One of the major thrusts of the New Testament, is not grace, nor the love of God even, but the need for Holiness in our own lives. We are called to obedience. But crucially, all the references in the New Testament are to the church being called to Holiness, the church being purified. There is little or no mention of the world, perhaps because God expects nothing better from the world. From beginning to end, the NT calls for repentance and obedience within the church, the body of Christ.
For too long, too much sin has been allowed to flourish in ‘the church’ and go unchallenged and unnoticed. When we have substituted a personal, daily relationship with a living God into an attendance-based activity, sin was always going to gain the upper hand. When we dress up for our weekly attendance, yet continue on as though nothing has changed in the rest of our lives, we make a mockery of what Christ’s coming was all about.
The most powerful thing about the church in Acts, was the body of Christ, living a unified, Holy life in his daily presence. How I live on Tuesday, is no different to how I live on Sunday. In case we’re unsure of this, it is exactly how life will be like for eternity. The Kingdom of God is within you, means we need to start thinking about this now. God, at least, is deadly serious about how the church looks for the coming groom.
Of course, none of this will happen with the current church structure. Not ever. While Sunday is still the ‘holy day’ and the priesthood still lives out our daily Christian lives for us, and when we only ever gather together for an hour a week, our lives will be no different to those around us. Sorry to burst the bubble. Smaller gatherings, led by the Holy Spirit, meeting regularly – challenging each other how they live before a Holy God so that ‘a little leaven doesn’t unleaven the entire batch,’ and reaching out into their community with the joy of the Lord, is exactly what the Lord calls us to do and how we should be living. Outside of the West, I would challenge that is exactly how the church looks – and is flourishing as a result.
Reading ‘Small Beginnings’ recently, the true story of a community in the West, formed by believers who all moved into the same neighbourhood and lived church as they did in the book of Acts is a remarkable story. Our faith becomes so attractive to the outside world, as we love, serve, sacrifice and live Holy lives in a daily relationship with each other and before our Lord; again, it is exactly how we shall live before the Lord throughout eternity. Most importantly though, and this is vital, we cannot hide our sinfulness when we live daily in each other’s lives.
It is our refusal to live differently that makes it so difficult in our culture to make disciples. Last week our entire gathering was out on the streets (what a delight!) but we hear the same story – surely, I am good enough to stand before God? This comes, in my view, from a long held belief in Western civilisation that it is okay for someone to believe in God and continue living unchanged before him. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that though. But, the world buys into it. Hold on a moment…so does much of the church.
The last word Jesus says to his church is ‘Repent’ (in Revelation). Rethinking Pawson’s original prophecy, it would seem that God is not so much interested in punishing us as changing us. Like the nation of Israel, his intention for the church is to be a light in the world, to be so pure before the world that many in the world will choose to join it.
There is a great cost in this though, and that cost is our choice to live differently. Are you, am I prepared to pay that price for Him? The rewards are out of this world.