Your Path to Church Matters

how we get inThe typical half-flustered and half-asleep church goer often arrives at his or her pew without a second thought about why he or she are at church. Some walk into church because their conscience feels guilty. Others attend to please grandma; others come because they wish to be known as good, decent people. Though million of men and women walk in and out of church on Sunday, few know how they got to their seat. They only know that they belong to the things of God. But does the journey into God’s kingdom matter?

The famed writer and pastor John Bunyan explored this very topic in his fascinating book, Pilgrim’s Progress. After several misadventures with enemy soldiers, touring volcanoes, and deceitful guides, the heroine of the story, Christian, climbs the hill of Calvary and experiences liberation from the burden of his sin as he lays claim to the life death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. A few paragraphs later the grandeur of Christian’s salvation is disturbed by two men tumbling over the wall of salvation onto the narrow path that Christian had been following to the celestial city. Startled to see men coming to Christendom without having first passed through the narrow gate, Christian asks the men “But will this not be counted a sin, against the Lord of the City to which are traveling, thus; we will have violated his revealed will?” After some going back and forth, the two men final tell Christian, “What matters which way we get in? if we are in, we are in. You came in by the gate, and we came in tumbling over the wall: how is your condition better than ours ?”

This is not just the question of Bunyan. This question remains central to Jude and to all of Scripture. Does is matter how we got to church? Can we come to God on our own terms and sidestep Calvary? Can we meaningfully, truthfully, and rightfully claim to be followers of Jesus apart from repentance and faith? Are we right to think that years of faithful pew sitting can hoist us over the wall of salvation into heaven? Can we expect to be with Jesus simply because we were nice, decent people, who voted republican, wore ties, and tithed a little bit? Or do we have to be able to point to a moment during which we laid hold of the cross with our hands, repented, changed, and came to heaven?

“What does it matter which way we get in?”

It turns out, the way we get to church matters a great deal. Jude warns his readers that ungodly people have snuck into the church. According to the Scriptures not every path to church is a valid path. Not every person in church truly belongs in the church. In verse 5, Jude expands upon verses 3 and 4. He declares that only those who have walked up Calvary’s mountain, repented and believed at the foot of the cross truly deserve the title of Christian.

While this doctrine of salvation by faith alone is nothing new, it is a doctrine we are prone to forget. Though Jude knew his listeners knew that faith was essential to salvation, the author also knew that pressures of life and friendship could strain the bounds of biblical truth. No person instinctively wants to keep their friend or child from church membership simply because said friend lacks a clear testimony. These nebulous Christians appear to be nice, moral people. Shouldn’t we want good people to join our church?

Jude emphatically tells us “no”. The great church father John Huss rightfully noted, “the place does not sanctify the man, but the man the place.” Being close to religious and spiritual things does not save a man or woman.  Faith in Jesus brings salvation.

Jude makes this point by reminding his readers of three Bible stories. Two, we know well;  one is a touch odd but equally true. Taken together, they all amount to this: there is only one way to the celestial city and it is through faith in God.

 Association with the things of God does not save

Jude begins with the fantastic story of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt. New Testament writers have laid hold to this story as type, or precursor of the Easter story. The ancient writers rightfully tied these two stories together. The Hebrew Exodus from Egypt was marked by the Passover feast. After 9 plagues had ravaged Egypt, God sends the last plague. But instead of a plague a being is sent, the angle of death. Only those who covered their mantel and doorposts with the blood of an unblemished lamb would escape the horrors of death. Exodus 12:23 reports:

For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.

The Passover lamb saved the people of Israel.

Fast-forward a few thousand years, Jesus arrives spotless and without sin. He lays down his life so that all who hear the gospel message of salvation and believe in Jesus will be saved. Paul writes in Col 1:19-20:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Because Jesus is the long await perfect, Passover lamb, he can free sinners from death. Jesus has died for our sins, providing us a path to the Celestial City.  Christians come to church because they have been redeemed by the Passover lamb.

Though Passover beautifully pictures salvation, not all who lived through that night were truly God’s people. Jude ends verse 5 by reminding us that God destroyed many of the people he originally saved.  Not all the people of God are the people of God. Not all who claim Jesus are truly followers of Jesus. Only those who repent and believe deserve the title of Christian.

Despite seeing the great miracle of Passover an overwhelming majority of the Jews with Moses did not believe on God. Jude grounds his claim in Numbers 14. In the Numbers 13,  the 12 spies return from scouting Cannan full of worry, fear, and doubt about the power and goodness of God. Despite the pleading of the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb to trust God, the people collapse into complaining. Numbers 14:1-4 reports:

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Despite the pleadings of Moses and Aaron, the people refused to believe and threatened to murder their prophet and high priest.

God looks down from heaven upon this mess of spirituality and declares in verse 11: 11 And the Lord said to Moses,

How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?  I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.

Though God relents from his plan to immediately destroy the Israelites, he condemns the whole generation to wander to death in the dessert. He sends them away because “they do not believe.” This is the very phrase Jude uses in Jude 5.

Though many of Israelites witnessed the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, and ate food from heaven, they still were not properly the people of God for they lacked faith. Though you may have heard sermons, gone on mission trips, witness revivals, and helped churches grow, you still have no right to claim membership in the church for you lack faith.

What does it matter how we got to church? It matters a great deal. For there is only one way in and that is though faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

To make this help us understand the weight of his argument, Jude quickly spins from the story of the Israelites into the story of the fallen angles. Jude 6 says, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling,” The angles mentioned here in Jude 6 and later in 2 Peter most assuredly are the sons of god mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4. The text says:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them,  the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

When the angels fell from heaven, some sunk below hell and descend to earth in human form, creating unholy progeny.   They went against the nature, abusing their station and God’s creation.

Humans who go against their nature by refusing to repent and believe commit the sin of the angels. Like the angels above, men and women were designed to glorify God. When men and women refuse to repent, they abuse their station.

The God of the universe cares little about our church attendance if we hate his rules about sex, money, relationships, and speech. If we are determined to sleep with whoever we want to sleep with, to devote money to dishonest gain, and to use people for our gain, we should not expect the celestial city to welcome us on the day of our death.

To ensure that we do not get caught up in endless speculation about angles, Jude quickly pivots from the angels to Sodom and Gomorrah. Verse 7 reads, “ just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire,” Jude mentions the cities and the surrounding areas were known for their unnatural desires and sexual sin. The term unnatural desire or perversion of God’s order connects to the Biblical sexual ethic. God condemns homosexuality as a gross violation of his order. Readers can be confident that the sexual sin these cities was homosexuality because of the words found Genesis 19:4-8. The text records that:

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.

The men in the city embrace homosexuality and  were not opposed to heterosexual sin. Lot attempted to appease their lust through the prostitution of his daughters. To use modern terminology, the men of Sodom could be considered as bi-sexual. As the angels before them, the people of these cities perverted the natural order of God, indulging in unrestrained sexuality.

Sadly for us moral and nice people, the perversions were not limited to sexuality. In Ezekial 16:49, we learn that the city was also condemned for greed and a lack of compassion. The text says

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

To be a man and women of faith is to be a man or woman who lives a sexual pure life and who lives with compassion for the poor and needy. Those who sit in the pews of this church were not given wealth to buy their third car, vacation home and dream vacation because they were good nice people. Nor are the poor and needy so because of sin, lack of work ethic, or bad life choices. Listen to how God sees the balance between wealth and poverty in 2 Corinthians 8:13-14

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.

Friends you have been given your sexuality and your wealth to honor God. Do you submit to his authority and find your sexual fulfillment in your spouse of the opposite sex apart from, affairs, romance novels, pornography, and sinful daydreaming? Do you happily abstain for sexual expressions if you are single?

Do you see your abundance as an opportunity to bless those who are less fortunate than yourself? Do you freely give to those who have needs or do you look down on people because they are poorer than you, the wrong race, or embrace different music than you? Does your money go to second homes, bigger T.V’s, nicer cars or to help those who lack? Friends do you live by faith in accordance with the will of God?

If you do not live by faith and have arrived at church today by hopping over the wall, I encourage you to head the warning of Jude. Notice what happens to those who do not believe and complain against God, perverting his order. The unbelievers are destroyed by God’s wrath. Jude reminds us that the angles no longer roam the earth but have been placed in a special prison in hell reserved for the final judgement in the lake of fire. Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed by fire. Recently the cities have been rediscovered and show signs of haven been destroyed by an asteroid. In some respects this discover is not new information. More than fifty years after Jesus’s death the ancient historian Josephus said, “In fact, vestiges of the divine fire and faint traces of the five cites are still visible.” Jude and his original audience had seen the ruins; they knew God’s judgment was real. It was not just for the angels but for all who leave their proper position and rebel against God.

 

Apart from faith no one may enter the kingdom of heaven. The angels are in hell, Sodom and Gomorrah are gone. Can you hope to do any better apart from faith?

Don’t rest in the faith of your grandparents or parents. Don’t rest in how many times you have prayed at the kitchen table. Rest in the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All true faith must pass through the narrow gate and up the hill of calvary. There is no other way to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ.

As we close, I want to return to those two fellows from Pilgrim’s Progress. Their story comes to an end in this way. Bunyan writes:

“The other two also came to the foot of the Hill [of Difficult]. But when they saw that the Hill was steep and high, and that there was two other ways to go; and supposing also that these two ways might meet again, and that up which Christian went, on the other side of the Hill: Therefore they were resolved to go in those ways, (now the name of one of those ways was Danger, and the name of the other Destruction.) So one took the way which is called Danger which led him into a great wood; and the other took directly up the way to Destruction, which led into a wide field full of dark Mountains, where he stumbled and fell, and rose no more.”