The First Essential Function of a Biblical Church

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The “body” metaphor for the church tells us that the Head (Jesus) is in Heaven, while the body (the church) is down here, on the earth. Though detached geographically, the body, based on the immediate, experiential wishes of the Head, is busily “doing the stuff” of the family business of ruling over this earth—loving, standing firm for truth, and proclaiming the good news of the gospel as opportunities arise. This is God’s plan for us.

In other words, in the biblical vision of the church as a body, all the members of it are swinging the two-edged sword of the word of God, out in the world every day, wherever they go, and in whatever they do. They won’t be able to keep from it; it will be totally unconscious! “Who, me?,” they will say.

“Yes, you!,” will be the reply of those with whom they are interacting. Others will see what God is doing in them, while the church sees something far different in themselves—a complete inability to ever do what God is asking them to do (Romans 3:10-12)! When the church really “sees” this truth with spiritual eyes (and it is true of all churches), and then eagerly embraces it, because that sin was completely forgiven at the cross, this vision will become reality—a dangerous church whose attack on the gates of Hell cannot be stopped! 

That’s when the church will have entered into the life of “walking by faith” and the experience of “(I)t is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith” (Galatians 2:20). This “entering in” does not come when I openly confess my PROBLEMS (which I naturally feel are really someone else’s fault, even God’s, in the case of a calamity or natural tragedy), but confessing openly my OWN SINmy failure to not do what God tells me to do in His law and therefore be “good.”  

This habit of facing and repenting for my own sin, the only sin I can do anything about, and then knowing it is fully and finally forgiven, is living in transparency and not in the pretense of hiding my sin from others. It is the first of the two essential truths in which the church will function, before it becomes the unstoppable weapon that will one day rule over the earth.

John describes this walk of repentance and faith as “walking in the light:” “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:6-9).

In essence, John is saying that the evidence of being genuinely born again and experiencing God’s forgiveness right now is this; do I openly “walk in the light” with my brothers and sisters and openly confess the sin that that light exposes? 

Amazingly, it is those of us who are Pharisees, trying to “do everything right,” to “make right decisions,” and to “obey God,” who struggle with this idea the most, not the “sinful non-Christians.” One brother, who is just learning these truths with me, is a plumber and recently had as an apprentice an ex-con, who had gotten out of prison and was trying to walk the straight and narrow, but hadn’t as yet stumbled onto Christianity, and he was curios. He asked my friend “What do you and your Christian friends do when you get together?” My friend’s answer of, “Oh, we just confess our sins and pray for one another,” brought a shocking reply from this non-Christian: “Could I come?” 

It is we Pharisees who explain away, rationalize, ignore, minimize or refuse to see our sins, not the “real” sinners like this ex-con. I gossip, slander and put down others when they are not present, and always initially feel disagreements are their fault and never mine. Oh, “I forgive them as Jesus told me to do, but I never forget.” I do forget, however, that God’s forgiveness of me, of which mine is to imitate, is this: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).

Do we believe that our sin is truly forgiven and forgotten by God? It is off the table, no longer an issue with Him. Because of the cross, God is no longer a God of judgment; now only a God of love. My SIN does not make Him love and approve of me LESS; My OBEDIENCE does not make Him love and approve of me MORE. His love needle is always pegged on “full.”

Living by faith is believing that fact to be true! The evidence that we indeed are walking this way is our eagerness to embrace the reality of our specific sins against specific people because they are forgiven, forgotten and irrelevant to God. If they remain unacknowledged and unrepented of, they only hurt me and those whom I have sinned against.

When the church body meets corporately, this is the opportunity to be transparent and not pretentious about our sins. As James 5:16 tells us, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” 

This is not a counseling session where the client (parishioner) confesses to the counselor (pastor or other “professional”). No, the phrase “to one another” implies an equality in sinfulness: “As it is written, ‘Not even one person is righteous. No one understands. No one searches for God. All have turned away. They have become completely worthless. No one shows kindness, not even one person’”! (Romans 3:10-12). 

After reading these verses, who can say, “I just don’t have any sin to confess.” I may not yet be aware of it, but I know that it is there! Nothing is more pitiful than a blind, unaware Pharisee like me, blissfully oblivious to my own sin, which is glaringly obvious to all who know me. I can only pray that God would show me just how these verses in Romans 3 are true of me, because they are!

Satan’s only weapon since the cross is lying and deceit. He is a master at using our addiction to the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to trick us into turning life-giving repentance of our sin into a work we can do, a performance, a ladder to climb to earn favor with God. But remember, we already have that favor. We are already at the top of the ladder. No climbing left! Relax and wait. When the Spirit opens our eyes we won’t be able not to repent!

Next week the second essential truth the church must know—the members at biblical church meetings are participants and not spectators.

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  1. Jerry Buccola says:

    Robert, thank you for helping me see the difference between confessing my problems, and confessing my sins. Excellent!

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