By Joel A. Hess –
Want to be a hard worker? There are plenty of institutions, mentors, and businesses that can enable you to be a productive member of society better than the church. Want to be a good person? There are plenty of equally effective religions and philosophies that can encourage and equip people to be good neighbor loving people. Listen to Jordan Peterson or Jocko Willink. Want to make the world a better place? Same, although good luck. Want to have a spiritual experience that puts you on cloud nine? Listen to Car Seat Headrest alone in the middle of the canyons of southern Utah while wondering if you will die the next day traversing paths not made for man. OK, maybe I’m a little weak.
Want to hear that you are completely forgiven and given eternal life for free despite who you are or what you have done? Well, that kind of gold can only be given at a Christian church. Or so that should be the case!
It is so tempting for churches to be so focused on making better people, growing their clientele, and perfecting their well-oiled machine that they forgot to give people the one thing that no one else in the world can give: complete grace by the blood of Christ!
In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the youngest son learned that “nobody gave him anything” (Luke 15:16). The world is like that. Outside of the father’s house, no one will give you anything. Everything is performance based. Everything is dog eat dog. Everything is pressure to succeed, tasks to accomplish, work for a living. The youngest son came back because he knew that His father’s house was different, even though he never imagined that dad would give him his sonship back for free.
People come to church under the pressure of the world, from a week of working for a living, from a life of being told what to do and how to do it or else. Yet how often we make the church into another labor camp. The preacher offers a whole bunch of more guidance, more steps to success, more rungs on the ladder, more tasks to improve yourself, your community, God’s church. And we think that if we tag it with Bible verses and throw in the name of Jesus here and there that we are preaching God’s Word.
Yet it is Jesus who tells the youngest son and you and me, “Come to me all you who are wearied and heavy laden, I will give you rest.” Only the Christian church can give people something the world cannot and does not give: Rest! Pardon! Release! Peace!
In Jesus’ parable about the workers in the field, Matthew 20, He tells the story of a landowner hiring guys to work in his field. He goes to the town picks up workers every couple of hours. Even right before closing time, he hires some guys. When the end of the day comes, he pays everyone the same. The point of the story is that the owner didn’t give anyone what they deserved. We are all the last worker who really didn’t do squat for God’s business, yet God gives us freely everything. It’s not about our labor. It’s about God ridiculous, liberal, bad business, grace! God is a terrible farmer, a terrible business owner, a terrible judge. He gives everything to the worthless, and he pardons the guilty!
Jesus’ church has one thing to give that the world does not and cannot give: complete pardon and eternal life. If you don’t leave church with this gift bought by Christ, you didn’t go to church; you went to something else.