Allen Jackson - The Church In The World - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you today. Our topic is "The Church in the World". You know, I remember learning years ago that the sea in a ship is a bad thing, but a ship in the sea, that's a good thing. Well, it's true with the church as well. The church in the world is necessary, but if we get the world in the church, we've got a problem. I have tremendous hope for planet Earth because of the church of Jesus Christ. It's the power of God expressed through humanity, giving God's love for them wherever that doors are opened. Don't imagine you're insignificant or the place where you worship is less than it should be. Christ in you is enough, and I believe the Spirit of God is at work uniquely in our generation to take the Jesus story to anybody who will receive it. Grab your Bible and get a notepad. Most importantly, open your heart.
We're walking through a little series under the general heading of "The Church," and in this session I wanna talk specifically about "The Church in the World". You know, I heard it many years ago and I think it's a pretty good description that... it said, "A ship in the sea is a good thing, but the sea in a ship is a bad thing". And the church in the world is an important thing, but the world in the church is a destructive thing. And honestly, I think we've gotten a bit confused. I think the church in my lifetime, I can speak to that with more authority, has had an unhealthy interest in the approval of the world. We're called apart. We're called to be different.
I don't expect us to be fully embraced or fully understood or always applauded by the people who have not chosen to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. And if we're not willing to bear that difference, honestly, I don't think we're qualified to be participants. Doesn't mean we have to be obnoxious or weird or strange. Choosing to follow a biblical worldview and yield to that authority in our lives will bring ample distinctiveness, amen? And if you blend in too well, you want there to be enough evidence of your faith that in your absence you could be convicted. I heard a quote from Alistair Begg a few days ago and it stuck with me. He was asked about the condition of the church in our nation and what we can do and what our response should be, and his first answer was: "The church needs to be the church," which sounded really familiar to me.
Then he went on and he said in his opinion that the inherited church was struggling mightily, but that the believing church was gaining strength. And I thought it was a pretty accurate summary statement that, if you just inherited a traditional faith, and you didn't declare yourself something else, you were a generic Christian and you attend worship services as a matter of convenience or opportunity, that church is struggling mightily. But in the midst of that, God is awakening a group of people with a belief in him, a true belief in him, that are willing to be identified with Jesus in the public square and in the way they do business, and the way they conduct their personal lives, and how they understand the world and how they understand family. And those people, I think, are finding strength in this season.
So, a question to you is which category would you imagine yourself to be in? And I won't excavate that any further. Well, I probably will, but I'll do it in the context of the lesson. John chapter 3 and verse 16 may be the best-known verse in the New Testament, that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life". God didn't love a ball of matter hurtling through space. In that phrase, when it says, "God so loved the world," he loved human beings. The Bible makes a very clear distinction between humanity and all the rest of Creation. We're not just the pinnacle of the evolutionary ladder. We're the image bearers of Almighty God. We are distinct from all the rest of Creation.
God very clearly said he gave dominion over the earth and everything that is in it to Adam and to his descendants. I'm an advocate for science, but it doesn't mean that everything a scientist says is correct. If that's difficult for you to grasp, just think Fauci, okay? And we could give you a whole list of... any more than I think everything every preacher says is correct. And if that's difficult for you to grasp, just think "Jackson". Verse 17: "God didn't send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him". Jesus didn't come on a mission of condemnation. He came with a mission of salvation. Will everybody accept it? No, we have an opportunity. "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they haven't believed in the name of God's one and only Son".
Verse 19 is the punch line, "This is the verdict". All of the previous is a preamble. This is the verdict. "Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil". Light was available, but people loved the darkness. How do you understand that? How do you arrive at that conclusion? Because they practiced ungodliness. So please do not be confused. If you sit in a church building and you participate in religious services and you practice darkness, we face condemnation. We have to love the light. And the church's assignment, or at least one way of expressing the church's assignment, as I understand it, is to be an expression of light in the world.
Jesus himself said we're to be salt and light, that you don't light a lamp and then put it under a basket, that you display it openly. So the notion of covert Christianity is really not supported from a biblical perspective. We're to be a light. It will cause some people to be uncomfortable. The church, I'm an advocate for the church, I'm an unrelenting, overwhelming, all in, consistent advocate for the church of Jesus Christ. For all of our brokenness and all that we're not, imagine if the churches were closed. We saw that not very long ago. Churches shuttered, people couldn't gather. We haven't recovered yet. The impact it had on our culture is felt until today.
Our children's test scores, the business community, our effectiveness, the damage to our workforce. I mean, they don't talk about it because they don't want to highlight the outcome, but when the churches were closed, they were all... I understand there was multiple factors contributing to that, but the ineptitude, the weakness, how fragile the church was. We haven't recovered yet. We haven't regained our footing as a culture. We're far more vulnerable today than we were in the spring of 2020, I'm sorry. And somehow, we've allowed this myth to grow in us that it doesn't really matter. We don't really have to be together. We need a personal salvation and know that we're gonna go to heaven, and the rest of it's just kind of decoration or... that is not a biblical perspective. And we're gonna have to fight for it. We're gonna have to have a determination, an expression, an assertive expression, of our faith, or we're gonna lose our freedom.
We're called to a new kind of life. I like James. I love the plain-spoken tone of the book of James. I often, with a bit of a smile, say, "Don't read James if you're having a bad day," 'cause he will smack you upside your head. You wanna read James when you're kind of in a good mood, but in James 1:21 he says it in the plainest of ways: "Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which you can save". He's writing to an audience of believers. And what does he say? He said, "Get rid of all moral filth and evil that's so prevalent. Humble yourselves, accept God's word. It will save you. Don't merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says". We have a lack of application in the contemporary evangelical church. We have storehouses of information and studies and opinions and seminars and classes, but we are reluctant to do what it says.
"Anyone who listens to the word but doesn't do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, he goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it, he will be blessed in what he does". The blessing comes to those who give expression to what they know to be right. I don't understand. I truly do not understand how we have arrived at a place where we imagine that the highest virtue is to not offend. If you're in the presence of expressions of wickedness, I imagine that our response could very well be offensive, because to be silent is to affirm the wickedness.
If you maintain your silence in the face of that, we have endorsed it. We become participants. I could support that with any number of biblical passages, but this is the shorthand on it and somehow we have made a virtue out of being silent. "Well, I didn't want to offend anyone". Do you remember the times when the disciples would take Jesus aside? You know, he would say, you know, "You're whitewashed tombs. You're filled with dead men's bones," "You search the world over to make a disciple and you make him twice the child of hell you are". Happy little phrases like that. And the disciples would take him aside and said, "Psst, did you know you offended them"? Can you imagine coaching Jesus on his crowd awareness? Jesus not only understood; if you read those passages, he didn't just offend 'em, he's like jumping up and down on the offense button.
So how have we arrived at a place where the highest virtue is, "I didn't offend anybody". Really? Imagine when they're called to an account by the Judge of all things for their choices, and one of their responses is, "No one said anything to me". We will share in that responsibility, if we have been silent. Folks, we're gonna have to develop some new muscles. They won't be comfortable. They'll fail every once in a while because they're under-utilized. They'll cramp up a little bit. You'll be sore. You'll have to train them, but if we will begin to cultivate that, I believe God will help us. I can give you many biblical examples of people that failed to stand up. Our heroes, the disciples, didn't do so well when Jesus needed a friend. But they figured it out.
Ephesians chapter 4, we started through this passage in an earlier session, and we didn't finish it, and I think it's worthwhile to go back and look at it for a moment. It's a letter written to the church in Ephesus. Do you remember the back story on the church in Ephesus? Paul spent a good deal of time there. It says that while he was there, God did extraordinary miracles through Paul: healings and deliverance, that even cloths that he would pray for would be taken to people and they would be healed and delivered and... there was a consistent enough expression of deliverance in the lives of the people from unclean spirits, unholy spirits, demonic spirits, that the sons of the Jewish rabbi tried it and it didn't turn out so well for them. And the demonized person gave seven brothers a beating and stripped them naked so that they ran through the streets that way.
And it caused the fear of God to come on the whole region, it says, and they brought the things they had used to practice the occult and burned them in a public bonfire, and it gives us a valuation. It was several million dollars in today's economy. So, a remarkable moving of the Spirit of God in Ephesus, followed by a very demonically inspired riot that engulfed the whole city, so the believers in Ephesus had seen the power of God and the response of ungodliness. They had seen quite a bit of spiritual activity, and now Paul is writing to them. And they seem to be a bit addled. They're a bit confused.
And in Ephesians 4 and 17, he said, "I tell you this, I insist on it in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking". If he's telling them that, you can deduce something. There's a conclusion that I believe is appropriate. If he's saying that to them, there is something that has caused him to imagine that too many of them are living as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking. And he uses very strong language. He said, "I insist you stop it". They're born again, they're Spirit-filled, they believe in miracles, they believe in deliverance, and he's saying, "Your thinking is messed up". And he gets into the weeds with them. He said, "This is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught," so he's reminding them of something.
They have digressed, they have strayed, they've wandered off. He said, "You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, it's being corrupted by its deceitful desires; and to be made new in the attitude of your minds; to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness". He said, "This is what you were taught". And then he begins to give them a very detailed list of how they have, their thinking has drifted. Do you have room to imagine that as Christ followers, born again, Spirit-filled, church-attending, chorus-singing Christ followers, we could get goofy thoughts?
See, we've been so insular, we wanted to argue that we can't lose our salvation or whatever and we completely forget about what it means to live godly and upright lives. That's the assignment. In chapter 5, he said, "Follow God's example, as dearly loved children. Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loves us and gave himself for us as a fragrant offering. Among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality".
Now, you've got to balance verse 2 and verse 3. We all know we're gonna walk in the way of love, we're gonna love everybody. Group hug, kum ba yah. We're just gonna practice love. We've all heard it ad nauseam. "Well, I started to say something but I wasn't sure it was gonna be in love". But in verse 3 he said, "Listen, there can't even be a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, nor a hint of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, or foolish talk, or coarse joking. They're out of place. Practice thanksgiving. For this you can be sure".
Now, remember, this is, right in this passage, it starts out with "Walk in the way of love". "No immoral, impure or greedy person, such a person is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them". Church, we are called to lead holy and upright lives. Are we perfect? No, we're cracked pots, and God is working on us and through us, but there's a difference in recognizing that you are in the process of being transformed and yielding to the practices of this world. Do you understand the difference? In one, we capitulate and we excuse it.
"Well, nobody's perfect. We all have our struggles. That's just the way I am. Well, my people. Well, you don't understand the pressure that I'm under". I mean, we have an amazing ability to provide for ourselves justification for ungodliness. And so, Paul is writing to a church that he has labored in seeing birthed and grow up, and he said, "There doesn't even need to be a hint of immorality amongst you". And he goes on to say, "Please don't misunderstand. No immoral person has an inheritance in the kingdom of God". And you can say, in the context of this, "No matter what building they sit in on Sunday morning".
So I think we need to come back to being the church, before we have the courage, before we'll find the authority to raise our hand and stand for godliness and righteousness, we're gonna have to start to bring it into our own lives, and to our own kitchen tables, into our own family circles, into our friends' groups. We've got to be the church. We have lost our way. We're not the first church to do that, we're not the first generation to do that. It doesn't mean it's the end of the age because we've done that. It may very well be the end of the age, but the challenges that we're facing inwardly are not the result of the end of the age. They're the result of our own choices in the language of James to walk in the dark.
We have loved the darkness. We have lusted after it. It bugs me when I see us present ourselves in the same way as the world when we bring our music forward. I want excellence in what we do and how we do it, but we should be distinguishable from the people who aren't godly. We're not gonna mock their behavior when we present what we do. Our aspirations for ourselves and our children should be different than the aspirations we see for the ungodly. We should have aspirations that are dramatically different, not the same except they say "Jesus" once in a while.
We have loved the darkness. We've looked at it with hearts filled with envy and covetousness and desire. We've got to be willing to be different. Because it's better. God's not taking something away from us. The end of the darkness is destruction every time. It's not a better way. They are lying to you, and you know it's true because all of us have walked those paths far enough to know that the promise was empty, the temptation was real in the moment there's something you'll want, but beyond the moment, it is destructive. It's just if... we're addled. We've been dazed. We're in a stupor. The language is plain: "Put off the old self. Be made new in the attitude of your mind. Put on a new self. Put off falsehood. Speak the truth. Stop stealing," he said.