This is admittedly a difficult question to answer because we may have different ways of describing what the church actually is. Is it the church you attend or used to attend? Is it where you watch online now? Are you and your fellow Christians the church? Is it the collective of Christians dispersed around the world? Is it your small group?
It’s really all of them of course, but how we experience and think about the church isn’t always the same. We can leave a church we used to attend and find a new one, but somehow we’ve never really left the church, or started going to one. We just changed locations, Pastors, and the group of people we hang out with. In any case, our relationship with the Church really matters, because some of the most important things in life can only be experienced through the church.
Think about it this way: Having a relationship with God, means you’ll interact with the scripture that talks about Him and the church that represents Him.
All three of these go together. Unfortunately, a growing trend is to just have a relationship with God and read scripture, without having a relationship with the Church. This is not only impractical, but impossible!
In a different article, I made the argument that you can’t be close to God, and distant from the church. The main question I asked was: “What would you say if I told you that one of the greatest indicators of your faith is your relationship with the church?” It may be surprising to think this way, especially as interest in the church by the next generation wanes, church-hurts abound, and people leave the church but somehow not their faith.
What I’d like to do is briefly discuss a few ways that being a part of the church is not only beneficial but necessary for us as we grow in our relationship with God.
Here are four reasons why the Church is pivotal to your relationship with God.
1. The Church is where the world finds hope.
You don’t have to look far to see that the world is a hopeless place.
Despite the abundance of shiny distractions in the form of stuff, beautiful vacation spots, public acclaim, and notoriety, the world does not satisfy. Ask anyone who has it all —but who does not have Christ— and they’ll tell you they feel like they really have nothing. Whether rich or poor, lots of stuff or broke, millions of followers or only a few, the same end awaits them all – death. While this may seem like a macabre way of starting off this list, it’s also the most important one. The greatest message the church can give to the world is that eternal life is possible, but can only be found by having faith in Christ.
In one of Jesus’ most famous encounters with His disciples, He asks them two pivotal questions in Matthew 16:13 & 15:
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And “Who do you say I am?”
Two related, but very different questions. Should they believe what people say about Jesus, or will they come to their own conclusion? And similarly, will they believe what everyone else says about death’s finality, or will they come to the same conclusion that Jesus does, that there is life after through Him? Peter and the disciples make their own decision and boldly proclaim: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
As if we needed any more encouragement, Jesus states that based on the confession of Peter and the disciples that Jesus is truly the Messiah, that Hades — death itself — has no chance against Christ’s church! He says it this way:
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And“I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:17-18
The way by which God communicates this hope to the world is through the church. It’s where we are reminded of this hope, we’re equipped with this hope, and where this message of hope comes from.
Key Truth: The church is how Christ gives hope to the world.
2. The Church is where you find your purpose.
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:11-25
It’s a convicting, possibly scary thing to think about, but did you know that people will see you before they see God?
Jesus is not walking around down here anymore, which means that one of the primary ways people will see God is when they see the people that represent Him. All of us are walking advertisements for our God — whether good or bad. We can represent Him well and live “such good lives” that even people who don’t believe in God will somehow praise God, become interested in Him, or join your church because of the person that you are.
The reverse is also true though; if we allow sin to run rampant in our lives and we look no different than the people who are not a part of the church, we broadcast that we really are not any different from any other religion, way of life, or philosophy. We do not attract people to God with how we live.
Key Truth: The Church is where you find purpose, and your purpose is to be Christ-like in a world that does not look anything like Christ.
3. The Church is where you give back what’s been given.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Everything belongs to God. You and I didn’t create anything in it that wouldn’t exist without God. He created you, all physical and immaterial things, and therefore He is the owner of all — we’re just managers.
Money in the church can be a difficult subject to tackle, but your relationship with money may be the greatest indicator of what your relationship with the church and with God looks like. If we take the approach that our money is ours we believe we own it. It’s ours to spend, save, give away, hoard, or keep from others as we’d like. But if we take the approach that it belongs to God alongside everything else — our time, our relationships, our giftings, our bodies, etc — then we see it as on loan from God, we’re just managers.
These two approaches are polar opposites when it comes to what God has given us, and these two attitudes towards the resources God has given us will produce very different actions.
If we have the attitude of owning our resources, we think about saving them, keeping them from others, spending them as we see fit, and so on — all for our benefit. The actions that go along with ownership are for the benefit of ourselves.
But if we have the attitude of managing our resources, we think about saving them for the next generation, sharing them with others, spending them so others receive a benefit, and so on — where they benefit others. The actions that go along with management are for the glory of God and for the benefit of not just ourselves, but others.
Key Truth: The Church is where you give back what’s been given so that others can thank God for giving them you.
4. The Church is where you’re forgiven and can forgive.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:22-35
The point that Jesus makes about forgiveness is simple — you don’t keep track. It would be weird to forgive someone and then shout “You’re on forgiveness number 68, you only have 9 times left, choose wisely!” Seriously who would keep score? No one does, not even God. Scripture says that He removes our sin as far as the East is from the West and that He is eager and willing to forgive if we seek Him out.
The idea behind forgiveness isn’t a record of wrongs, but making sure we have the right relationship, with God and with others. The Church is the perfect place to be reminded of this, to model it with others, to receive forgiveness an unlimited amount of times.
Let me say it this way: Perhaps the most radical thing you can do is to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it — in fact, that’s the approach God took with us
Key Truth: The Church is where you’re reminded that you’re forgiven, and where you’re encouraged to respond to others with forgiveness.
There is no place in society other than the Church where all of the ideas and lifestyles are not only encouraged, but can be applied in a healthy way. Of course, there are people in the church that don’t embody all of these, but many are striving to do so, and you may be one of them. There is no healthy way to do any or all of these without the body of Christ spurring us on to do so. All of these, without the motivation to glorify God and to do them for the good of others, can become vain and conceited ways of living a morally good life. But with Christ, practiced with other Christians, they become a steadfast and influential way of showing God’s Kingdom on Earth right now.
So, if you’ve walked away from the church, I hope you’ll return, as it’s the only place you can experience a taste of what God’s Kingdom is like, and see how the people of God represent Him. The Church is where God will one day return to hopefully say to us all “Well done, good and faithful servants.”