By Pastor Jonny McGreevy
Have you ever been tempted to give up on church?
The truth is even pastors face that kind of temptation from time to time. We can all tend to think that perhaps it would be easier to just follow Jesus solo.
The reason of course is that the church (whatever church) is full of people and people are full of sin. Maybe you’ve experienced some of that sin first hand? Maybe you’ve been let down? Maybe you bear the wounds? It’s true that there is no perfect church this side of glory, only a church that is being perfected in God’s mercy!
Whenever I face those moments of inevitable disillusionment with my brothers and sisters in Jesus; I like to remind myself of that powerful resurrection story found John 11, where Jesus raises His friend Lazarus from the tomb. Lazarus has been in the grave for four days and his situation seems beyond all hope. But we are told that with just one simple command Jesus calls Him out of death into resurrection life! It’s a marvellous illustration of what Christ does in our lives as He speaks to us by the powerful word of His gospel and calls us out of captivity and bondage to sin; and into liberty and a whole new life. But John 11 tells us that the resurrection of Lazarus is not necessarily where God’s miraculous work ends:
John 11:44 - The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
In other words, Jesus began this particular miracle of grace but it was the job of the crowd, (Lazarus’ loved ones) to carry it on to completion. They had to actually undo the work of death, and help their brother discard its vestiges and stench, and begin walk in the life and liberty that was now his. This to me is the perfect picture of what church is really all about.
As Christians we are those, who like Lazarus, have responded to Jesus’ life-giving call. However it is more than possible that our spiritual progress is still being hindered by the clothing of our sin and former spiritual slumber. We can be bound by all kinds of things; our circumstances, our relationships, the constraints of health or finances, the pangs of deep doubt, the weight of spiritual depression, the devastating impact of besetting sin and any number of idolatrous distractions. All these kinds of things can act as grave clothes; pulling on us and restricting us from the living the new life Christ has now called us into by His resurrection power.
It’s for this very reason that God has ordained for us to belong to the community of His people. The church is where we get to shed our grave clothes. It’s within the safety of our spiritual family that we can expose the stench of our wounds, and receive the healing balm of the gospel. It is amongst God’s people, as we covenant together, that we can begin to find the blessings and security of losing those bonds of death and walking in newness of life.
The truth is we will make way more progress at becoming the people God wants us to be, when we do it together; when we strive to impact each other’s lives - that is church in the truest biblical sense.
So let’s not give up on it, but instead strive to fulfil our commitments to one another, and serve each other with the life-giving grace we have received in Jesus.