If you missed this morning then here are some summary notes of our learning. We will upload the audio at some point as well.
Who Are We as the People of God?
Baptists distinctives? Any clues as to what they are?…
Anyone care 🙂
Purpose here is not to try and ‘baptistise you’. More about ‘who we are’
Struggling to Find Identity as teen
Describe – 5 Identities I ‘tried on’ to try and find me…
Most of us go thru identity issues in our teen years as we try to figure out who we are. It’s a natural part of life. Very few people are secure enough in themselves that they can just roll thru life (and anyone that secure will usually get teased to death by the other kids who can’t stand to see someone who has their life together and then finish up with identity issues anyway)
There I was – a teenage kid – just trying to figure out who I was and who I was going to be and it seemed like I found it very hard to be content being me.
Church & Identity
This morning as we come to reflect on who we are as a church I think we can see similar forces at play. You don’t have to look too far to see all sorts of influences shaping the identity of churches and it happens when we aren’t secure in our own identity – when we don’t know who we already are and who we are supposed to be.
Churches so often look around and try to imitate the church down the road that seems cooler, that seems more spiritual, that seems to have more people. Classically, Aussie churches try to make themselves into mini-hillsongs, rather than just asking how can we be the best version of ourselves.
I’m sure plenty of you have seen churches following the latest trends trying to be cool and it looks bad – it looks embarrassing. It often says ‘we don’t know who we are – can someone please tell us’
So this morning shortly we will come to the question – of who are we as the church? And out of that we will be able to discuss ‘so what do we need to do?’
But before we do we need to review:
– We are part of a much bigger story. As we read Eph 1 we saw that we, as the church have been part of God’s plan right from the beginning of time.
– The church is the most basic unit of the Christian faith – that there is very little in the Bible about my relationship with God – but a lot about our relationship with God. The focus is ‘us’ not ‘me.’
– Following Jesus is a teamsport. You can’t do it alone.
– Most importantly – We said last week that if we don’t place the church in the broader context of the establishment of God’s kingdom then it just doesn’t make sense. It looks like an odd bunch of religious people doing religious things, but for no greater purpose. But if the purpose of the church is to participate in the establishment of the kingdom of God then our activities make more sense.
– Jesus is recorded as speaking just twice about church – but spoke all the time of God’s kingdom. The ‘good news’ Jesus came to bring was that God’s kingdom was imminent.
In essence – to a persecuted Jewish people – ‘things are gonna change around here – because the king is starting to take charge’. No one really knew what he meant, but that was his basic message. And this is at the core of the good news – the king is coming and he is making things right. He is renewing everything. But not as you think… Because they envisioned a mighty battle and a king taking charge.
Instead it looked like this…
So Jesus came firstly to establish God’s kingdom – to show and teach and demonstrate to people what it looks like we live life God’s way – what a world is like when God is in charge.
And out of this goal the church was birthed.
And its not that the church is incidental or accidental. It’s anything but. When it comes to the establishment of his kingdom the church is central. Its non-negotiable. The church is the primary means by which God’s rule is implemented on earth.
But… but… the church is not an end in itself. And when we make it one we create an idol.
Howard Synder – In Liberating he says we are to become kingdom people rather than church people. He says this:
“Kingdom people seek first the kingdom of God and its justice. Church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church. Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church. Kingdom people work to see the church change the world.
It’s a whole different focus. It’s a completely different paradigm and it affects everything.
We said last week that we are going to use Ephesians as a text in which to anchor our focus on the church because:
a) its written to a church – a specific group of people
b) its about God’s plans for ‘the church’ as an expression of his kingdom
c) it gives substance to how the church is supposed to work – there is a theological framing as well as some very practical advice.
If Jesus is the head of the church which is his body then who are we.
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 (see the language of kingdoms and powers again) All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
So there’s a ‘that was then’ picture, but Paul goes on.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
So – we were living in darkness and driven purely by our own desires – but Jesus has changed all of that. He has saved us, given us purpose + things to do and Paul goes to say he has welded us into God’s bigger family.
Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
So – that’s like the theory part of things – Jesus’ purpose was creating a people for himself – and here’s how it works out
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Again there are some descriptions in there of who we are now as the people of God so we don’t need to be chasing around trying to find our identity.
So in this passage we see several statements about the identity of the church:
a) It is a community of sinners saved by grace – it is a group of people who recognise their lack of ability to repair their own lives and who have called on God to save them.
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
Then verse 4…
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
So at baseline level – and I know this one is obvious – but I say it because it may not be to all – the church is made of people who know they can’t save themselves.
They are people who have all said to God ‘I have screwed up – I am screwed up – I cannot fix this – I need you to fix things up’. I need you to get me out of here because I am stuck…
Snatched! – 4 WDing – digging, pushing, branches etc or a snatch strap – someone else just pulls you out.
If you’re a Christian – if you’ve been ‘snatched’ from death to life – then you are already part of God’s church.
Remember we spoke of the universal church?
By contrast – If you haven’t done that – if you haven’t asked God to save you – then you aren’t in ‘the church’ – no matter how long you’ve been coming. No matter how much you do around the place.
You might be a part of the community, but you aren’t part of ‘the church’…
Bottom line = only those who know they don’t deserve it get a gig
I hope that is obvious and if it’s not then re-read this chapter.
Secondly – the church is made up of people who are now living under God’s reign.
In the first part of this chapter we read:
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts.
Paul says – there was a time when you were simply driven by your internal passions and you didn’t have another voice calling you to a different way. You didn’t even have a desire for a different way.
This is all past tense.
Now we have been saved to live a different life – v 10 says a life of good deeds God prepared in advance for us to do.
Question – can you look back over your life and observe changes in the way you live because you follow Christ? Points in your life where you have willingly said ‘although this does not come naturally to me I will live like this out of submission to Christ’?
The ear-ring story
The idea of a monarch with absolute unbridled control who can tell us what to do is somewhat foreign to us. The idea of giving up our rights to whatever want is hard for us.
I was thinking marriage might get close…
Seriously if we are the church then both individually and corporately we should be becoming more and more like Christ in behaviour and personality.
So a commitment to godly living is a not negotiable if you want to be part of the church.
It simply isn’t possible to say ‘I know God says ‘x’, but I am going to do ‘y’’ Because we have already said ‘we do what he says’.
Can you see the obvious and challenging questions this raises?
What if someone is part of the church and decides they want to live a life contrary to scripture? How do we as a community respond to that?
c) Finally – when we enter the church we become part of a community, a family and we are expected to be contributing members.
We cease to be outsiders looking in
This is not a ‘passive membership’ that means nothing. I can join my local library and all that means is that at my convenience I can go and borrow a book. But its all when it suits me.
We can treat church like that, but if you do then you have missed the point.
Membership of the church (and I’m not talking ‘specific local church membership – but church big picture) comes with both privilege and responsibility.
Its like spiritual PR – permanent residency in the kingdom of God. Only its easier to get!
Paul says 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21
We have been grafted in along with the other gentiles and we are now just as much a part.
It is very much like receiving citizenship. Once you are a citizen of Oz you get health care like everyone else, you get a first home owners grant, you get centrelink benefits.
We give you a pair of thongs and a singlet, a copy of the Castle and we teach you how to talk properly. We give you a new name – Bernie, Maggie, Ricky, Gus, Jerry, Billy…
Paul is saying when it comes to being part of the family – if you’re saved by grace and committed to living with Christ as king then you are in and all the benefits of being in relationship with God are ours.
Peter says it similarly
1 Peter 2 says this: 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
So what does it mean if we are a mob of people
a) saved by grace with nothing to offer
b) seeking to live a holy life under Jesus rule
c) committed to one another in love
I think it means that if we allow those things to shape our identity then there is a chance that people will see some evidence of the kingdom of God.
People will see God’s kingdom in action.