A disturbing number of American churches are either statistically plateaued or declining. My denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, is as aggressively evangelistic as any other denomination and yet most of our churches fall into that category. And, if we are honest, many of the churches that are growing are doing so simply by attracting people from other churches. It is rare today to see a church that is growing by reaching the lost and is having a genuine impact on its community. And this should not be. We as individuals are meant to be significant. In the same way, churches are meant to be significant; reaching the lost, discipling the saved and impacting the kingdom of darkness in the name of our Savior and Lord. It is hard to argue that the American church is healthy.
Denominations and church growth experts spend their time trying to figure out what is wrong and what we can do about it. The solution many have come to is often called the “purpose-driven” model. To that concept (if not to every application of it) I say amen. It is apparent that many churches have forgotten why we exist and what we are here to accomplish. We are not social clubs or educational societies. Churches are not institutions to be maintained and promoted. We are the Body of Christ; his hands and feet in this world. We are the army of God; soldiers serving the King to advance the Kingdom. If churches have forgotten that they need to reconnect with their God-given purpose. If we have become concerned with entertaining people than advancing the Kingdom, more concerned with growing the church than growing the Kingdom, then we need to be reminded of the marching orders God gave us in the Great Commission. We need to remember our purpose and be driven by it.
What disturbs me, though, is the idea some have that it is our job to determine what the purpose of our church is. We are told to work together to determine a purpose statement that is unique to our church, then develop objectives and goals to help us reach that purpose. It is not our right to determine the purpose of our lives or our churches. That has already been set by our Lord and our duty is to obey him.
We are trying to discern a pattern in the way that God works through his people, how he displays his glorious power through them. As we begin this process, I would ask you to consider an important question. How did God work in scripture? Is there a single time you can think of in which God came to a people and told them they needed to clarify their purpose, form a focus group to discuss their objectives and goals and move toward the purpose they had agreed on. I see a different pattern. It seems to me that God’s purpose is revealed from him rather than decided by human efforts.
We are studying the pattern for becoming a Significant Servant, someone who accomplish eternal ministry in this life. God means his children to be significant, to make a difference. You are not meant to squander your life in temporal pursuits, but to invest your life in the things of God and see an eternal return on that investment. But how? How do we get there? In the last chapter, I spelled out a pattern in the way God works that I have seen as I have studied the Word of God. Today, we will begin looking at the first step.
Noah was just going about his work, living his life as a good man in an evil world on the day that God appeared to him. He had no idea what God was doing in the world. Then, God spoke. “I am about to judge this evil world.” God revealed his purpose to Noah, that he was about to bring a worldwide flood to destroy the wicked world and start over. The purpose of God was revealed to Noah. Noah did not figure it out through his own creativity or innovative thought. God told him what he was about to do.
Abraham was going about his business when God suddenly appeared and told him that he had a unique purpose for his life. This childless man was going to be the father of God’s chosen people. In fact, he would be the father of many nations. God would bless him and through him he would bless the world. This was not some grandiose scheme worked up in the heart of Abraham while he was living in
Moses was a shepherd in the
God told Joseph that he intended for him to rule. God revealed his purposes to Joshua, to give him and the people he led the
Here is the significant point. God’s purposes were revealed, not discerned. God did not ask people to develop purpose statements. He revealed his purposes to them and asked them to fall in line with that. Step one toward Significant Service is to yield to the purposes that God has revealed. We have to go to God’s word and see those great purposes which God has revealed that guide all his dealings with mankind. We also have to seek God until his purposes for our lives and churches are made clear. It is a clear and consistent pattern in God’s Word. God’s purposes are revealed to man not discerned by man.
Perhaps it is a semantic distinction. I know that proponents of purpose-driven lives and churches would agree that it is the purposes of God that are to guide us. But I think we sometimes forget this. It is not our job to figure out the course of our lives or to figure out how we can accomplish great things for God. It is our duty to seek, through the Word and the ministry of the Spirit, to figure what God’s purposes and plans are to yield ourselves to them. The great acts of God’s power all started in the heart of God not in the mind of man.
In this chapter, we will look at the importance of yielding our lives to the purposes of God. Then, we will study what the Bible says about the purposes of God. It is important to realize that this is step one in the process of becoming Significant Servants of God. It does not good to go on to step two, or three, or four or five if we do not do what is required in step one. This is fundamental to biblical Christianity.
An American Heresy
I believe that American Christianity has developed a mutated form of the true faith, a uniquely American false Christianity. Perhaps it is in evidence in other parts of the world, as well. But it has nearly taken over the mindset of American Christianity. We have developed the false idea that God exists to help you find personal happiness and fulfillment as you seek to accomplish your purposes in life.
Human beings live their lives for certain temporal purposes. We want to be happy and fulfilled – common sentiments which are not inherently sinful. But we tend to devote our lives to seeking certain things which we think will help us achieve that purpose – happiness and fulfillment. We seek money and the things that money buys because we buy into the greed and materialism that has so dominated the American mindset. You can only truly be happy if you have the luxuries and comforts that everyone else has, right? We seek ways of making our lives comfortable; free from pain, hurt and suffering in any way. We tend to believe we have the right to expect easy, enjoyable and pain-free lives. We also seek lives of pleasure and fun. Ask 100 people walking down the street what they want out of life and you will get a preponderance of answers that can be translated something like this, “I just want to have fund and be happy.” Our entertainment industry is one of the largest in the land and we honor celebrities regardless of how little they do to be worthy of that honor. Finally, we seek control over our own lives and often over the lives of those around us. These are basic human purposes: a life of happiness and fulfillment marked by prosperity, ease, fun and control.
Here’s where we have diverted from the faith revealed in scriptures. We have created a Christian faith designed to help people achieve their human goals. The High Priestess of American False Religion (Oprah Winfrey) said once on her show that all religions have the same goal; they want to help us figure out how to be happy. If it were just Oprah, that would be no big deal. But there is a whole wing of the Christian church which is devoted to the teaching that the heart of God is to make us healthy and wealthy. God exists to help us find earthly wealth and health – to make us happy here on earth. One Christian (?) bestseller promises “Your Best Life Now.” And even in evangelical churches, we often present Christianity as if it is God’s way for you to find happiness and fulfillment here on earth. Essentially, in this model, God is the wind in our sails, helping us to be what we want to be, do what we want to do and achieve what we want to achieve. Regardless of how widespread this concept is, it is still false.
The Essence of True Christianity
We have missed the sine qua non of biblical Christianity. God is not here to help us fulfill our purposes and goals. He calls us to die to self and yield our lives to his purposes. I fear that sometimes we read scripture with blinders on, not seeing the hard, harsh truths that are often revealed there. We ignore the parts about loving our enemies, about not worrying about anything, about rejoicing always. And we ignore the hard truth that those that Jesus calls to eternal life he first calls to death. There is no salvation, no sanctification, no abundant life and no spiritual power until we die.
Do you think I am making this up? Perhaps you remember what Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” There is no way to have the life of God without dying to the life we had without God. Matthew 10:38 reinforces the thought and makes it clear that this is fundamental to our faith. “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” There is no Christian option which avoids deny oneself and following Christ in death.
In our natural condition, we seek the joys and pleasures, the passions and desires of this world. In the American False Religion, we maintain that God wants to help us achieve these earthly passions. But when we look at Galatians 5:24, we see a very different picture. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” God does not sanctify and satisfy the flesh and its desires. He crucifies them. Galatians 6:14 says, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The Christian does not seek the rewards of, the approval of or the pleasures of this world. The world is crucified to us and we are crucified to the world. We reject the treasures of earth for those in heaven. Instead of insisting on ease and comfort, we willingly endure hardship to serve the eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ. We no longer settle for the pleasures of this world but seek something higher and more noble, the glory of God. And when you submit to Christ and his purposes you no longer seek the power and control that those in this world crave. The call to Christ is a call to abandon the purposes of life that have been our focus so that we can embrace the purposes that God has set for us. You cannot experience the life of God until you turn from the life you had without him.
Romans 12:1-2 spells out clearly what God wants from us. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” What do you know about the sacrifices of the Old Testament? The sacrifice was slaughtered and burned on the altar. That is the call of God on us – to lay down our lives as sacrifices to him. We are dead to sin, to the world, to life without God.
But we are not like the Old Testament sacrifices. We are not dead animals, we are living sacrifices. We lay down our lives as sacrifices and we receive the life of Christ. We are transformed into new beings by the life that Jesus Christ gives us. Galatians 2:20 builds on this concept. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We have been crucified, but we are not dead. Jesus Christ now lives in us. Every time I baptized, I quote Romans 6:4. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” We die to self, crucified with Christ on the cross and then are raised to walk a new life, a life of obedience to the purposes of the Father.
So, my friend, have you experienced that which is demanded in the New Testament? Have you died with Christ, died to the world and its passions, to sin and the flesh? Have you been raised to a new life in which the glory of God and his purposes drive your life? There are no blessings, no powers, no spiritual growth promised to anyone but those who die with Christ and then deny themselves daily to follow him. Please do not listen to the false teachings of American false religion that tells you that you can have the blessing and power of God to serve your own purposes. It just doesn’t work that way.
What are the purposes of God? Come back next time and we will examine those.