Robert Jeffress - Good Grace Churches - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. More and more Christians are turning away from the church as a trusted place for cultivating their faith. But the reality is attending a local church is absolutely critical to our spiritual growth. We need the church and the church needs us. Today, I'm going to give four benefits of becoming a member of a local church. My message is titled, "Good Grace Churches", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
A few years ago, one of our staff members asked me if I would go by and visit a woman, a member of our church, who had asked to visit with me about her funeral service. Janice was a middle-aged woman. She had been in perfect health, until 10 months earlier, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and now she was facing just several more weeks of life, and she wanted to talk about her memorial service. And so the next day I went to the home, knocked on the front door, her husband Jack answered the door and, ushered me into the living room where Janice was in her hospital bed, surrounded by a few family members and friends. She was very adamant. She got quickly down to business and said that she wanted her funeral service to be a celebration of her faith in Jesus Christ. She pointed to her burgundy Bible and she said, "Pastor, tell the people I believe every word in that book". We planned the hymns that she wanted sung, the scripture passages she wanted read, together we recited John 14 and we all stood around that hospital bed and sang "Amazing grace," a song that we would sing a few days later at her memorial service.
As I was leaving her husband Jack walked out with me and we stood on the front porch and he said, "Pastor, our church has been so wonderful through all of this. Our Sunday school class brought meals every day. Somebody offered to mow the lawn for us. We've had numerous calls of support and encouragement". And then he said, "Pastor, I don't know how people make it through something like this without a church". Maybe you've had that experience as well. We all have moments of gratitude for the church God has given us and yet, in spite of these warm feelings many Christians have toward the church, many Christians are treating the church with increasing disdain and indifference. Polls tell us, for an increasing number of Christians, they view membership in the church is optional. Their attendance is sporadic. They're giving is minimal. And they view any kind of service as burdensome.
How do you explain that? How do you explain the growing indifference people have toward the church today? Especially when the founder of the church, Jesus Christ, is said to have loved the church and given himself for her. Why is it so many Christians don't have that same sacrificial attitude toward the church? Two words answer that question bad grace. Many Christians have taken the gift of God, grace, and perverted it as an excuse to be indifferent toward the church that Jesus Christ gave himself for. In our series, "Grace Gone Wild"! We're talking about the proper use, as well as the abuse of the doctrine of grace, and how our understanding of grace ought to impact every area of our life.
Today, we're going to talk about how grace should impact our attitude toward the church. And this Sunday, and next time, we're going to look at four specific areas of the church in which grace should affect our thinking. First of all, regarding membership in the church. How does a proper understanding of grace affect our attitude about membership in the church. Bad grace says, "I don't need to join a church". Good grace says, "God has provided a church for me to join". Do I have to join the church to be a good Christian? I could answer that question by pointing out the New Testament teaching that shows that the early church had membership roles. They knew who was a part and wasn't a part of the church. They had membership requirements. Yes, they even counted numbers of the members that they had, just read the book of acts. But that's not the best answer to the question, because the question itself is wrong. It shouldn't be, "Do I have to join a church to be a Christian". But, "Do I need to join a church to be a good Christian"? And the answer is yes.
I'll look at just what the New Testament says about the benefits that accrue to us from being a vital part, a member of a local body of believers. In fact as I search the New Testament, I find four benefits that the local church provides. Jot them down. First of all, the local church provides instruction for our spiritual growth. Instruction for our spiritual growth. In acts 2:42, we find this summary of what the early church did. It says, "And they gave themselves" for four things. "To the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer". Notice the first, the primary thing that the early church gave themself to, the apostles' teaching.
Now remember, in the early church there was no New Testament, the only scripture they had was the Old Testament. So if they wanted to find out about grace and about the new covenant, they had to listen to the apostles. The apostles were the one who had been given the divine revelation that the church needed to hear. So they had to listen to the apostles' teaching or somebody designated by the apostles to teach. Today, the apostles' teaching has been deposited in this book. Everything you need to know about God is found in this book. It's all deposited right here. We have the Bible, we can read the Bible. The Holy Spirit is our teacher but, he's not our only teacher. God still works through his designated teachers in the church to instruct us. And you find that throughout scripture, God has appointed teachers in every church. The Holy Spirit is our primary teacher, he's not our only teacher.
We need to be in a Bible believing church, sitting under the teaching of those whom God has appointed to teach his word. Without that, you are prone to scriptural and doctrinal error that will lead you into the wrong kind of living. Secondly, the local church provides encouragement when we become discouraged. Listen to me, I've been at this for more than 40 years, and I can tell you Satan's favorite tactic with Christians is to, first of all, isolate them from other believers and then attack them. Satan will do everything he can to keep Christians from either joining a church or becoming involved in a church, and he'll do everything he can to dislodge them from a church if they're already a part of one. By the way, that is why church fights and disputes are so lethal and dangerous.
I'm so glad First Baptist Church isn't plagued with church fights, and church dissension. Because I've seen in other churches what happens. When churches get embroiled in a fight, in a controversy. There are a lot of innocent people in the church that get destroyed by it. They get disillusioned, they fall away from the church. And when that happens, they are open game for Satan's attack. Satan knows if he can isolate a Christian from other Christian, then he can bombard him with temptation, with sickness, with marital discord, with family problems, and ultimately destroy that Christian. But, as somebody who said there's strength in numbers, really Solomon said that in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10. He said, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there's not another to lift him up".
Woe to the Christian who goes through the hardships of life alone without anyone to lift him up. And then look at the next verse, verse 12. "If one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. And a cord of three strands are not quickly torn apart". The more believers you have bound together, the harder it is to fight and isolate those Christians and destroy them. You see, when you're in a fellowship of believers like this, they cannot only pray for you when you're going through a difficult time, they can offer you an encouraging word. They can give you spiritual perspective. They can remind you that what you're going through though it's painful, it's not unusual, that other Christians are going through this, they can remind you that you have an enemy Satan who is using this to try to destroy you. We don't get any of that if we are isolated from other believers. A local church provides encouragement when we're discouraged. Thirdly, the church offers accountability when we wander from the faith. Accountability when we wander.
Years ago, my friend Bill O'Reilly wrote a best-selling book called "Who's Looking Out For You?" Now, the theme of Bill's book was he was looking out for you as he held government officials accountable for their actions. And there's certainly a sense in which that was true. But even Bill would be the first to admit his ability to look out for you and me was severely limited. Seated in his New York Studio, he had no way of knowing whether you or I were faithful to our mate. Whether we were holding on to bitterness instead of forgiving. Whether we were growing stale in our relationship with God, he had no way of knowing that, way up there in New York city. But fortunately, God has provided somebody to hold you accountable much closer to home, and it's your local church. One of the benefits of being in a church is they demand accountability, or at least should. Hebrews 13:17 says it this way, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account".
Ideally in a local church, godly leaders and members link arms together to provide a spiritual fence around your life, that will keep you from wandering from God's field into Satan's field. That's something you don't get when you're isolated and apart from a local church. Fourthly, what are the benefits of being a part of a local fellowship of believers? A church provides a more powerful witness to the world. A more powerful witness to the world. Now listen, there is no way I can overestimate how much our interpretation of Christianity has been interpreted by our western mindset. We many times read the Bible and interpret Christianity through the lens of our western civilization. And that's seen in this individual attitude, this attitude of individualism. It's the American idea. It's all about me. The power of the individual. It's about my needs. It's about my rights. It's all about me. And we see that in Christianity. How to discover my spiritual gift. How to define my purpose in life. How to feel excited about my relationship with God. It's all about me. But Christianity says, it's not just about me it's about us.
In 1 Corinthians 12:27, the apostle Paul writes, "Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it". Now again, we zero in on the word individual. Yeah, we're individuals. But Paul says, we're also a part of one body. We don't have time, you might want to read this, 1 Corinthians 12:14-22, remember how Paul compares the church to a physical body. We're not all one part. We're not all eyes. We're not all legs. We're not all feet. We're not all kidneys. We have, we're different parts in the body of Christ. The body of Christ is made up of different parts. But, we're still all a part of the same body. An eyeball by itself is absolutely useless, did you know that? You can put an eyeball out there, it can't see, it can't do anything. A hand, separate from the rest of the body has no power, it has no life to it. The life comes when those individual body parts are joined together.
And the same is true in our relationship with God. Yes, we are individually related to God through faith in Jesus Christ, but when we are joined together with other believers, the synergy that comes from Christians being united together is far greater than the sum of the individual parts of a church. There is something about a local community of believers, united together, joined together, that provides a more powerful witness for Jesus Christ, than the lives of individual Christians out there in any community. Together, they're more powerful than they are separate. Good grace says, "God has provided for me a church to be a part of". How does grace impact our thinking about the church? It should not only impact our thinking about membership, it ought to impact our thinking about attendance. Now here's what bad grace says. Bad grace says, "Because I live under grace and not the law, I can miss church as often as I want to". Good grace on the other hand says, "I should attend church as frequently as I can". People are wrong when they say that grace exempts them from any standard of behavior whatsoever.
I remember we had a Sunday school teacher one time who was gone as often as they were here. And we gently approached him and said, you know, your class is dwindling, you're hardly ever here at all. You know what were his first words, "Legalism! That's legalism. You can't hold me to any kind of standard because I'm under grace". People who use grace as an excuse to miss church as often as they're here, miss two simple principles you find in the scripture about our attendance in church. First of all, the truth of our responsibility toward other people. Instead of asking what's in it for me, we need to think about what difference does it make to others?
Listen to the words of Hebrews 10:23-25 that we read a few moments ago. The writer said, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds". That word stimulate in Greek is the word provoke, it literally means to irritate. Now here it's not in a negative way, it says, when we think about other believers, we ought to think what can I do to encourage that other person, to provoke them to pursue love and good deeds. And then look at verse 25, "Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, all the more, as you see the day drawing near".
Now notice the two things we're to do. We're to stimulate one another, that is encourage them to do more faith and good deeds, and we are to encourage one another. Give them an encouraging word. As the evil day draws more near. Now, the only way you can stimulate another Christian and encourage another Christian, is to be next to another Christian. To assemble together. That's why we come together. Our primary reason to come together is not just for us, it is for what it does to other people. Our attendance encourages other people. We need to think about our responsibility to others. We also, secondly, need to think about our responsibility toward ourselves. You know, if you grew up in a home with caring parents, while you lived at home, they probably insisted that you have a balanced meal. They gave you a curfew about when you needed to go to bed. If you were sick, they insisted you went to the doctor. But then came that time when you moved out of the house. You are free. You are no longer under their thumb. Hopefully, eventually you learned, that those things they insisted on were not for their benefit, but for yours.
You know, when it comes to this idea of attending church, I think a lot of Christians, people who are purveyors of bad grace, a lot of Christians act like college freshmen. "I'm out of the house. I'm no longer under law, I can do whatever I want to do". But hopefully they learn the lesson. Their coming church is not just for other people's benefit, it's for our own benefit as well. It's for our own spiritual health. By the way, the apostle Paul uses that same analogy in Galatians 4. He talks about the fact that before grace, we were held under the Old Testament law. The Old Testament law, filled with it's restrictions about diet, and dress, and everything you couldn't do on the sabbath day. The Bible says, now Paul says, you're no longer under the Old Testament teaching, you've been freed from those things. But not to live however you want to live.
Fortunately, or unfortunately many people have thrown out the baby with the bath water, especially when it comes to worship. Now we're not under those Old Testament restrictions, but there's a principle that transcends both the old and the New Testament. And that is, we need to gather together regularly for worship for our own spiritual health. Yes, the day has changed from Saturday to Sunday. And yes, the location has changed from the synagogue and temple to the church. But the principle is the same. We need to come together regularly, not just for the benefit of others, but for our own benefit as well. That's what good grace teaches. "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to faith and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day drawing near". That's good grace.