On Church Growth Without Personal Holiness

Though there are some significant problems in the church growth movement, we should all be for church growth. In fact, it seems almost impossible for a church to be fulfilling the great commission without some kind of growth taking place. We are to go out and make disciples. When they come in, they too are to grow to the place where they go out and make more disciples.

Many times, though, it seems to come down to, “if we get this program going, more people will show up,” and sometimes this is true, but it really is amazing what we can accomplish in the power of the flesh. It is true that nothing happens outside the providence of God, and even kings have their authority because He establishes them, but this is not the same as God’s Spirit moving on the congregation in a sanctifying way.

The idea of common grace and saving grace applies not only to individuals but churches also. A church can grow in number and wealth if it has the right marketing plan, along with a number of other useful strategies, but this does not necessarily mean anything spiritual is happening there.

A church where the congregants live worldly lives for the entire week is not really growing, even if it is getting more numbers in on a regular basis. We cannot call it church growth when the majority of a local church is involved in much of the same worldly lifestyle as the rest of society. If we, as congregants, spend our week chasing after self-glory, personal peace, affluence, and we let the Word of God sit unread with no real prayer life, it doesn’t matter how big the church is.

In fact, this seems to be a problem in many small non-growing churches as well. The people come on Sunday and see low attendance and wonder why the pastor isn’t bringing in more people with his sermons.  Yet there is no real desire for personal holiness in their lives. After spending the entire week with no real thoughts on Godliness, they attend church and expect something to happen, but when we spend a good portion of our time doing things God hates, and not doing the things He loves, we shouldn’t expect much to happen at our church. We are the church, not just the pastor.

It seems that real church growth will not occur when there is no desire for personal holiness in the lives of its people. On the contrary, when there is a hunger for righteousness, and progress is being made in personal holiness, church growth has already begun. We don’t need more programs that will bring more people in to be just like everybody else in the world. We need individuals in the church to grow in Godliness, and as this happens, we will not need programs to bring in the people. The church will grow because the people will be bringing them in, and more programs will be developed to accompany the need for the people who are coming in desiring to know Christ and be more like Him.

So maybe this was a bit of a complaint, but it wasn’t really against the church growth movement. It was against the idea that personal holiness can be neglected, while church growth is to be expected, and this can happen in churches with big marketing plans, and some without them.

As we grow to be more like Christ
And by the world, we are less enticed,
In our hearts, God’s Spirit’s moving,
Then of our growth, He is approving.

D. Eaton

Tending our Pleasant Plants

Planting Flowers in a garden,Closeup.

Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips: In the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy seed to flourish: but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow. – Isaiah 17:10-11

The world in which we live is full of distractions that pull us away from our Savior. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life can easily ensnare us causing us to place our focus somewhere other than our Lord. The problem lies in the fact that when we take our eyes off Christ and put them on the things of this world, we find that all or labor and work is in vain.

There are several interesting things pointed out to us in this passage. This first one is that when we forget the God of our salvation and are not mindful of the rock of our strength, what we begin to focus on will, in fact, be pleasant. As this passage indicates, we “plant pleasant plants,” Turning our attention away from our God will always seem pleasant at first. We find something that brings us joy and pleasure, or at least we hope it will bring us joy and pleasure, and we begin to put our time and effort in that direction. We must realize, however, that the slips we plant are strange. Slips in this context were plant cuttings that would be put into the ground to bring forth growth. When the passage calls them strange, it carries with it the idea that they are foreign. Foreign to what God would have us be growing in the soil of our lives.

The passage goes on to say that we shall “make” the plant grow, and the seed to flourish. This shows us that hard work and effort go into tending these plants. Crops that are planted in areas where the climate and soil are not fit for them, will not flourish without special care, and so we begin to place our efforts on growing this crop. As the passage seems to indicate, we may even see some success. Our diligence with these pleasant plants will spring forth a harvest, which may even bring us some temporary satisfaction, but the passage goes on to warn us that it will not last. In the day of grief and of desperate sorrow it will be a heap, offering us nothing of real value.

What is the aim of your life? Where are your hope and strength found? Do you spend all your time taking care of worldly concerns? Are you always focusing on worldly success and the pleasures it can bring, without remembering the God of your salvation?

If so, we have perverted our way, and we are living for earthly things which will end up being a heap that will be destroyed when trouble comes, and trouble will eventually come. Without doing all things for the glory of God, our pleasant plants will leave us empty, and we will cry out “vanity of vanities” when it is all said and done.

Let us serve the living God like those who are willing to suffer affliction with the people of God if necessary, and be done with the passing pleasures of sin (Heb. 11:25). When we do this, we exchange a mirage for a fountain flowing with living water, because in the rock of our strength, we will never be let down in the time of trouble. For nothing we do in Christ will be in vain.

D. Eaton

Fulfill the Ministry

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See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord. – Colossians 4:7

“Fulfill the Ministry.”  Paul initially said this to Archippus, but was this a warning or encouragement? Since we do not know much about him, it is hard to tell. Some have suggested that Archippus was the first pastor to the Laodicean’s. He may have been negligent in his duties, to which Paul would have been admonishing him by saying, “Get to work and do what you are supposed to do.” He also may have been faithful to his call but in a difficult place. Paul may have been encouraging him by saying, “press on in your good work, the Lord sees and will reward.”

Regardless as to whether this was a warning or an encouragement, these words apply to every believer. God has called us all to bring Him glory with our lives. This command applies to whatever vocation He has called us, as we live as ambassadors for Him in this fallen world. We are to work heartily as unto the Lord. Never go back to working for riches, popularity, fame, or even personal peace. Fulfill what He has called you to do for the Kingdom of God. Bring Him glory in all of it.

Maybe the Lord is calling you to a particular ministry that you have been resisting. Fulfill the ministry. Perhaps you have been doing what you have been called to do, but the things of the world are starting to catch your eye. Fulfill the ministry. Perhaps the Lord called you to a specific ministry, and you have been diligent in doing it, but now you are growing weary in well doing. Fulfill the ministry.

There is so much more for us than we can see. Never forget that you have been raised with Christ, your life is hidden in Christ, and glory will be experienced at His return. Work heartily as unto the Lord. Remember, we do not live to please men. Christ is preeminent, not them. Live for His glory. Do it heartily, not grudgingly. Know why it is important and work hard to get it done. Whatever you do, redeem the time for the days are evil. Work should be work as unto the Lord, recreation should be recreation unto the Lord, and rest should be rest unto the Lord.

Wherever you may be today, may the Lord use this short devotion to encourage you to press on. May it remind you that this world is fleeting and our time is short. May it remind you to make sure this day is dedicated to your Savior, for tomorrow is promised to no one. Most importantly remember that He is with you and will give you the strength you need to fulfill the ministry.

D. Eaton

Fight With A Strength Not Your Own

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It does not make any sense to me or to those looking on from the outside. The storm is attacking from every side. Like the wind that hit the house of Job’s children, it is striking all four corners of my life and is attempting to beat me into submission, but in the midst of it all, I have joy. This storm may perplex me, but I will not be abandoned. Though I am struck down, I will not be destroyed.

Those of you who know your Savior, understand what I am talking about. If the darkness of your sin has had to flee because of the light of Jesus, you know that your greatest groanings have been relieved. I once lived under the condemnation of the law, and I was awakened to my depravity. It is much more grievous than I ever realized. This great burden weighed me down to such a degree that I could not lift my head. The burden of sin was not merely something that was attached to me; it was me. Any attempt to remove it was insufficient, until the day when he lifted my head to look at his cross. At that moment the wrath of God was removed, and I became a child of God.

In this I greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, I am grieved with manifold heaviness (1 Peter 1:6). It is the testing of my faith, and the testing of that faith will be found to the praise and glory and Savior Jesus Christ. This Joy cannot be removed by pain. It cannot be removed by sorrow, and despair cannot quench it.

On top of the joy found in the redemption of my sins, I know that our Lord is sovereign over my trials. He is all-knowing and all-powerful, which is a comfort and a conflict. It is a comfort because I know these difficulties I am facing are not accidents. They are perfectly planned by the God of wisdom who makes no mistakes, and I know if he gave his life to save me, he will also be good to me even in the midst of these trials.

The conflict is this, how do you fight against the hand of God in your trials when you know that there is nothing you can do to alter his divine purposes? If nothing can stay his hand, what could my fighting do? There was a temptation at first to resign myself to these trials, but this Joy I am experiencing is telling me otherwise. The joy of the Lord is my strength, and it is leading me to fight.

Though he is sovereign over the battle I am facing, he is also equipping me with strength for the battle (2 Samuel 22:40). He has not called us to despair; he has called us to strength. It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace (Hebrews 13:9), even in the midst of God-ordained trials. In fact, if it were not for the affliction he allows in our life, we would never know the extent of the strength he can give us. Once we get a glimpse of it, we exalt him all the more, which increases our joy and our strength.

So I will fight with a strength that is not my own. My heart and flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26).

Therefore, lift your drooping hands, and strengthen your weak knees so that what is out of joint may be healed (Hebrews 12:12). The battle belongs to the Lord. Seek him and his strength. Seek his presence continually (1 Chronicles 16:11). He will equip you with strength for the battle. You will find a power not your own, and that which rises against you, will sink beneath you (1 Chronicles 16:11).

D. Eaton

 

Google Maps Captures a Fight of Faith Moment

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I never expected this, but here we are. Of all things, Google Maps has provided a glimpse behind the scenes of one of the most popular posts on this blog. I recently wrote a post called Our Quiet Times Are Rarely As They Appear. In that post, I anonymously wrote myself into the story about a man who is sitting on his front porch reading scripture, and how there is much more happening than what you can see.

Yesterday I looked up my address on Google Maps, and in the providence of God, they have captured that moment. The picture at the top of this post is the screen capture from Google. I cannot say if this picture was on the exact day I wrote that post, but I know it was close. I remember seeing the Google car go by and thinking, “I wonder if they just took my picture.”

Of course, there is more going on than what you can see in the picture. If you want to know the deeper reality, you will need to read the post. I wrote it because I believe this is something with which most Christians can relate.

D. Eaton

 

 

Strive Against Spiritual Sluggishness

And while [Lot] lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. Gen. 19:16

Here we find Lot in the final moments before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The warnings had been clear, and Lot had not doubted the truthfulness of those threatenings. Yet in the final moments before the destruction, as Lot is told to escape with his life, he lingers as if unable to move. Calvin says this regarding Lot’s lingering, “His tardiness is truly wonderful, since, though he was certainly persuaded that the angels did not threaten in vain, he could yet be moved by no force of words until he is dragged by their hands out of the city.”

What caused him to linger? Matthew Poole estimates that“He lingered, either through lothness to part with all his estate, or to lose his sons-in-law; or through astonishment and distraction of mind, which made him both listless and impotent.” Whatever it was, Lot was powerless to move on his own, and this seems to be the experience of us all from time to time when the Lord, through his Word, has told us to move. Whether it is a sin with which we hate to part, or God’s leading in a new direction, many times we are sluggish.

God has told us to press on in His word, to be conformed to his image, and to do all He has commanded us. The thunderous warnings of the destruction of everything contrary have rung in our ears as He has told us to flee the wrath to come. Along with the thundering of destruction that pushes us from behind, we have the beauty of Christ before us, compelling us to come, yet so often we sit lifelessly.

As Matthew Henry so aptly put it, “Thus many that are under some convictions about the misery of their spiritual state, and the necessity of a change, yet defer that needful work, and foolishly linger.” But praise God Lot’s story does not end there, and neither does ours, for God was merciful to him as the angels grabbed him by the hand and brought him out of the city to safety.

Are there areas in your life which hinder your growth in the things of the Lord? Do you know the Lord has called you to remedy a certain aspect of your life, yet you sit idle, making no progress in spiritual things? If so, be prepared, for if you are a true child of God who is unmoved even though you have heard His word, He will use other means to get you to move. Whatever inordinate loves keep you motionless may be forcefully removed, forcing you to make steps onward in your journey to the Celestial City. Calvin makes the point clear when he says,

“For so it is often necessary for us to be forcibly drawn away from scenes which we do not willingly leave. If riches, or honors, or any other things of that kind, prove an obstacle to anyone, to render him less free and disengaged from the service of God, when it happens that he is abridged of his fortune, or reduced to a lower rank, let him know that the Lord has laid hold of his hand; because words and exhortations had not sufficiently profited him.”

Let us never forget that even the more forceful means the Lord uses to speed us along to conform to the image of Christ is done in mercy, for it would have been no injustice had He left us in our impotent state to partake in the destruction that we refused to flee. Has the Lord been calling you to surrender some sin? Has he been prompting you by His Holy Spirit to live a life in greater service to Him than the worldly pleasure you now serve? Or is he simply calling you to spend more time in the prayerful study of His Word, which is so often neglected? Whatever it may be, we all have enough sluggishness in us that we should, with all earnestness, strive against it. And may the words of this devotion be the means God uses to move us on, for if mere words are not enough, in His mercy, He will lay his hands on His child.

D. Eaton

Take A Stand Against Error – J. Gresham Machen

Men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end.

Some years ago I was in a company of teachers of the Bible in the colleges and other educational institutions of America. One of the most eminent theological professors in the country made an address. In it he admitted that there are unfortunate controversies about doctrine in the Epistles of Paul; but, said he in effect, the real essence of Paul’s teaching is found in the hymn to Christian love in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians; and we can avoid controversy today, if we will only devote the chief attention to that inspiring hymn.

In reply, I am bound to say that the example was singularly ill-chosen. That hymn to Christian love is in the midst of a great polemic passage; it would never have been written if Paul had been opposed to controversy with error in the Church. It was because his soul was stirred within him by a wrong use of the spiritual gifts that he was able to write that glorious hymn. So it is always in the Church. Every really great Christian utterance, it may almost be said, is born in controversy. It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of truth.

J. Gresham Machen-

The Deeps

Lord Jesus, give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach. Help me chastely to flee it and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be Thine alone.

Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in Thee, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being. Give me a deeper knowledge of Thyself as saviour, master, lord, and king. Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in Thy Word, more steadfast grip on its truth. Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from Thee.

Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until Thou alone art seen in me, Thy beauty golden like summer harvest, Thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty.

I have no master but Thee, no law but Thy will, no delight but Thyself, no wealth but that Thou givest, no good but that Thou blessest, no peace but that Thou bestowest. I am nothing but that Thou makest me. I have nothing but that I receive from Thee. I can be nothing but that grace adorns me. Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water.

The Valley of Vision

Sanctified Affliction Seldom Seems Sanctified

One of the great prayers from the Valley of Vision, a collection of old puritan prayers, says this, “No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If thou, oh Lord, should give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sin, or to have them burnt away with trials, give me sanctified affliction.”

We see this idea of sanctified affliction throughout Scripture. We hear cries in the Bible that say, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word,” and “It was good that I was afflicted so that I might learn Your statutes.” Many of us have gone through difficult times in our life, and it may not have been the direct result of sin, but when we come out of it, we see that the Lord has changed us for the better. He has removed some pride or some other sins with which we struggled, and He has drawn us closer to Him because of it.

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It is important for us to understand this idea of sanctified affliction, because if we do not know that God is doing something good in our life with affliction, we will be without hope. The sovereignty of God in our trials is a glorious truth we must comprehend, but when you are in the midst of sanctified affliction, it may not seem sanctified. In fact, it may feel like utter darkness.

If you find yourself there, this is where I want to encourage you. The Lord, for some reason, has seen fit to allow you to go through a dark and difficult time, but what you are seeing during this is more and more of your sinfulness. The deeper the trial seems to go, the deeper and more profound your sense of sin. Because of this you think, this cannot be sanctified affliction because sanctified affliction is supposed to be moving me forward in holiness, but I seem to be more and more awakened to my sinfulness in this trial.

I want to encourage you since that is precisely what we should expect because what the Lord is doing, is He is drawing the dross to the surface and bringing it to your attention. Before, when you were comfortable and at peace, all these areas of sin did not really bother you much, but now you cannot help but see them. When I have gone through times like this, God allowed me to see how sinful I was when I was comfortable, which was part of the trial. In reality, it was probably the darkest part of the affliction, but God was bringing the dross to the surface of my life to wipe it away.

If you are there, this is where you need to take heart. Our God is a good God. If you have confessed Him in faith and trusted in His sacrifice on the cross, He says, “You are mine. I will never leave you. I will never lose you.” Jesus is the perfect shepherd, and He makes no mistakes.

If you find yourself there, keep moving forward in obedience. You may not feel peace for quite some time, but take the advice of John Owen when he said, “See in the meantime that your faith brings forth obedience, and God in due time will cause it to bring forth peace.” At that point, you will find that your peace will be deeper than you ever imagined.

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. – Psalm 11:67

D. Eaton

Other Posts on God’s Work in Affliction

Longing to Die Yet Eager to Live

As mentioned in an earlier post, there are tensions in the Christian life which are the direct result of knowing Jesus. These are tensions we are meant to feel. They seem to be two desires pulling us in two different directions, but in reality, they are two balancing forces driving us toward holiness and happiness. One of these tensions is the desire to depart and the eagerness to live. Paul expressed it this way.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.- Philippians 1:22-26

Every believer will long to die and be with God from time to time. Conflicts, persecutions, and illnesses can cause us all to long for home, and during those times, we are often more willing to depart than usual. The problem is, if we only long to die and be with our Savior in times of trouble, then maybe we desire to avoid difficulty more than we desire to be with Christ.

When the scriptures talk about longing to die, they are talking about our desire to be with Jesus, and this yearning should be something that is steady in times of pleasure as well as in times of pain. To be with Christ should be our daily desire, and if going through the door of our enemy death is the only way, then death becomes our hope.

At the same time, we are to be eager to live, because to live is also Christ. Every moment of life, whether it be lived in weakness or strength, pain or pleasure, or joy or sorrow, can be a testament to our glorious Savior. Some of the greatest men and women of the faith were men and women who lived in constant weakness and hardship, yet their lives were beacons pointing the world to Jesus.

Since Christ is both our desire to depart and our desire to live, we should never desire one more than the other. Both longings provide us with a balance that keeps us steady. To desire death more than life is to neglect Christ’s work in this world through our lives and shows us that personal peace is more important to us than Christ. At the same time, desiring life over death produces a fear of dying which indicates that being with Christ may not be our true desire.

Both the fear of death and the desire to die to escape difficulties to the neglect of our calling shows us that Christ is not our greatest hope. Both of these errors will produce a discontentment in us which will be revealed in times of trouble. During those times, we will be tempted to seek our answers outside of Christ. Only if Christ is our greatest longing will we both long to die and be eager to live, and in that we will find joy in any situation.

For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. – Acts 21:13

D. Eaton