Monday, June 26, 2006

Why Pursue Regenerate Church Membership (Part 3: To Prepare Members for Heaven)

Over the past week we have been considering a number of reasons why local churches and church leaders should be concerned to pursue a membership comprised of Christians giving evidence of true repentance and faith. We've seen that the advantages of pursuing a regenerate chuch membership are many, enhancing the corporate life and witness of the church (part 1) and the joy and fruitfulness of the pastor (part 2).

In this post, we consider how pursuing a church comprised of born again members fosters the holiness of those members. Personal holiness is a call placed on the lives of all God's people. And the pursuit of holiness is aided by fellowship with others of the same mind and spirit.

1. A regenerate church membership helps members awaken to righteousness. The Apostle Paul commands the church at Corinth to "awaken to righteousness and do not sin" (1 Cor. 15:34). Why did Paul issue such a call? Interestingly enough, because he recognizes that there were those in the church that "do not have the knowledge of God." In other words, unregenerate members were causing a kind of spiritual and moral stupor to set in on the church, and this was a matter of "shame" for the church. Working to be sure that those who are members of the church are people with a saving knowledge of God should help to awaken church members to true righteousness in Christ.

2. A regenerate church membership helps members pursue personal holiness. The Lord's high priestly prayer includes a petition that His followers be kept out of or unspotted by the world, sanctified by the word of truth (John 17:14-17). The Lord's prayer is reiterated by apostolic commands to separate from the world (2 Cor. 6:14-17) and to walk in the light of holiness (Eph. 5:7-12). These apostolic instructions and the Lord's prayer are fulfilled in part by the separation between darkness and light that these passages call for, and in part by the way individual church members spur other church members "to put off the old man... and put on the new man" of righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:8-11; Titus 2).

3. A regenerate church membership helps individual members to "shine as lights in the world." That's Paul's goal for calling the Philippians to be "children of God wihtout fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation," that they "shine as lights in the world" among that lost generation (Phil. 2:15). Shining as lights in our generation is our calling as well. The church corporately and individual Christians illumine their surroundings more effectively when unclouded by the poor "witness" of "professing Christians". Being indiscriminate about church membership is aking to hiding our light from the world, placing it under a basket through carelessness or indifference. Rather, we should "let our light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

4. A regenerate church membership helps individual members prepare for heaven. I really despise that cliche that says, "Don't be so heavenly minded you're of no earthly good." It's flatly unbiblical; the scriptures instruct us in precisely the opposite way. We're no earthly good unless we're heavenly minded! If a person is raised with Christ, they should seek those things above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. They are to set their minds on heavenly things, not earthly, because their lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:1-3). But the unregenerate does not have such a life. He can't help but be earthly minded (1 Cor. 2:14). Prayerfully pursuing a regenerate membership should aid in helping everyone to look heavenward, to prepare for the coming of the Lord, to anticipate individually and collectively seeing our Great God and Savior face to face. How often have we been distracted from this blessed hope because heaven has not been our focus? How often have we given ourselves over to petty temporal, earthly matters instead of engaging in warfare and refusing to be entangled with the affairs of this world (2 Tim. 2:4)? How often have we failed to progress in holiness because we have not kept before us the hope of seeing him and being like Him (1 John 3:2,3)? May we be better fitted for heaven through an increasingly pure church.

5. A regenerate church membership better prepares individual Christians for suffering. The apostle Peter tells us that the consequence of doing good and living a holy life is sometimes suffering. To suffering we were called because "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps..." (1 Peter 2:20-25). Perhaps the weakest aspect of the church today is its unwillingness to suffer, its desire to avoid suffering at all costs and to justify it with a false gospel of health and wealth. Peter says, "to this (suffering for doing good) you were called" (1 Pet. 2:21a). Removing the leaven from our Christian lives likely increases the odds of suffering. But removing the leaven is part of what prepares us for suffering as we "commit our sould to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (1 Pet. 5:19).

We should desire a regenerate church membership because it will help individual Christians to prosper in holiness, to shine as lights in a dark world, to endure hardship and suffering like a good soldier, and to long and look for heaven with a pure heart. When a significant proportion of our members are unexamined for a saving knowledge and experience of the gospel, many of our flock will have their lights dimmed, their gaze lowered, and their hearts attached to this world. For the blessing of individual members, let's pursue a regenerate church.

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