2 Posts from March 2010

A Contagious Ministry Has an Absence of Legalism

A church that is strong in grace is attractive for many reasons, not the least of which is the absence of legalism.

Just as most non-Christians don’t understand the good news of Christ, most Christians do not understand the remarkable reality of grace. I know of no activities more exhausting and less rewarding than those of Christians attempting to please the people around them by maintaining impossible legalistic demands. What a tragic trap, and the majority of believers are caught in it.

When will we ever learn? Grace has set us free! That message streams throughout the sermons and personal testimonies of the apostle Paul.

Author Steve Brown says that some people think legalistic churches are as bad as grace-oriented churches. But, as Brown puts it, the two are no more alike than a taxidermist and a veterinarian. Some would claim, “Well, either way you get your dog back!” True, but in one setting your dog collects dust and never moves. In the other, he’s busy barking and eating and jumping . . . he’s ALIVE! He’s the real thing! The point? Let’s choose to be veterinarians. Let’s determine that our churches will be places of grace.

A church of grace is alive, positive, joyful, anticipating God’s work, willing to risk, free of judgmentalism . . . but make no mistake—the church of grace is not free of holiness. There’s a vast difference.

Once people have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, we need to release them. Release them into the magnificent freedom that grace provides. I don’t mean leave them alone without biblical instruction or guidance. I mean, rather, don’t smother them with a boatload of non-biblical rules and rigid regulations that put them on probation. Don’t lock them up in some holding tank until they “get their lives straightened out.” Rules about what to wear, what to look like, what to eat and drink, what entertainment to enjoy, what movie-ratings Jesus would watch . . . . Please. That’s a straitjacket of religious bondage! That’s not a contagious place. It’s a frightening place. It’s bondage!

The day a church stops being strong in grace is the day the church loses its magnetism. Truth sets people free, remember?


A Contagious Ministry Is a Place of Grace

When considering church growth, we must think strategically . . . we must preach creatively . . . and our worship must connect. Absolutely. But we must also be careful. A marketing mentality and a consumer mind-set have no business in the church of Jesus Christ. By that I mean, Jesus is NOT a brand . . . human thinking does NOT guide God’s work . . . and the church is NOT a corporation. The church of Jesus Christ is a spiritual entity, guided by the Lord through the precepts of His Word.

If we sacrifice the essentials of teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer on the altar of strategy, creativity, entertainment, and “relevancy,” we have abandoned the main reasons the church exists. We should build on those essentials, not attempt to replace them.

In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul underscored the principles of a contagious church. He began chapter two with a command that provides a church environment that is both biblical and attractive:
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:1)
From the verb, be strong, we glean this distinctive for a contagious church: It is always necessary to be strong in grace. That sounds simple, but it will be one of the most difficult principles to apply in a consumerist culture.

Where does the application of this principle begin? With church leaders. Paul could write this command because he himself exemplified it. He proclaimed grace. He promoted grace. His message was the gospel of grace. He modeled grace. He relied on grace. Paul never forgot the importance of God’s unmerited favor in his own life . . . and it permeated his entire ministry (Romans 3:23–25; Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:4–7).

Isn’t it amazing that this former legalistic Pharisee—this violent man whose life was once characterized by making sure that Christians were wiped out—was stopped in his tracks by grace? As I’ve studied the life of Paul, I find grace woven like a silver thread through the colorful tapestry of his ministry. Paul became the preeminent spokesman for grace.

Paul’s message offers the good news of grace to the lost. Imagine the impact our churches would have on our communities if each Christian were firmly committed to sharing the gospel of God’s great grace once a week with someone who expresses a need. The lost need to hear how they can cross the bridge from a life filled with emptiness and guilt and shame to a life flowing with mercy and peace and forgiveness . . . all because of His grace. We help build this bridge when we lovingly and patiently communicate the gospel.

You don’t need a seminary degree. You don’t have to know a lot of the religious vocabulary or even the nuances of theology. In your own authentic, honest, and unguarded manner, simply share with people what Christ has done for you. Who knows? It may not be long before you will know the joy of leading a lost person from a dark dungeon of death across the bridge to the liberating hope of new life in Christ.

How exciting . . . how contagious!