I. Pursue the kingdom
The church is to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. First and foremost this means the proclamation of the gospel. This prompts the question, “what is the gospel?” The answer is that Jesus Christ is the gospel. He is the good news. This requires some unpacking. Adam’s sin plunged all creation into darkness: he and Eve forsook covenant with the Lord and made covenant with the devil. This is seen in their eating of a covenant meal with the devil–the forbidden fruit. Although Eve sinned first, Adam sinned worst–he was the covenant head of creation, particularly mankind. Thus, when he sinned, sin was imputed to mankind. Man was reckoned as a sinner and died. Each person is born with Adam as their covenant head and therefore each person is born into sin, is a sinner and therefore is subject to the wrath of God, which causes death. When a person is saved, they change covenant heads, covenant representatives, from Adam to Christ. Jesus was born, not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit–he had no sin imputed to him by birth. He lived a sinless life, even to the point of persecution, suffering, and dying on the cross. Moreover, on the cross he was subject to the infinite wrath of God the Father for sin. The covenant says that the soul that sins must die. Jesus had no sin, but as the new covenant representative, he was liable for the debts incurred previously by man and men. Therefore, he took the punishment required under the covenant–not just death of the body, but to be subject to the full wrath of the Father for sin. Having died on our behalf the terms of the covenant are fulfilled–righteousness, perfect righteousness has been procured, and punishment, perfect punishment has been as well. To show that this is the case, that wrath has been propitiated, Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection proves that Jesus life and death were sufficient to satisfy the demands of God laid out in covenant. This is truly good news. It means that when Christ becomes our covenant representative, we are accounted as having lived as he lived and died to sin. It means that where sin and death had been imputed to us, now righteousness and life are imputed to us. But the good news does not end there. Jesus reigns. He ascended into heaven and sat down on his throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Contrary to popular culture, a king does not sit on his throne to pass the time. He sits on his throne in order to judge and to reign. He sends out envoys and listens to petitions. For the believer, this too is good news the messianic king is also the Lord of Glory. He intercedes for us and sends the Holy Spirit to indwell us in order that we are sealed unto redemption and sanctified unto holiness. The preaching of the gospel is the proclamation that although men have broken the covenant through sin, mercy and salvation are possible by repenting of sin and trusting in the Savior, Jesus Christ. We preach the Law to show men their sin, the wrath of God to show them their great danger, and the Gospel to show them their one and only Hope.
In addition, the church is to pursue the kingdom through works of love.
The first work of love is upward–the worship of the Lord. Through praise and testimony, song and prayer, the church declares the glory of God and his worthiness. This can only take place because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the in breathing of the Word of God. These are combined and breathed out in choruses of mighty praises to the Lord. Robust, spiritual worship in church, in private, and in public is a mighty witness of the glory of God and his kingdom.
The second work of love is inward–we are to love one another. This love is directed inwardly to the body of Christ. We are told we must love the Lord more than our families in order to be worthy of him. This implies that we also should love our Christian brethren more than we love our unsaved family members. Why? Because whatever we do for the least of the brethren we do for the Lord. This love we have for one another is an active love. It means that we look upon one another and desire the best for one another. We want the best the Lord has for each other. Likewise, we desire to give the best things to one another. This can take many forms: encouragement to the discouraged and sorrowing, counsel to the troubled, rebuke and reproof to those who willfully sin, etc. We seek good and not evil for each other. We have open and honest affection for one another. We esteem others as being better than ourselves. Much more could be stated, but the essence is simple–we desire good for one another. This love and affection then becomes a witness to the salvation wrought by the Lord–a witness that cannot be denied.
The third work of love is outward–acts of mercy and grace. The recipients of these acts of love are unbelievers. God gives rain to the just and the unjust–he pours out mercy and grace in many ways to all people, and is especially watchful for poor, the oppressed, widows, and orphans. That the church should do likewise is obvious and is seen ministries that provide clean drinking water, help clean up and rebuild after calamities, food pantries, child care, counseling, and many other ways. The limiting factor in all such ministries is the giving of the members of congregations–not just money, but time and effort as well. Typically 20% of the people give 80% of the time and money–this means that the church is only 20% as capable as it should be.
In all these ways: the gospel; worship; fellowship; and ministry, the church pursues the kingdom of God.
II. Train disciples
The great commission states that we are to teach everything the Lord has commanded. We are to teach everything the Lord has taught. This means more than evangelizing–it means teaching the whole counsel of the Word of God. Most Christians today are woefully ignorant of the Word of God. Few really know the gospel, fewer still know the law or are ready to give an answer to those who question the faith. These things should not be! The fault of this lies squarely with pastors. Many, if not most, preach a verse here a verse there, never systematically preaching and teaching through books of the bible. We do not teach the congregation how to study the bible. We do not hold them accountable to read the bible. We do not show how doctrine comes from scripture. This produces a separation of classes of Christian–pastors and preachers who are taught how to study the bible and are learned in the doctrines of God–and everyone else who are not. This separation, as it exists today, is a form of Nicolaitanism. Not every man is called to preach and pastor, but all need to know how to wield the sword of the Spirit.
In the Old Testament, we must teach the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. The Law (Genesis to Deuteronomy) teaches us the standard by which God judges. All of it is important, and in different ways all of it remains in effect. What is called the ceremonial law was fulfilled by Christ. We do not sacrifice sin offerings, guilt offerings, peace offerings, etc. But we need to know what these offerings were about: how they foreshadowed Christ; how they were fulfilled in Christ. The same is true of all the Law. The Psalms teach us the worship songs of the bible. A crying need in the church today is return to singing the Psalms–this requires those gifted by God to put the words to new music. In the Psalms we see the cry of the afflicted and the victorious petitioning and praising the Lord. The Prophets teach us how to make the call for national repentance. They teach us about the awful judgments and awesome mercy of the Lord.
In the New Testament, we must teach the Gospels and Acts, the Epistles, and the book of the Revelation. The Gospels teach us about Christ’s great work of salvation. Acts shows us the work of the Holy Spirit in the church. The Epistles teach doctrine, practical aspects of ministry, Christian living, and much, much more. The book of the Revelation is that great worship service in heaven that declares the victory of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Through these things we teach disciples how to work out their salvation, to work out their sanctification in their lives. We teach them how to rightly understand and apply the Word of God to their lives. This is not a cookie cutter approach. It is much like learning to play the piano. Musical notation must be learned, but the point is not the notation. Chords must be learned, but the point is not the chords. Melody, harmony, the mechanics of the keyboard and pedals all must be learned. But the end goal is to become free to make beautiful music.
Discipleship includes learning many elementary things that are of vital importance. But the end goal is to become free to live a life of vibrant worship to the glory of God.
III. Guard the Faith
Guarding the faith means ensuring that the gospel we proclaim is in fact the gospel of the bible. It means the doctrine we teach is the doctrine of the bible. The way in which we worship is the worship set forth in the bible. It is binding and loosing, as Jesus said:
- Baptism declares that a person is now loosed from sin and is bound to the righteousness of Christ
- The Lord’s Supper declares that a person is in fellowship with Christ and with His Church
When a member of a church is accused of sin, the leadership of the church is to see that Christ’s instruction found in Matthew 18 is followed. The first goal is to determine the truth of the accusation. If it is true, then the goal at each subsequent stage is repentance, restoration, and reconciliation. If the person(s) will not repent, then the church is bound to exclude them from fellowship–turning them over to the affliction of the world and the devil.
This is a difficult thing to do, yet it is necessary. The church in America today is weak because it is filled with those who profess Christ, but do not confess Christ. When the unbelieving outnumber the believing then the salt begins losing its savor and is on its way to worthlessness.
IV. Guard the Culture
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines culture as “the way of life of a particular people, esp. as shown in their ordinary behavior and habits, their attitudes toward each other, and their moral and religious beliefs.” It is related to the Latin word cultus or religion. As the cult (or religion) goes, so goes the culture. Culture is a collective entity, the corresponding entity for individuals is worldview.
The church is to guard the culture. This is done by the bold, public proclamation of all aspects of the Scriptures as they relate to life. The bible speaks of many subjects related to man and society: politics, economics, morality, law, justice, judgment, taxation, crime and punishment, wisdom, knowledge, prudence, righteousness, etc. Every culture has given answers to big questions: what is the origin of everything?; epistemology–what do we know and how do we know it?; metaphysics–what is the true nature of things?; what is right and wrong?; and so on. The only true answers to these questions are found in God’s revelation–the bible. The church is to bring the word of God to bear upon the culture–to confront the culture–this is the prophetic role of the church. The church is to bring the ministry of the gospel to bear upon the culture–this is the priestly role of the church. The church is proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ and train up men who submit to the Lordship of Christ–this is the kingly role of the church.
When a culture slides into decadence and debauchery it is always because the church has failed to be salt and light in the culture first. This failure precedes the failure in the culture by generations because cultural traditions slowly die out. The very fact that things become traditions rather than living, vibrant norms is because the faith and faithfulness have previously died in the church. It is a failure to obey the Great Commission. The Great Commission calls us to make disciples, followers of Jesus Christ and citizens of the kingdom. In America we have apostate mainline churches which reject Christ and the bible; we have loveless churches which rigorously train their aging members in the word of God but make no converts; we have evangelical churches which strive vigorously to get emotional professions, but do not retain converts even for a year; but we have precious few churches which both make converts and train them to be disciples of King Jesus. And even fewer that actually show people how the bible actually shows us how to live in all aspects. Couple this with a general attitude of defeatism and it is a recipe for the wrath of God upon the nation–not because of the sins of the heathen, but because of the rebellion of those who call themselves Christian. Many today are burying their coin in ground because they view the work to be done as far too harsh and hard. Many will be cast out crying “Lord! Lord!”.
The church must return to being salt (confronting the sin of the culture) and light (showing the righteousness, mercy, and grace of Christ) to the culture.
The church is to be salt and light. It does this by:
- Pursuing the kingdom
- Training disciples
- Guarding the faith
- Guarding the culture