What is your/my church doing in the community, or around the world, that could not be done just as well by a good civic club made up of non-Christians?
I was first challenged by such a question perhaps 30 years ago by the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee, a pastor and radio preacher. The question he asked was something like this. “What is your church doing that could not be done if God was dead?”
Wow! What a question! Questions like those make me a bit uncomfortable, how about you? I believe that for far to many churches the answer would be “Not much”.
For about 14 1/2 years I lived in a small north Texas town. There was one place in town to eat breakfast on Saturday morning, a post office, hardware store, grocery store, police office, and a couple of gas stations. It was one of those little communities where you knew the mayor and the chief of police and most everyone else on a first name basis. Our little town also had Baptist churches, a church of Christ, a Methodist church, a Catholic church, and a Pentecostal church. (There might have been others but I remember those)
We also had an American Legion Post and a VFW club. To be fair, some of the members of those churches were also active in either the VFW or the American Legion. The truth is that those beer guzzling old veterans and their wives did far more benevolent works in our community than all the churches combined. That was true for at least the first 10 years I lived there.
If someone’s house burned it was them, not the church folks who would show up to pitch in and help rebuild and give money for new appliances, furniture and bedding. Those two clubs simply put the churches to shame when it came to actually doing something tangible in the community. Thankfully, because one new pastor came to town who actually loved the people, that changed quickly, first in his church and then it spread to the others.
There is great value in giving a cup of water to a thirsty man in Jesus’ stead. We must do those sorts of things to be right and on track with God. His command is that we remember the down trodden, widows, orphans, and prisoners. Those acts of love are not options.
What then can the church do that a civic club can’t?
Christians, as God’s agents in the world, can offer dead men life!
You see, those men and women who are not Christians have one great need and that need is LIFE! A person who does not have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ does not need better morals, or even to become a regular attender at church on Sunday. No, his needs are far greater than improvement, he a problem only the gospel of Christ can solve.
Non-Christians are spiritually dead.
There is only one remedy for death and that is life. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians said this of those Christians before they trusted Christ and were saved.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1)
But God, being rich in mercy,because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. (Ephesians 2:4,5)
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him. (Colossians 2:13)
In response to the gospel God makes the dead live.
God’s greatest work is not to make bad men good enough for heaven but to make dead men live. Ephesians 2 above says “God…made us alive together with Christ“. There is no other cure for death. Just as certainly as Jesus called Lazareth from the tomb he calls ungodly men to life today. Jesus said of himself, “I am the resurrection and the life..” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.
Jesus himself is eternal life.
Eternal life is not something Jesus gives to repentant sinners outside of himself. There is no spiritual (eternal) life outside of Him. What He gives is Himself. He is LIFE!
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27
Feed the poor? YES! Care for the needy? YES! Visit and care for widows, orphans, and prisoners? YES! But we must also be saying to the dead in our communities “LIVE!”.
The gospel of Christ is good news because it announces that Christ has died for you, that God’s righteousness can be yours, and that your body will be changed from mortal to immortality, and you will forever be God’s own dear child. No civic club can do this work. It is reserved for those who by relationship and sonship have become ambassadors for a heavenly kingdom whose orders is to herald the good news “Jesus Saves, Jesus Saves, come and live forever with Him”.