Non-Negotiables of the Church: Exalting Christ and Pursuing Holiness
Well, as I said this morning, we are going to be taking a way through the anatomy of the church in the next few weeks. And tonight I want to address that subject as well. I said to you this morning that the church is in an identity crisis and people are struggling to figure out what the church should be. It seems to me an unnecessary struggle because the Word of God is so explicit as it identifies the nature and the life and ministry of the church.
And as we think about what the church is to be, we're using as kind of an initial passage of Scripture the teaching of our Lord Jesus, in Matthew 6. And I would draw you back to Matthew 6 because I think here we are introduced to a concept that can help us to understand what is most essential in the life of the church.
You remember that in Chapter 6 in Verse 9, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to pray. And He said, "Pray, then in this way, 'Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.'" And we noted that the church brings Heaven down. God desires that His name be hallowed on earth as it is in Heaven, that His Kingdom come on earth as it does in Heaven. That is, that He be recognized as the sovereign ruler. And that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
How can that be? Where is God so hallowed? Where is His Kingdom advanced? Where is His will done? Only in one place, and that is in the church. No other human institution can fulfill that prayer. We have prayed that prayer and recited those verses and sung them as a song through the years. And it is an essential part of our duty as a church, to be the answer to that very plea.
When we pray, "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done," we're praying for the church to be everything that it can be. Because only in the church can it be on earth as it is in Heaven. And so we're talking about the life of a church as it brings Heaven down.
Now as we think about church, I've chosen the picture, which is New Testament picture of the body. And we're calling this little series, "the Anatomy of the Church." We're going back to look at what the Bible says about the church as a body, and kind of extending that metaphor.
I told you this morning, that in the epistle to Paul to the Ephesians and the collisions, in particular, both of those epistles, there is a great emphasis on the church as the Body of Christ. As we look at Christ as the head and the church as the body, we see a number of details that can come out of that kind of thinking.
In fact, we're expanding our thinking from what the Bible does, it just identifies the church as a body -- into sort of taking that body apart a little bit, dissecting it into four parts: the skeleton, the internal organs, or systems, the muscles, and the flesh. Each of those allows us to talk about life in the church in a biblical way.
We're looking, first of all, then at the skeleton of the Body of Christ, those things that give it its shape and its form. The skeleton, obviously, is absolutely essential and crucial to any kind of functioning body. As I said this morning, it's on the skeleton that all of the internal organs are hung, and all the muscles are attached, and finally, even the skin wraps around that framework. So at the very heart and soul of the Body of Christ, there are some non-negotiables. There are some framework elements, some basic foundational truths. They are the non-negotiables that are fundamental to the church being able to function.
And we have suggested to you that important as we think about that, is to think about the fact that the church, structurally at its heart and soul, at the very most important foundational element, brings Heaven down. We, as a church, fundamentally have the responsibility to bring Heaven down to earth. And that is essential to our life as a church.
We talked about that a little bit this morning, talking about the fact that there is, first of all, a requirement if we're going to bring Heaven down, that we understand what goes on up there. It is essential then, to the life of the church, to know what's going on in Heaven. What is it in Heaven that hallows God's name? What is it in Heaven that causes His Kingdom glory? What is it in Heaven that accomplishes His will? What is it that we're to be doing on earth that brings Heaven down?
We also suggested to you that the church should be heavenly, much more Heavenly than earthly, so that instead of unbelievers feeling comfortable here and finding the church relevant to their worldly life, that they ought to be uncomfortable and find the church completely transcendent, almost impossible for them to comprehend.
We're not, if we're biblical, trying to make the church as much like the world as possible, but as much different as possible. And so the effort on our part is not to find all of the cultural hot buttons, all of the cultural issues and try to adapt them to the church, but to make sure that the church is otherworldly, that it is everything but what they're used to experiencing in the world.
If we're going to then bring Heaven down, and the only place it can happen is in the church, if we're going to be what the church must be to fulfill this prayer, what does that mean? Well, first of all, it means the exaltation of God, and we dwelt on that this morning, that the first thing that we see when we look into Heaven the first time we glimpse into Heaven is that God is being worshiped all the time, unceasingly, God is the focus of Heaven. Everything focuses in on His thrown.
In fact, in Matthew 18, it tells us that God is sitting on the throne and the angles are always beholding the face of the Father. Jesus, Himself, said that. God is the preoccupation of Heaven. The exaltation of God and the worship of God is central to Heavenly activity.
Now let's go to a second point, stepping beyond what we talked about this morning, and one that certainly is corollary to that one, and one that's very obvious, Heaven also is engaged in the honor and the exaltation of Jesus Christ. Heaven is also engaged in the honor and the exaltation of Jesus Christ. In fact, the only way that we can come to worship God is through Jesus Christ.
We could never even begin to worship God unless we came to Him through Jesus Christ, though there is no access to God apart from Him. Listen to what it says in 1 Peter 2:5, "We are living stones. We are built up a spiritual house for a holy priesthood," then this, "to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ," through Jesus Christ.
The only acceptable sacrifice comes through Jesus Christ. And that's important to note because there might be people who would like to say, "We worship God. We worship God. We praise God. We give honor to God." But if they do not come in the name of and through the work of Jesus Christ, that's not the case. They do not honor God. There is no way to offer up spiritual sacrifices unto God, there's no way to honor and worship and praise God except through Jesus Christ.
In John 14, a very familiar statement by our Lord, which has been memorized, I think, by every Sunday school child, it says this, "I am the way, the truth, and the light," Jesus speaking, "No man comes unto the Father," what? "But by Me." Therefore, we can conclude that there is not only the necessity in the church to honor God, but to honor Christ.
In fact, all through the Scripture, the New Testament, Jesus Christ is presented as God, as one who is God, equal to God, the Father Himself in every sense. When you come into the Book of Revelation, turn to Chapter 5 for a moment, where we were briefly this morning, and you will find in Verse 6 that John is looking at the throne, the throne of God, which is described in Chapter 4.
"And he sees between the throne and the elders, a lamb standing as if slain," and obviously, that is Jesus Christ. "And this lamb comes out and takes the title deed to the earth, the seven-sealed scroll, out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken the book or the scroll, the four living creatures, the 24 elders fell down before the lamb, having each one a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints, and they sang a new song saying, 'Worthy,'" speaking of the lamb, "'art though to take the book, to break its seals for thou was slain and did purchase for God with thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And thou has made them to be a Kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth.'
"And I looked and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne. And the living creatures and the elders and the number of them was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, all saying with a loud voice, 'Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.'"
Clearly there we are told that Heaven is engaged in the worship of Jesus Christ, the exaltation of Jesus Christ, to a degree, equal to that of God. In fact, go down to Verse 13, again the praise, "To Him who sits on the throne and to the lamb be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.'"
And so if we are going to bring Heaven down, if we're going to do what is essential and foundational to the live of the church, we not only worship God, praise God, exalt God, but we do the same for the one who is God incarnate, the second member of the Trinity, the Lord, Jesus Christ, the one who is equally worthy of our praise.
In Colossians, turn to it if you will, the theme of that epistle is largely the glory of Jesus Christ. In Chapter 1 of Colossians, we are reminded how that in Verse 12, we are to "give thanks to God, the Father." Why? Because, "He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
And then this description of Christ, "He is the image," that is the duplicate, if you will, "of the invisible God." He is the prototokos of all creation. That is of all who've ever been created, He is the supreme one. "For by Him," that is Christ, "all things were created both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities." That is not only as He created all that is matter, all that is material in the universe, but all that is spiritual as well. "All things have been created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."
There you have Jesus Christ presented as the very creator Himself. Verse 18, "He is also head of the body of the church." He is the beginning, the prototokos, the premier one from the dead, "so that He, Himself might come to have first place in everything."
Verse 19, "It was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him." That is to say, "All the fullness of deity. Go over to Chapter 2. it says, "Christ," at the end of Verse 2, "Christ Himself," then Verse 3, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Down in Verse 9, "In Him, all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form." "In Him," Verse 10, "you have been made complete."
Paul is telling us in Colossians that Christ is the supreme one, worthy of all our praise, worthy of all our worship. And that's what's going on in Heaven even this moment as we speak. Heaven is preoccupied with the exaltation of Jesus Christ. Why? Because He is the creator God who created all material things and all spiritual beings. Because in Him dwells all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and the fullness of the deity bodily.
And thus, if we want to bring Heaven down, then we are concerned to exalt Jesus Christ, to preach Christ, to lift Christ up, to honor Him. Paul said to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11, he said in Verse 3, "I am afraid, lest as this serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ."
Boy, how true is that? How Christ has been pushed aside in the life of the church. Paul had that concern about the Corinthians, that they would leave the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. When the church meets together, Christ should be exalted. We should be singing hymns about Him. We should be offering prayers that honor and glorify Him. We should see Him revealed in Scripture, and bring to Him the praise of our hearts.
We want to echo what God said, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." In our world, I suppose some people might say, "It's hard to find people who don't believe in Jesus, at least in some Jesus." I don't know if you know this but Yasir Arafat, of the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, says that Jesus was his forerunner, the first Palestinian Freedom Fighter. (Laughter) Communist party leader, Gennadi Zyuganov calls Jesus, "the first communist," and a hero to him. None other than the Black Muslim leader, Louis Farrakhan, wants his followers to believe in Jesus as, "the black revolutionary Messiah.
Joan Campbell, general secretary of the apostate organization called The National Council of Churches, says about Jesus -- and this in a meeting with the Pope and 24 evangelical leaders -- she said, "Even with our diversity, we can respect each other as people who love Jesus." What Jesus? And what does that love mean?
At the Promise Keeper's rally, Bill McCartney, when asked for a definition of a Christian, responded with this, quote, "Anyone who loves Jesus." Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many others would say they love Jesus. That is reductionist Christianity. What does that mean?
Certainly, a world of Roman Catholics and Orthodox would say, "We love Jesus." More than ever in my life, the true Jesus needs to be affirmed and genuinely exalted in the church. There seem to be a lot of different Jesus, those made in the people's minds that are not in any way related to the true Jesus.
If there's anything that should be characteristic about the church, it should be that it's definitive about Jesus Christ, who He is, why He came, what He did in great specifics, and what is required of sinners in regard to Him.
When Paul preached Jesus, he preached Jesus crucified. Remember that? He said, "I am determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified," which meant that Paul preached Jesus in connection with preaching sin, because Christ was crucified for our sins. Is that not true? That's the whole point of the crucifixion. Paul preached sin and judgment and redemption and justification through Jesus Christ and the cross. He preached what was called "the foolishness of the cross," because to those that perish, it seems foolish. But to those who believe, it is the wisdom of God.
We make no apology. We preach Christ. We preach Christ crucified. We are here to lift up Jesus Christ. That's what's going on in Heaven. If you come to Grace Community Church, Christ will be exalted as Savior, as the one who died to save us from our sins, as the one who will judge sinners, as the one to whom all judgment has been committed. You will hear the truth about Jesus Christ, who He is, why He came, what He did.
There are some churches that don't want to preach that because they think that's offensive. And it is. That's why the Bible calls it, "the offense of the cross." We're not trying purposely to drive people away. We want to win them to Christ. But there's no real way to do that without preaching the cross.
We gather to honor Him. We gather to exalt Him. We gather to learn how to walk even as He walked. If we're gonna name Him as our Lord, we want to walk the way He walked. If we say we belong to Christ, it says in 1 John 5, that can be easily verified.
How can that be verified? Listen to what he says. 1 John 5:1, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments."
You can tell when someone knows Christ. They observe His commandments. They obey Him. They honor the Word of God. That's the evidence of conversion. Christ becomes of the focus of their life, not just incidental.
Look at Philippians 3, a passage you go back to again and again and again as you reference the work of Christ, Paul, spending all of his life as a legalistic Jew on the Damascus road he meets Christ. And in Verse 8, he says, "I count all things to be loss" -- Philippians 3:8 -- "all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ."
Paul found the pearl of great price and sold everything. He found the treasure hidden in the field and sold everything. He found that Christ was more valuable than anything, more valuable than everything. "In Christ," he says in Verse 9, "I received righteousness." In Verse 10, "I received the knowledge of God, power, resurrection power, sympathy in my suffering, purpose for living, eternal life," down through Verse 11.
He found everything in Christ, so much so that he was consumed with Christ. He said, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." And when in Verse 13, he says, "One thing I do" -- we ask, "What is that one thing?" "Well, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal." "What's your goal, Paul?" "Well, my goal is the same as the prize of the upward call." "What's the prize of the upward call?" "Christ likeness." When we're called up, we'll be made like Christ. That's the prize. And Paul says, "That's the goal right here. I want to be like Christ."
So the Galatians 4:19, he said, "I have birth pains until Christ is fully formed in you." That's the Christian life. It is pursuing Christ likeness. It is being changed in to His image, as 2 Corinthians put is, "By the Holy Spirit." Christ is the focus of our life. As Christians, we say for us to live is Christ.
I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live yet, not I, but Christ lives in me. He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. We are one with Christ. You really can't tell where we end and He starts. We are consumed with Jesus Christ.
As I've said to you in the past, I can walk into a church and tell you whether it's a place that Heaven is coming down. That is going to be very obvious. Are they worshiping God? Are they praising God? Are they glorifying God? Are they honoring Him? And are they doing the very same to His Son, the Lord, Jesus Christ? Is Christ, the true Christ, being honored?
If Christ is enough to satisfy God who said, "In Him, I am well please," he ought to be enough to satisfy us. To the church exalts God and exalts Christ.
The Dallas Morning News recently stated that one particular church was sort of charting a new course. And they stated it this way, "It is the desire of this church," quote, "to reach those who've become disenchanted with worship," to reach those who've become disenchanted with worship. Does that mean they've become disenchanted with Christ?
Paul met Christ on the Damascus road. But he wrote Philippians 3, 30 to 35 years later, and Christ was still his passion. Anybody who is disenchanted with worship is disenchanted with God, and disenchanted with Christ.
I agree with AW Tozer who said, "I can safely say on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for Heaven."
You better not be turned off by worship. That's what you're gonna spend forever doing. You better be looking forward to it. People who are turned off with worship aren't people who know God. We gather together to exalt God. We gather together to lift up Jesus Christ. We make no excuse for that. We have no shame about that. We find no other priority but that. That's the church. We are worshipers. We worship the living and true God and His son and our Savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ.
That's what the church does. That's what we are, true worshipers. And that brings Heaven down. Were you to step into Heaven today, you would immediately be caught up in unending and eternal praise to God and the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Well, let me give you a third point. There's another reality in Heaven. If you were to visit Heaven, you'd find something else is characteristic there. In Revelation, let me have you look at it, the last two chapters of Revelation, easy to find, just go to the end.
Revelation 21:27, this is all a description of Heaven, and an incredible one that it is. And in Verse 27, we read this about Heaven, "Nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life, because they are the ones who've had their sins removed." No unclean person, nothing unclean, no one practicing anything that abominates God, or dishonors Him, will ever enter into that place.
Look at Chapter 22, Verse 14 and 15. "Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and may enter by the gates into City." The only people who ever go in are those that have been purified, purged, cleansed. "Outside," Verse 15," are the dogs and the sorcerers and immoral persons and the murderers and idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying." All the sinners are outside. None can ever into that place.
And so thirdly, we can safely say that not only is Heaven the place where God is worshiped and Christ is exalted, but Heaven is a holy place. Heaven is a holy place. Toward the end of the epistle to the Hebrews, Chapter 12, we get a glimpse into Heaven. In fact, in Verse 22, it talks about "the Heavenly Jerusalem." And it says in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem, as Revelation calls it, there are myriads of angels, myriads of angels.
And then Verse 23, "And also the general assembly and church of the First Born enrolled in Heaven. And God, the judge of all, and the spirits of righteous men," look at this, made what? Perfect. You have to be perfect before you can go there. You have to be perfect before you can go there. Heaven is holy.
In Isaiah 6, when Isaiah got a glimpse of Heaven and he saw the Lord high and lifted up in majesty and sovereign glory, and he saw His train filling the temple, and then he heard the angles antiphonally cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is filled with His glory." And what he was saying there is that there is emanating from God a holy glory that is immeasurable without limit.
Matthew 5:48 prescribes for us the necessity for entering Heaven, "Be ye holy even as your Father in Heaven is holy." Or, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." We are called to perfection before we can ever enter Heaven. And that's the case. When you leave this world and enter Heaven, you will have been purged and cleansed from every sin, both positionally and practically, both forensically and actually.
In 1 Peter 1:15, "Be holy yourselves, also in all your behavior." Because it is written, "You shall be holy for I am holy." And what did the writer of Hebrews say? "Without holiness, no man will," what? "See the Lord, see God." Heaven is a holy place. Heaven is a pure place.
You want to bring Heaven down? Then the church has to be a holy place. The church cannot be an unholy place and bring Heaven down. Heaven is a holy place. And if we say, "Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven," and we mean that prayer, then the church worships God, exalts Christ, and pursues holiness. This is part of it.
Perhaps the most vivid illustration of this great truth is found in Matthew 18, and I would encourage you to turn to it, a familiar passage to many of us because it has such formidable teaching about the church. But I want you to notice Verse 15. This is the first time the church receives any specific instruction, Matthew 18. The church is mentioned as to its building in Matthew 16, when Jesus said, "I will build My church." But Matthew 18 is the first instruction to the church.
And when you come down to Verse 15, this is what you read, "If your brother sins go and reprove him in private. If he listens to you, you've won your brother." Now here's the first instruction for the church in this Chapter. Go back to Verse 5. We're told to open our arms and receive each other. And then immediately in Verse 6, "don't ever cause one of these little ones who believe in Me," that's a Christian in the church, "to stumble into sin. It would be better that a heavy millstone be hung around your neck and you be drowned in the depth of the sea."
In other words, if you ever lead another believer into sin, you would be better off to die a horrible death. You'd be better of dead. Very strong language. "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks." We expect the unregenerate world to cause Christians to sin. We don't expect the church to do that.
Later on down in Verse 10, "Don't despise one of these little ones. Don't look down on them." You have a tremendous responsibility. Open your arms to other believers. Hold them in high esteem. Do not lead them into sin. Why? Because you're concerned about the purity of the church. That's the first instruction to the church. "If one of them wanders off," in Verse 12, "like a sheep," and they wander off into some sin, "go and get them," like the shepherd who leaves the 99 on the mountain and goes and searches for the one that is straying.
The first instruction about the church that our Lord ever gave was concerned with the purity of the church. "We open our arms and receive every believer," Verse 5, "as if we were receiving Christ, treating them as pure because they are in dwelt by the living Christ." We never cause them to stumble into sin. We'd be better off dead. We never belittle or look down on one of them for whom the holy angels are so concerned. And when one of them strays into sin, we go and get him and bring him back
And look at Verse 14. "Thus, it is not the will of your Father who is," where? "In Heaven, that one of these little ones be devastated, destroyed, or perished." We have to take care of each other. Then we bring the concern of God down from Heaven.
Then you come to Verse 15. What happens when a believer does sin? We try to care for each other and love each other and hold each other up and not cause each other to stumble and open our arms to each other. But in spite of all of those efforts, we will sin. "And if your brother sins go and reprove him in private. If he listens to you, you've won your brother." If your brother sins, go and confront your brother. And that happens in our church. And it should happen.
I remember 27 years ago when I came to Grace and I was talking to some pastors, and I remember one in particular. And I said, "This is the in the Bible. This absolutely crystal clear. There is no way you can miss that verse it just says, 'if your brother sins go and reprove him in private,' that's what you're to do." And I said, "I want to teach our people to implement that in the church."
And he was horrified. He said, "I don't know of a single church in this country that I've ever heard of that does that. You'll empty the place." Well, that was when we had about 400 people and we didn't empty the place. I consulted with two or three other pastors, and each one of them told me that this was probably not a good thing to do. Their fear was that if you start doing that, you're gonna drive people away.
And my concern was not that, but rather that that's what the Scripture says, and that Christ wants a chaste virgin presented to Him, 2 Corinthians 11, and that we, according to Ephesians 5, to be bribed, it is without blemish, without spot, holy, and blameless. And we need to pursue holiness in the church and leave the results to God.
And it was also my conviction that people who really know the Lord hate sin. And they hate it most in themselves. And so we started to do it. And God has honored it. You can't ignore dealing with sin in a church and bring Heaven down. Heaven is a holy place. You have to deal with sin. You say, "Well, what if your brother doesn't listen?" Verse 16, "Take one or two more with you that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every fact may be confirmed." Now three of you go, two or three of you go and confront the sinner and hope that he repents.
But if he or she does not repent, then Verse 17, "If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church." I can remember some of those conversations. One of them was with a particular fellow that I knew. And he just said, "You can't do that. You can't tell the church about people's sin." I said, "But that's what it says." Is that hard to interpret? That's what it says. And that's what we have done. And you know that. Communion after communion through the years, we've done that. And it's not easy to do that, but it's right because the Lord wants a pure church.
And what if they don't listen to the church? What if after I've told you in that third step of discipline and you go and you try to pursue them and call them back from their sin and they still don't come? Then the fourth step, Verse 17, "If they refuse to listen even to the church, let them be to you as a Gentile, a pagan, and a tax collector." Now a tax collector was different then. (Laughter) Some of you are saying, "Not much." (Laughter)
But tax collectors then were Jews who bought tax franchises from the Roman government, which was occupying Israel, much to the horror of the Jews. And for a Jew to buy a Roman tax franchise and then take taxes out of his own people was the height of betrayal. It was one thing to be a Gentile, you were considered an outcast; but to be a traitor of your own people to become a tax gatherer was the scum of all scum.
And that's the point Jesus is saying, "If they still don't respond to the church, put them out. Tell them they're not welcome. They can't fellowship. They can't participate. They can't be a part." You see, the point of the church is not to collect as many sinners as you can and make them comfortable. The point is to so confront sin that sinners are very uncomfortable.
I remember having a conversation with a guy who was in one of those seeker-friendly churches. And I said, "If a person came to your church and was a practicing homosexual, engaged in homosexual lifestyle and you knew it, how long would it be before you would talk to him about that if you knew him?" "Oh, we'd want him to feel very comfortable," he responded. He was a staff member in that church. And he said, "It would probably be maybe two years before we would really feel like we wanted to address that."
Well my response to that was, "Then you don't understand the purity of the church, first of all. And secondly, I can't imagine a practicing homosexual coming to this church for two years." He's gonna come two weeks and say, "I don't need this," or get converted. But the confrontive nature of the message and dealing with sin should convict his heart, unless obviously, he is so obstinate and so hard-hearted that he wants to carry on some kind of hypocrisy.
But when you know there is sin, you deal with it, you confront it. And when you see if among believers -- hey, we understand sinners are gonna sin, those who are outside the covenant of God's salvation. We understand that, and we aren't trying to throw them out of the church. It's those Christians who want to live in a pattern of sin that leaven the lump. So when you go to one who claims to be a brother, who is a brother, and he won't repent, put him out. Maintain the purity of the church.
Jonathan Edwards long ago preached these words, "If you tolerate visible wickedness among your members, you greatly dishonor God." So the church has to be committed to holiness. Again, AW Tozer saw the trend, even in his day, back in the 1940s. He said, "There's a new cross coming on the scene," a new Gospel, he meant, "different than the old one." Listen to what he said. "The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach.
"The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts, but similarities. He seeks to key into public interest by showing that Christianity makes no unpleasant demands. Rather it offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be that very thing that Gospel offers, only the religious product is better."
He went on to say this, "The new Gospel doesn't slay the sinner, it redirects him. The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public. The philosophy back of this kind of thing may be sincere, but its sincerity doesn't save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross.
"The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends, and he was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended.
"The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard. And when it had finished its work, the man was no more." He goes on to say, "The race of Adam is under a death sentence. There is no communication that can tell a way to escape. God cannot approve any of the fruits of sin, however innocent they may appear, or beautiful to the eyes of men.
"And that evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world, it intersects it. In coming to Christ, we do not bring out old life up to a higher plane. We leave it at the cross. The corn of what must fall into the ground and die. We, who preach the Gospel, must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world.
"We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, or the world of sports, or modern education. We are not diplomats. We are prophets. And our message is not a compromise," I like this, "it is an ultimatum. God offers life, but not an improved old life. The life He offers is life out of death. It stands always on the far side of the cross. And whoever would posses it must pass under the rod.
"He must repudiate himself and concur in God's just sentence against him. What does this mean to the individual, the condemned man who would find life in Christ Jesus? How can this theology be translated into life? Simply, he must repent and believe. He must forsake his sins and go on to forsake himself. Let him cover nothing, defend nothing, excuse nothing. Let him not seek to make terms with God, but let him bow his head before the stroke of God's stern displeasure, and acknowledge himself worthy only to die," end quote.
Great words. We call people to a holy life. We call people to a narrow way. We call people to holiness, to obedience to God's Word, to hearing, believing, obeying the truth from the heart. That brings Heaven down.
Turn to Acts 5. This is a key illustration of this. And with this, we'll finish up. In Acts 5, a certain man named Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, you remember the story, had a piece of property and they sold it and they promised God they would give all the proceeds of the sale to the Lord. A lot of folks were doing that in the early church. And they wanted to get in on the praise, very selfish. But they did sell it, Verse 2, "kept back some of the price, and with his wife's full knowledge."
In other words, they promised to give it all. And then they got it and decided only to give a part of it. His wife agreed. And bringing a portion of it later at the apostles' feet. In the those days, the way they had the offering, the apostles stood in front, the people all paraded along and put their offering down at the apostles' feet. And he came by, waiting for the great applause that was going to come, that when he gave this great amount. It would have been in cash, of course, in coinage. And he would dump it there to the price of property being a significant amount.
And he was waiting for his great approval. And Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back some of the price of the land?" Boy, what a shock. "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? God didn't tell you to sell it. You didn't have to do that. God put no mandate on you.
"After it was sold, was it not under your control? Even after you sold it, you could have kept all the money. What was wrong was, you lied to the Holy Spirit. Why is that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God." And before the guy could answer, Verse 5, "As he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last." He just fell over dead.
Well, not exactly a seeker-friendly church. (Laughter) Why that wouldn't be that warm, non-judgmental, friendly, accepting group. And the result in Verse 5, "Great fear came upon all who heard of it." Well, that's the kind of a reputation a church ought to have. A church ought to be a place where everybody who knows anything about it, knows that they have a concern about dealing with sin.
I'll never forget the Baptist of Robert Logerst from here, not long before he died of AIDS. Robert was saved just months before his dead, after a lifetime of living at the very pinnacle, or at the very bottom, or whatever you chose of the homosexual movement. He was a part of planning group for the annual homosexual gay pride parade in Los Angeles. And Robert found out he was dying of AIDS. And he went to one of his homosexual partners and said, "I've gotta have help. I'm gonna die and I'm gonna face God. Where do I go?" I can't believe what he told me.
He said this guy told him, "There's this place called Grace Community Church. Go there." (Laughter) What do you tell a man overwhelmed with guilt and sin, facing death? I'm so glad that some people in the homosexual community know we deal with people who are concerned about their sin. He came here on a Sunday. He sat right over there in that section where John is, and he told me, he said, "You got up and I'd never been in this place, but you got up and you read the Psalm," like I do in the morning.
And I read the Psalm that talks about God being able to break the chains that bind men and liberate the captives. And he said, "I was overwhelmed with the reality that I had found the right place, where God could break the chains of my sin," just from reading that Psalm. Then he said to me, "Then you went on to preach and talk and talk. And I kept wishing you would be quiet (Laughter)and stop so I could get up there and talk to you about being freed. But," he said, "you just kept preaching and preaching." (Laughter)
"Finally," he said, "you stopped, and I came running to the front and right into the prayer room and said, 'I want God to break the chains of my sin and set me free.'" And he did. And he became a wonderful witness. In fact, the gay pride parade went by his apartment, part of their big march. And dozens of those people that had known him, came in there. And he had all the Gospel tracks to give them all and tell them all about Christ while he was sick in his bed.
I want this church to be known as a place where sin is dealt with seriously. If we're gonna bring Heaven down, we want to be a holy place, don't we? We want great fear to come upon all. Well, Verse 6, "The young men arose, covered him up. And after carrying him out, they buried him." They used the young men to do that 'cause they dig faster. (Laughter) You know what? They're out there. They dig his grave. They bury him. The Jews don't embalm, by the way, didn't embalm. So it was imperative to get him in there quick. And there elapsed an interval of three hours. It took them three hours.
Now I like this church. The church is long here. It's three hours later, church is still going on. (Laughter) There elapsed an interval of three hours and his wife came in. I don't know, maybe her hair dryer shorted out or something. (Laughter) But she made a grand entrance three hours late. She comes walking in. Peter says to her, and she's ready to receive the accolades of everybody, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price," kind of a casual service when the preacher talks directly to somebody who just came in the door.
"Oh," she said, "yes, that was the price." (Laughter) And Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and shall carry you out as well." Not exactly, "Welcome to our church." (Laughter) And immediately she fell dead at his feet and breathed her last.
God killed two people right there. And the young men came in; found her dead. It doesn't say so, and probably said, "Oh, brother," (Laughter)"another burial." Carried her out and buried her beside her husband. I imagine this had a great impact on the following Sunday's offering. (Laughter) In fact, through the years, I've suggested that the Lord might sort of repeat this. (Laughter) I don't know.
But look at Verse 11, here's the key. "And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things." Verse 13, "and none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in," what? "High esteem."
That should be how the world looks at the church. I don't want to go there. It's too Heavenly for me. I can't relate to the worship of God. I can't relate to the exaltation of Jesus Christ. And I'm not about to expose myself to that kind of concern for holiness.
The word in Jerusalem was this, "Don't join that place. People die in there. You gotta be real serious to go to that place." But I'll tell you something, when got began to convict sinners, they knew where to go. The children cannot be an unholy place. It must be a place with all its passion, perusing holiness.
Now go back to Matthew 18 and I'll conclude with a final look at this great section. In Matthew 18, we've gone down to Verse 15, you deal with sin one to one. Then you take two or three. Then you tell the church. Then you put them out and you say, "This is hard to do." It is. But notice Verse 18, "Truly I say to you," and here's the encouragement, because after Verse 17, anybody's gonna say, "That's difficult. That's hard to do. So immediately, this is what the text says, "Whatever you shall have bound on earth, shall have been bound," where? "In Heaven. And whatever you have loosed on earth shall have been loosed in Heaven."
You know what He's saying? Binding and loosing was a simple rabbinical little phrase. The rabbis would say, "If you repent of your sin, you're loose from it. If you don't, you're bound to it." That's pretty simple, isn't it? You're bound in sin, or you're loose from sin based upon repentance or non-repentance. And all that Jesus is saying is when you go to a person and they won't repent and you say to that person, "You are bound in your sin," whatever you bind on earth has already been bound, where? In Heaven. You're just agreeing with Heaven. You're bringing Heaven down.
Never is the church more like Heaven then when it deals with sin, then when it pursues holiness. And when you say to a person, "Because of your repentance you're loose from you're sin," you're only saying on earth what Heaven has already said.
Heaven knows. Heaven longs for that purity. Heaven wants sin to be confronted. Furthermore, Verse 19, "When you do this," it says, "it'll be done by My Father who's in Heaven," in the end of Verse 19. When you're doing this, God is at work in that discipline. And not only that, look at Verse 20. "Where two or three have gathered," when that discipline process starts with those two or three witnesses, because the person doesn't repent. When it starts at that point, "where two or three have gathered to confront that sin together in My name," what's the rest of it? "There am I."
Listen, when the church confronts sin, it is doing on earth what Heaven desires. God, Himself, comes down and moves. And Christ is in the midst. Never is the church more Heavenly than when it pursues holiness. How can we get churches to understand? Why is the fact a reality that churches will not do this? If we want to be a church the way God wants his church, if we want to be the Body of Christ and get the skeleton in the right place, we have to be preoccupied with worshiping God, exalting Christ, and pursuing holiness. Understand?
That's absolutely at the heart and soul of the church. And yet today we find the worship of God being replaced by entertainment and cultural relevance. The exaltation of Christ as the crucified One who gave His life for sinners, that kind of confrontational Gospel being set aside for something more palatable and marketable, ad a fear, a fear of actually confronting sin, because somebody might be offended.
So let's offend God by allowing his church to be so stained. That is sad. Well, there are two more in this skeleton and I'll save those for next Sunday, the honoring of God's Word, and submission to spiritual authority. Let's pray.
Father, just some very practical and important issues to be reminded of. Thank You. Thank You that we don't have to fuss and stumble and wander around and imagine how Your church should be, because it's absolutely crystal clear. We want Your name hallowed here. We want Your Kingdom to come. We want Your will to be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. We want the framework, the foundational, non-negotiable characteristics of this church to be what You would desire, the worship of You, the exaltation of Christ, and the pursuit of holiness. Thank You for the years of faithfulness that this congregation has lived and manifested these great truths. Continue, Lord, to bless us and keep us faithful to what You've revealed in Your Word, that we might truly be Your church, Your body, following the head who is Jesus Christ in whose name we pray, Amen.
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