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Growth through Depth

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever asked yourself what the purpose of church is? Why do you go to church services on Sunday morning? Should you go to church in order to make new friends? Is that the purpose of the church – to develop new relationships? Should you go to church in order to learn morals and family values? Does the church exist in order to teach your kids how to be “good people”? Should you go to church in order to be encouraged? Is a good church service one in which you leave hopeful and uplifted, ready to face the challenges of the week ahead? Should you go to church in order to learn how to find your purpose in life and discover how to unlock your full potential? Or should you go to church simply because “that’s what good people do”? Perhaps you have no idea why you go to church services. It’s just something you have been taught to do since you were a little kid, and you know it’s something you should do.

THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH

What is the purpose of church? There is a simple, clear answer to this question: “worship.” And by that, we’re not just talking about a group of people gathering together to sing old songs. The Bible explains from beginning to end that the purpose of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. Mankind was made to worship God in every aspect of his life with the whole of his being, but he has chosen to reject this role by choosing to worship the creation rather the Creator who made us (Rom. 1:18-23). This refusal to delight in God is the very essence of sin, and this sin condemns mankind to eternity in Hell (Rom. 3:23). The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth to live the perfect life that no man or woman can live in order to suffer the penalty that each and every one of us deserve so that, through faith in Him, God might give us Jesus’ righteousness in His place as He suffers for our unrighteousness in our place and so forgive us of our sins (Rom. 3:24-26; 6:23; 1 Cor. 5:21). This is how the church is assembled. The church is the body of people who have been redeemed through faith in Jesus as the Messiah (Matt. 16:13-18; Col. 1:15-20).

But the question is “why”? Why has God redeemed this people? What does He intend to with them? Obviously, He has granted eternal life to those who would believe (John 3:16), but is that the point of the gospel? Is that the goal – simply that you and I might live forever? The apostle Paul explains God’s purpose for this redeemed people, who are also known in the New Testament as “the church.” The explanation is found in Titus 2:11-14 :

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. 

He explains again in Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

Peter likewise states in 1 Peter 2:4-5:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

And again in 1 Peter 2:9-10:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Worship is the activity of heaven. It is the ultimate destination for every one of the redeemed. They will all worship God. This the purpose for which God redeems this people called “the church.” He saves us so that we may worship. He forgive us of our sin so that, having been forgiven, we might be reconciled to Him, delight in Him, and glorify His name in worship. This is the primary goal that the church should strive for: it should strive to grow in its worship of God.

THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH

God redeems sinners so that they might worship Him. There are a great number of ways in which the church can express this worship, virtually all of which we will only do imperfectly until we die and go to heaven. While we may seek to grow in our worship of God, our sin will constantly hinder our ability to fully worship God until the day we die. At death, the believer will be fully transformed. They will sin no more, and they will finally worship God perfectly.

However, there is one aspect of worship that will actually cease when we die. Jesus explains this aspect of worship in passage known as the Great Commission:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matt. 28:18-20)

Believers are commanded by Christ to make disciples of all people by bringing them to faith in Jesus Christ and by teaching them how to worship Christ through obedience to His commands. The process of proclaiming the gospel is known as “evangelism.” As the church evangelizes the lost and makes new disciples of Christ, they expand the worship of God over the earth as people repent of their sins in order to worship God. This is worship. As one proclaims the gospel, they “declare the excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). The evangelist declares the glory of God as revealed through the gospel to sinners when they evangelize. However, at the same time, as listeners are converted through belief in Jesus, the evangelist also creates new worshippers of Jesus. While every other aspect of worship will only improve after death, this one will not. After death, we will still delight in God and proclaim His greatness to those around us. The only difference is that at that time we will not be proclaiming this message to lost and dying sinners. No one will have an opportunity to repent of their sins through faith in Christ after death (Heb. 9:27), and, even more than this, those in Heaven will not be able to interact with those in Hell (Luke 16:26). It should not surprise us, therefore, that this is the mission that Jesus has presented to the church in the present age: to create new disciples of Christ through the proclamation of the gospel until He returns.

GROWTH THROUGH DEPTH

The purpose of the church is worship, and its present mission is to expand the worship of God by making new disciples through the proclamation of the gospel. This summarizes the goals of every believer. But that only brings up another question: How do we do this?

DEPTH IN THE WORD

Paul explains how we grow in our worship in this way:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

And he says again:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!-- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

Sin has had a devastating and lasting effect on mankind. As a result of Adam’s fall, the heart and mind of all mankind has been darkened. While we are not completely ignorant of God when we are born in the world (Rom. 1:19-20), at the same time, our understanding of God has been greatly diminished, and, even more than this, our inclination is to suppress what little truth of God we do have in an effort to run away from Him (Rom. 1:18, 21-23; 3:10-18). This is why Paul states that we must “be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind[s].” We do not inherently know what the will of God is, nor do we inherently realize why we should delight in Him. Our hearts our sinful (Jer. 17:9), and in our sin we have allowed our minds to become corrupted with deceit. Therefore, we must be taught about God, and we must learn how to become pleasing in His sight. Where can we learn about God? Where does He reveal Himself to us? It is in His holy scriptures, the Bible, which is the Spirit-inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21). If the church is going to grow in its worship of God and even in its ability to faithfully and truthfully proclaim the gospel of Christ to others, then it begins here: by deeply studying Word of God.

DEPTH IN RELATIONSHIPS

“But if the you human heart is as deceitful as you say it is, then how do I know I’m studying the Word of God rightly?” If you aren’t asking this question, you need to. Understand that you are not an inspired interpreter of Scripture. You are not the definitive authority regarding the meaning of the Bible. No one is. It seems at times that everyone in society assumes that they are the authority on God. This even includes those who have never taken any steps to try to learn about Him. So how do we come to learn about God and grow in the knowledge of His word?

Paul outlines this process when he writes:

And [Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Paul explains that the whole body builds itself up in love according to the strength supplied by each, individual part when it is working properly. Every member of the church contributes to the growth of the entire church. However, if you also note, Christ has given certain men gifted in teaching to help equip the church in this building process. So how does this all go together? To put the process in its simplest terms, spiritually mature men who are gifted by God in preaching and teaching spend time studying and learning the intended meaning of the Scripture so that they can then teach the congregation what they have learned. These men are by no means infallible, but they are yet gifted in preaching in teaching and they have demonstrated submissiveness to the Scriptures by faithfully applying them to their lives. In other words, as far as sinful human beings go they are a relatively reliable standard to begin with in trying to understand the Scriptures. Then, as the congregation grows in its knowledge of the Scripture through the teaching of these men, they use what they have learned as they apply it in the lives of one another. The church’s leaders are an authority in the church, but they are not authoritative. They do not know everything there is to know about the Bible. There are gaps in their knowledge they may not be missing by other members in the congregation. As the congregation discusses the word together they then allow gaps in knowledge to be filled in and even errors to be corrected. In other words, if we want to know the meaning of Scripture, then deep relationships are required in the church so that believers can continually talk to one another about the meaning of the Bible.

But deep relationships in the church are needed for more than this in accomplishing the church’s purpose and mission. For example, as the congregation grows in their relationships with one another, they are able to help one another apply the Scripture to their lives. We are all facing unique challenges in our Christian walk as we try to worship God with the whole of our being. Every day we are faced with many choices that we may not know how to address from a Christian perspective. How do we find the answer to these questions? There are only limited times for corporate assembly under the teaching of the church’s leaders, and these assembly times certainly cannot cover all the immediate challenges facing the church’s members. Nor can the leaders even know the challenges everyone in their congregation is facing. However, as individual believers accumulate an understanding of the Bible over years of teaching and instruction, they are able to use that knowledge to help one another think through the various challenges they face. Deep relationships in the church enable church members to talk through the challenges that they face together. Additionally, as believers form deep relationships with other believers their lives are exposed to one another. Hypocrisy thrives in shallow relationships. It takes very little to put on the appearance of righteousness in a particular setting for a limited period of time. But as believers spend time with one another, truly getting to know one another, our sin will be exposed to one another. This is a good thing. As Christians, we want to grow in our worship of God. But the biggest enemy in that process is our own deceitful hearts. Friends who get to know us will be able to observe sin in our lives where we might not notice it ourselves and call us to repentance. Further, because they are friends that we have formed a strong relationship with, they are more likely to do this in a way that is firm yet loving. In summary, you are most likely to grow in your walk with Christ when you have people around you who know you well enough and care about you enough to help you in your growth. Christianity is not a solo performance. It is a team effort. A mature faith is shaped by many different hands, not one individual Christian.

OUT OF THE DEPTH, GROWTH

This is the point of church services. The church assembles together for three basic purposes: teaching, fellowship, and corporate worship. As the church meets together under the teaching of the elders and as church members form relationships with one another outside of the church assembly, the church is able to grow into the body of worshippers that God created it to be.

But this still doesn’t explain how the church is to fulfill its mission. Isn’t the church’s current mission to evangelize and create new worshippers of Jesus? When does the church get around to fulfilling its mission? Answer: Not on Sunday morning. Not even really during any of the church’s corporate assemblies. Guess who has been commissioned by the Lord Jesus to make disciples. It’s you. It’s every member of the church. The body of Christ assembles together to be made into disciples of Jesus, but then it is sent out into the world to create new disciples of Jesus. You see, as the church grows in its knowledge of the Bible through the in-depth study under the direction of church leaders and through relationships with one another, each and every member of the church then grows to become an effective minister of the gospel. A local church doesn’t possess one evangelist. It possesses fifty or a hundred. Every member of the church is an evangelist, and they have been trained how to rightly understand and explain the Bible to others – how to make new disciples by teaching them to do all Christ commanded us – through the growth that they have personally experienced. Imagine: a church of fifty members with fifty trained evangelists, all of whom have been growing in their delight in God, all being sent out into the world every day of the week as witnesses to the resurrected Christ! How long might it take for this church to grow? If each evangelist is able to make one new disciple of Christ every year, effectively doubling the church in size every year, how many new disciples of Christ will that mean in five or ten years? The mission of the church (evangelism) is fulfilled as it grows in it purpose (worship).

This is why we sum up our philosophy of ministry with these simple words: “Growth through depth.” As we study the Word deeply and build deep relationships with one another, the church grows “vertically” as its existing members increase in their worship of God. Then, as each member grows “vertically” in their worship they are each equipped to expand the church “horizontally” in creating new worshippers of Christ. The deeper the church goes in studying and applying the Word together, the higher and wider it will grow. Growth through depth. It’s what you can expect here at Cornerstone Baptist Church.