Those of us who go to church regularly have probably not recently asked the question, why do I need to go to church? But you can bet that the people you invite to church or see church advertised, or who are busy in their lives are asking the question! Why do I need church? Why does anyone need church? Another way to ask the same question is to ask what is church all about, anyway? As we have said, most of already know, or at least think we know. The problem is we are not very good at communicating the importance of church to others.

Church is transformative. The gospel is preached and proclaimed in church, and by people who go to church. The gospel is good news. It is the good news that God has seen the mess we are all in and has done something about it. He sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to introduce us to God; and he showed up in real time and at a real place, to make God tangible, real and available in terms that human beings can relate to in a material/scientific world (John 20:31). John said it this way, “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus Christ), and the Word was with God (distinct from the Father) and yet the Word was God (was fully divine in every way, coequal with God the Father). Nothing that has been created was created without the involvement of the Word, he created all things” (John 1:1-3). John went on to make yet another remarkable statement, “The Word became flesh, and dwelled among men, so that we could behold the glory of God up close and gain an understanding of him, an understanding that would lead to eternal life” (John 1:9, 14, 18). John makes the claim to have seen God up close in Jesus Christ (John 1:14; 1 John 1:1-2), and the experience of discovering God in Christ was transformative, for him and many others who came to know Jesus. “He came into a world that didn’t recognize him (John 1:10), to his own people (Israel), but they rejected him (John 1:11); nevertheless as many people as did receive him, he gave to them the authority/power to become children of God” (John 1:12). Now John does not say, authority to be called children of God, to have his name, but to become children of God in reality. To receive Christ means to accept him as the Son of God, and to believe him as Lord and Savior. The reception of Christ is transformative; it changes a person from a man or a woman of this world, into a child of God with eternal life. The change that occurs is so morally and spiritually radical that Jesus called it being born again, reborn, by a mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit, whereby the old life is utterly swallowed up, and the new believer is able to begin again in the sight of God (John 3:1-13).

This transformation could be understood in terms of Jesus own incarnation, but somehow in reverse. The same root word that underpins the phrase “the Word became flesh…” is used in the phrase “to become children of God.” If Jesus, the Word, God the Son, genuinely became a human being in reality, then through faith in God, human beings, John is saying, can really be transformed into the children of God! Paul tells us that the incarnation of Jesus was real and complete. He not only became a human being, but even descended into the very lowest strata of human society to become a servant to those around him. So Jesus could be described as being a servant in exactly the same way as he could be described as being equal with God (Phil. 2:1-11). Being God and being a servant are two ways to describe what Jesus is and what he became. He is in his natural essence, God, and yet he became in genuine reality, at the level of real humanity, a servant. The climax of that servanthood came with his death on the cross for the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29, 34; 1 Cor. 15:3).

Jesus told the inquiring religious leader Nicodemus, who was in the middle of making some observations about the possible coming of the kingdom of God, that he had no hope of entering the kingdom of God unless he was born again (John 3:3). Although many have portrayed Nicodemus as thick-headed, incapable of grasping Jesus’ meaning, he understood full well what Jesus had just said; without a total transformation you cannot go to heaven! That is why he asked the rhetorical question can a fully mature man go back into his mother’s womb and start all over again, and also get it all right? The answer is no! But, as Jesus explained, the Spirit can affect such a transformation, so that a man can be reborn through the mysterious operation of the Spirit of God (John 3:6-8)! Flesh gives birth to flesh, but when you are born again by the Spirit, that is a different thing altogether. The good news is that God launched a rescue into our world, that can transform people, in spite of their broken, sinful, overburdened and disappointing lives, into genuine and real children of God, who have eternal life, and who no longer stand under the condemnation and judgment of God on sin (John 3:16-18). They are also delivered from the power of the old life, that keeps them in bondage to sin and to death.

Let me illustrate for you what I mean (video)!

You see God is in the business of making beautiful things out of dust! And that’s the business of the church too, to support the work and object of the gospel, the rescue and transformation of lost people, like you and like me. But let’s not misunderstand what is involved in transformation. There is a instantaneous moment of transformation that changes the sinner into a child of God, and then there is a process that changes the child into a mature man or woman of God. The church exists to support both sides of the process. The Holy Spirit is responsible for initial transformation, its execution and for its accomplishment, and he is responsible for producing maturity, through his continuous and persistent presence and fellowship in the life of a person who has come to know God. It is the relationship with God that produces the mature saint of God; it is the critical moment of faith that gives birth to the child of God!

The job of the church is to support that initial encounter through preaching the gospel, testifying and representing God well in this world to those who do not know Jesus. It is also the church’s job to provide fellowship and support to those who are growing and maturing in their relationship with God. The church does this by creating an environment for fellowship with God. First, it creates a worship environment, where God is adored and worshipped and his attributes and power is explored in song and preaching. We learn to communicate with God in worship through prayer, and how to listen to his voice in the preaching of his word. This becomes very real and personal! Worship teaches us what to expect when we enter the presence of God, how to respond and how to trust him. Secondly, the church supports transformation through genuine and loving human relationships that reflect the grace, love and mercy of God himself. In the context of that fellowship, needs are met, and we in turn meet the needs of others. We share what God has blessed us with others! We find fellowship with God in our relationships with others in the church. Thirdly, we learn to pray in church. Learning to praying in church is a valuable training for how to pray privately and personally, talking to God when no one else is around and it is just you and God.

The job of the church is to support transformation. You will not leave church how you came in, if the Holy Spirit has anything to do with it. If church doesn’t challenge you, then church hasn’t done its job! If you leave mad because church messed with you… good… church has done its job! If you leave with your mind made up to serve Jesus, with your burden of sin left behind… good… church has done its job!
If you are under a cloud of guilt, because you know that you are not on speaking terms with God… indeed you have been at war with him… you don’t have to leave church until you have let church finish the job it started! Give you life to Jesus and let the Holy Spirit give birth to a new person!

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