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I was doing a little study in preparation for our elder’s retreat this weekend, and ran across these punchy observations regarding a difficult passage (1 John 2:19 – “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us”). It should be observed, he is making observations largely as it pertained to England, which has the Church of England, a state recognized church. Even so, I don’t think his analysis is any less applicable to American Evangelicalism.
We may think, as we look at the modern Church, and as we compare and contrast it with what appertained earlier this century, that we have fallen upon evil days and that the Church is no longer the Church of God. But look at it like this: at one time everybody went to church, and the churches were packed and crowded. But are we to assume from that that everybody who went to church was a true Christian? There were people who went to church for very strange and curious reasons; it was a habit or a custom; it was a social thing; it paid for people to go to church [socially or for reputation]. No, we must not assume that because the churches were packed they packed with Christians…
…The ultimate test is that we are OF the Church. That is how John puts it — ‘they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.’ What does this mean exactly; how may I know whether I am really “of” the Church or not? Well, it surely means this: True Christians are those who are in vital union with the Church. They are not loosely attached to it; they have not just got their names on the roll. They do not merely recognize a general sort of allegiance once a day or on some special Sunday. No, they are bound by vital bonds of union. In other words, they have life in them; they do not have to force themselves, but rather, they cannot help themselves. It is the difference between a member of the family and a great friend of the family; there is something within them that tells them, ‘This is my life; I am bound to them; these are my people.’ For them it is the big thing; they are bound by bonds of life itself; it is an organic and vital union, and the result is that they are in true fellowship with other Christians. They feel bound to them in a sense that they are not bound to anybody else. They feel that they understand them in a way that they do not understand anybody else; they feel that the Church is their home in a sense that nothing else is their home — “of us!”
There, it seems to me, is the vital distinction. So we ask ourselves a simple question: where do these things come in my daily life? What exactly is the place and value of these things in my experience? What is my attitude toward the whole thing? Is it central and vital, or is it something on the periphery of which I constantly have to remind myself? The people who are not ‘of us’ are the people who are on the fringe…
Wow! Programs, visitation, thank you cards, visitor packets, membership classes and suggesting to newbies that they “get plugged in” to ministry cannot CREATE this kind of relational vitality in the soul. Either the Spirit of God has joined you together with Christ to His spiritual family, and you enjoy this experience. Or, there is no experience of it, because the Spirit of God is not there. That is not to say that the things above cannot, or should not, be used to further cultivate those vital relationships (they can be deepened). Certainly, they can and should be sought and cultivated. But let’s be clear…it cannot create them.
His analysis summarized: “Those who do not love the church (it’s people, not its structures), do not love the Lord of the church. Pure and simple!”
Lately I have been meditating on the subject of our “calling.” I’m not sure why I seem stalled out on this subject but after spending several weeks on it in my devotions, I can do nothing but conclude that being called unto Christ is the highest blessing that can be poured upon a mortal man by a sovereign and eternal God. Even the slightest comprehension of His divine choosing of me, rather than my neighbor, chases away the cares and anxieties of this world. If only such bliss could be my first thought each day before I fly out of bed and rush off to accomplish all I have in mind to do. How much better would we be if we paused and let God greet our first thought of the day with promises of the gospel, reminding us that we are His children and that nothing can pluck us out of His hand.
As I ponder my adoption it produces the divine fruit of humility. It reminds me how helpless I am to have received such an undeserved gesture. It also ignites in me a desire to keep my love for the Lord focused in purity and simplicity. I am humbled when I compare to how little affection I have expressed toward “Him” in return.
It’s not that I am slothful in my spiritual obligations but sometimes I find myself caught up in the processes of performing for God as if duty and obligation alone are all that He wants. The hardscrabble of life can take its toll if I allow it to. There always seem to be wave after wave of perplexing uncertainties vying to distract my eyes from being fixed on my hope in Christ.
If faithfulness to His tasks was the only purpose for my existence, then a relationship with the Holy Father would only center on my inheritance (my reward) rather than on the One who has adopted me into His family. Such service may have an acceptable shape and form to others around me. It might look good, and active, and faithful and sacrificial on the outside. They might even praise me for it. I could please my church leaders who watch over me, and even impress my fellow believers. But without affection for my Savior, it would all just feel like a sterile, cold and lifeless religion on the inside–certainly not the relationship with God that I long for (and read about).
Thank God that He is patient. He knows that in order to experience His fullness of joy in our soul, we must first be content with just loving Him. When we finally do, our affections grow hotter for Him and colder to the world and as a result, our countenance brightens. There is a line in the old Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night” that speaks of a moment when the “soul felt its worth.” I really like that line, especially after having lived through several decades of questioning the validity of what is called “self esteem.” But here, the hymn writer speaks of a moment of freedom in the soul when he comes to feel some sense of worth and purpose; the worth of not just any earthly creature, but of an image bearer of God; the kind of worth that compelled a Holy and Righteous God to send His only Son to take his sins upon Himself and settle once and for all that we matter to Him. This sense of worth in one’s own soul is an acceptable one, because it finds its definition in our nature as God’s image bearer, and finds its energy in a Spirit-driven gratitude and desire to Glorify God and worship Him.
This morning, I was reading a book written by Thomas Watson, who by the way is not the famous golfer. Mr. Watson was a 17th century minister whose writings were published in 1663 after he and several thousand other ministers were exposed to severe hardships and sufferings placed upon them by the Church of England because of their faithfulness to the gospel. What impresses me is how Watson maintained and even increased in his joy and affection for the Savior during that trying time.
He writes on why we sing:
“ … that God should pass over so many, that He should pass by the wise and noble, and that the lot of free-grace should fall upon you! That He should take you out of a state of vassalage, from grinding the devil’s mill, and should set you above the princes of the earth, and call you to inherit the throne of glory! Fall upon your knees, break forth into a thankful triumph of praise; let your hearts be ten-stringed instruments, to sound forth the memorial of God’s mercy. None so deep in debt to free grace as you, of thanksgiving. Say to the sweet singer; ‘I will extol thee, and I will praise thy name forever’ (Psa 145.1,2). Those who are patterns of mercy should be trumpets of praise. O long to be in heaven, where your thanksgiving shall be purer and shall be raised a note even higher!”
The great British preacher of a century ago, Charles Spurgeon, went through five years as a child feeling intense guilt before he was saved. He goes on for a whole chapter in his autobiography describing the agony of those years. Here is a brief excerpt:
When but young in years, I felt with much sorrow the evil of sin. My bones waxed old with my roaring all the day long. Day and night God’s hand was heavy upon me. I hungered for deliverance, for my soul fainted within me. I feared lest the very skies should fall upon me, and crush my guilty soul. God’s law had laid hold upon me, and was showing me my sins. If I slept at night, I dreamed of the bottomless pit, and when I awoke, I seemed to feel the misery I had dreamed. Up to God’s house I went; my song was but a sigh. To my chamber I retired, and there, with tears and groans, I offered up my prayer, without a hope and without a refuge, for God’s law was flogging me with its ten-thonged whip, and then rubbing me with brine afterwards, so that I did shake and quiver with pain and anguish, and my soul chose strangling rather than life, for I was exceeding sorrowful. (C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography [Banner of Truth], 1:58.).
In our modern world if a child spoke like this, many people would be trying to get him to go to a psychiatrist to find out what was wrong with him. School counselors would likely schedule an appointment with the parents to discuss his low self-esteem. Social workers may be employed to intervene in a potentially dangerous situation.
But Spurgeon didn’t need a psychiatrist, or any other mental health professional. What he needed most desperately was a Savior from his sin–and praise God that He sought him, saved him, and gifted him to be the champion of the faith that he was.
Spurgeon truly and profoundly knew the weight and the guilt of sin. Until we truly feel our burden of guilt before God, we will never be able to truly experience salvation from sin. It is this burden and guilt that drives us to seek a way to be delivered from our sinfulness. When we never seek and find the salvation that is offered through Jesus Christ alone, we often live our entire lives under this burden (although some simply harden their conscience toward God and suppress the truth in unrighteousness — Romans 1:18-23). But when we seek and find “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” that is Christ Himself (His saving grace), then we will be set free from sin’s slavery and experience “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Here is how another sinner expressed them both:
Psalm 32 — A Psalm of David
1 How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!
2 How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!
3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.Selah.
5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.Selah.
6 Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.
7 You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance.Selah.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you.
10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.