrated my point all the more. The only thing that people are looking for is to feel better about themselves in the midst of their rebellion against God. Few people are actually “looking for” Christ’s teaching and atonement, while, ironically, it is what they need the most. I’m sorry, but it sounds as if your church service is beginning. I’d love to continue this conversation over lunch, if possible.

21st Century:

Oh, I can’t do lunch; we’re leaving early for my son’s soccer game.

The lights dim in the sanctuary as the flying treble notes of an electric guitar pierce through every conversation in the sanctuary.

“WELCOME TO VELOCITY! WHO IS EXCITED TO WORSHIP?”