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To become a Christian is really one of the easiest things in the world to do for anyone.  We receive Jesus Christ as our Savior who forgives our sins, and we declare in faith that he is Lord.  We ask him to give us new birth, to give us the Holy Spirit and to give us eternal life with him.  Jesus has done all of the work.  We reap the benefits by believing in him and calling upon him.  Salvation is a gift of grace—unmerited and undeserved.  We can’t even contribute to it.  We receive.  If we believe in Jesus enough to ask him to come and forgive our sins and give us the Holy Spirit, he will come.

To progress in the Christian life beyond receiving the gift of salvation requires determination, patient endurance, steadfastness, wisdom, commitment, self-denial, discipline, maybe suffering, and faith, love and hope.  Christian character is battle-tested and proven.  The mature Christian disciple seeks Jesus, his kingdom and his righteousness. The Christian walk of discipleship occurs by grace and by our striving to follow Jesus in our lives in the world.

Engaging intentionally in discipleship and ministry comes down to the difference between going to church and being the church.  It is the difference between being a consumer of church and being an ambassador and minister of Christ in, to and through the church.   The New Testament gives no indication at all that living as a Christian in the world is easy or safe.  There is nothing worldly appealing about being the church according to the New Testament.  This is a reason why people are prone to innovate ways of trying to be Christians apart from and in contrast to the New Testament.

We are saved through acceptance of Jesus, but we do not become perfect in our actions and lives immediately and not until we die and are with Jesus.   For the Christian, all things are made new – new creation.  We don’t know how to live according to the new creation.  We can’t learn it instantly.  It takes the rest of our lives to learn how to live according to what we have become in an instant – saved and God’s child through Jesus.

If we choose to pursue this goal of discipleship and Christian living, the rest of our lives will be spent taking two steps forward and one step backwards in pursuit of holiness.  A church consists of people intending to move toward holiness and living in the kingdom of God but often going in all directions and nowhere.  It cannot help but at times to be uncomfortable, painful, frustrating and offensive.  However, the body of Christ at a church also serves as the place where God works in us and develops us as his children, disciples and ministers.

I believe that God has called each person in Christ to become and remain an active member of a church.  Not only that, he has called us to get into the thick of it.  He has called us to rub shoulders, open our hearts, be confrontational, be constructive, be repentant, be submissive, be authoritative and become like Christ through a commitment to a church where we are planted, rooted, growing and producing fruit.  He calls us to give a significant portion of our money, our time and talents.   God has called us to take steps of faith and to do what may be difficult and not give up, grow weary or run away and hide.  He promises rewards to those who overcome.  One of those rewards turns out to be that we find ourselves a part of a local family of faith where we are loved, accepted and encouraged.  Our church becomes for us a people and place where we encounter God.

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Romans 12

The Apostle Paul’s letters encourage, exhort and instruct Christians in the life of discipleship.  The text of Romans 12 seems focused on the life of the Christian in a church.  Paul, as well as anyone, knows the hardships of church life and of being a committed partner to other Christians.  He knows the frustrations and pains involved in living life with a group of other Christians.  On the other hand, he has also experienced the glory and wonder of being a minister of the gospel of Christ in and among the body of Christ—just read Romans 15 and 16.

In Romans 12, Paul urges Christians to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God as our reasonable, appropriate response to him.  Our worship of God is to lay down our lives to him and to submit to his will for our lives.  The Christian life involves a rejection of our selfish will and the ways of this world.  Paul calls for our spiritual transformation and the renewal our minds according to the kingdom of God in Christ.  As this occurs, we learn to walk with Jesus in faith and to test and approve the perfect will of God for our lives rather than rely on the basic principles of the world.  The church exists to facilitate this transformation and renewal by offering the context for discipleship and faithfulness for believers and by inspiring worship in Spirit and truth.

Immediately in Romans 12, Paul counters objections with a call to humility and by pointing to God’s gift of faith and to the body of Christ to which we all belong—if we are in Christ.  If we are saved, then we belong to Christ who is our Lord and God.  We are not in charge.  We are members of his body of which Jesus is the head who alone is above all.  What we have to offer others and to recommend ourselves to others is only what has been given to us by God through Jesus.  In emphasizing the gracious gift that we have through Christ, Paul does not minimize the gifts we are given or our role in their development and use.  He magnifies them in light of the giver and in light of the high calling to use the gifts given to each of us for the sake of Christ’s body the church.  None of us is given the Holy Spirit and his gifts to merely attend and watch or be an ongoing consumer of church rather than becoming an active participant and contributor in the life of the family of faith.  Although everyone is welcome to come, we want everyone to also grow in their faith.

It is good to discern and listen for God’s will and calling for our lives and ministry.  We should know whether a particular church is where God wants us to come and grow and from where to go and tell others.  That church where God calls us to worship and serve still will not suit all of each of our desires, preferences, personalities, needs and schedules.  For people in the church to grow as disciples and ministers, and for a church to grow in breadth and depth, we must give as we have received in the form of mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, time, resources, help and relationships.  The problems we identify with people in the church or with the deficiencies of the church are the same or similar to our own problems and deficiencies but multiplied by the number of people in the church.

(Paul envisions a church following the apostolic teachings he has passed forward.  The New Testament reserves its harshest language for those distorting the gospel of grace or behaving unethically, oppressively or immorally.  We are called to a church of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Other sorts of churches we might be led to avoid.)

Paul recognizes that we each need the help and benefits of each other’s presence and gifts. The gifts in Romans 12 include prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leading, governing, and showing mercy.  This litany of gifts serves to show that God’s gracious empowering of his people is all-inclusive.  All of us are called into Christ and his body to be ministers by the power of the Holy Spirit given to us.  We are the church, and through our participation, we contribute to its edification and growth in depth and breadth.

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The functionality of these gifts occurs through sincere, brotherly (and sisterly) love expressed in devotion, honor and service.  Paul encourages us to be zealous in our service and worship of the Lord.  We are to be joyfully devoted to prayer and generosity.  Our church, this portion of Christ’s body, is to be open and welcoming to all who come as an expression of the Father’s hospitality in Christ.

The members of Christ’s body, imperfect and dysfunctional though they are, extend the promise of salvation to all people through a hearty invitation to join this journey toward holiness in the power and fruit of the Holy Spirit.  We share with those in need, because we are all in need and Christ is the gracious giver to all who receive.  Paul emphasizes the command to be humble.  He says do not be proud and do not be conceited, because there is nothing more foolish than a helpless sinner acting proud and conceited.

Conversely, we also need to reject the false modesty by which we would exclude ourselves from participation in serving and ministering in the church due to our perceived inadequacy.  We are saved by grace and empowered by grace to serve and minister, so by God’s Spirit we come to serve.  By his grace, we speak, we pray, we give, we encourage, we heal, we teach, we bless and we live in harmony with one another—not apart from others.

We overcome evil by good.  We are all members of the Lord’s body.  It is his work among us to build us into his image individually and collectively.

Paul assumes a commitment to each other among the body of Christ.  Is this your church? Is this the part of the body of Christ to which you are called, planted and rooted?  Then stay and grow and use the gifts God has given you to contribute to the harvest of righteousness that the church exists to produce.  Pursue the counsel of others and take initiative to develop your gifts and to express the power and love of Christ in, for and through the church.  You won’t do it perfectly.  The church won’t respond perfectly.  But let’s aim for it.

If you have not already, I encourage you to become a member at the local church where God calls you.  If you are currently a member and maybe even a founding member, I encourage you to recommit yourself to pursuing the development of the spiritual gifts that God has given you and pray about your participation in the ministry.  I believe God desires us all to grow as his disciples and ministers.

If you are not currently in a discipleship group (Bible study, home group, Morning Prayer, prayer group, etc.), join one or start a new one.  You only need one other person and a Bible and a set time and place.

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