I have recently spent some time with a good friend of mine with whom I went to church some years ago. He grew up in the Catholic Church, and, as a young man, was seriously in pursuit of God, even briefly going to seminary to become a priest. He eventually found a vital, living relationship with Jesus, married an evangelical girl, and they have spent the last 35 years as very committed, church-going believers, raising five wonderful children who are now all adults.
As we talked recently, he shared with me how he has noticed that his evangelical church isn’t meeting his spiritual needs. So, he and his wife started visiting the American Orthodox Church, a church more similar to his childhood Catholic church. He loves the solid, biblical liturgy that reminds participants of biblical truths on a weekly basis.
My friend probably realized, even though he did not say so, that his previous church had fallen into the trap of encouraging the congregation to do its very best to obey God’s law, wherever it is found, in either Old or New Testaments. For example, Peter tells us, “…give all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8).
Peter tells us to “give all diligence” to demonstrate in our lives this list of excellent qualities, that just happen to be a very close facsimile to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. However, there is always a tendency for the earnest pastor to conclude his sermon with the obligatory “application,”’ or “challenge” to now “go and do likewise.”
But, notice the “diligence” Peter implores us to apply is not for us “to do” something. Look at verse 9: “For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.”
Peter says that if we lack these wonderful qualities, this fruit of the Spirit, we have simply “forgotten we are forgiven.” The “diligence” he exhorts us to apply is exactly why my friend is attending the Orthodox church. He is being diligent to be sure to go to a church where he will be reminded, weekly, again and again, that Jesus has already done all the work for my forgiveness at the cross.
My friend already knows that he is totally and finally, not only forgiven, but loved with a love that does not even remember his sins anymore (Jeremiah 31:34)! The church’s job is never to let us forget that fact.
Christianity is not an individual sport. You can’t play it by yourself, like golf. We are all created to be a part of a church that is Christ’s body on the earth. This is a tangible expression of God “in whom we live and move and have our being,” as Paul tells the Athenians on Mars’ Hill in Acts 17:28.
We cannot live daily in the fellowship of the church today, because the culture in which we live makes that difficult. So. we must learn to be self-starters who can remind ourselves, every morning, “to remember,” i.e., have our own liturgy we can recite to do so. We can find one we like or create our own. Here is mine:
“Father, I pray that today you would open the eyes of my heart so I can see 1.) there are no boundaries to Your limitless, unconditional love for me, and 2.) the depths of my total depravity. Then, as I experience that love today, 3.) may I sincerely repent of that wickedness that You have shown me.
“Today, may that same love You have for me as Your little child, now fill my heart as I attack the day. Wherever I go, whoever I meet and whatever I do today, You will be there, living and loving through me, and giving me peace and joy in the process!
“You and I are extending Your kingdom today. You are the treasure; I am but the vessel that contains it; and together, we are dangerous! Wherever You go, as You live in me, Your kingdom is there. The very Gates of Hell cannot stop our attack, and Your rule is extended. Do it, today, Lord! Amen.”
What if all sincere, earnest Christians began each day with a liturgical prayer like this? The statements are true; they represent the gospel and the kingdom. Remembering them daily and thinking about what is being prayed, will change their hearts, and thus, change the world!
I am convinced that the wine of the gospel being presented in a church will ultimately produce the wineskin of structure that holds that wine. What will that structure be? Next week!