The Cost of Church Life

I found this tract as I was clearing out old files because of an office move. I know the author, so I got permission to publish it with all references to his church removed. Church life is what it is. Jesus’ message is what it is. This has universal application where people are joined together around King Jesus.

The life we live comes from the God who made us all, and it is the life we were meant to live.  It delights the heart and fulfills the soul.  It came with a price, however, and for the church to continue to exist, most of its members have to pay that price every day.  Despite the ubiquitous teaching that the gifts of God are free, they remain exceptionally costly, which is why so few possess them.  Are we so foolish as to think that Jesus told us to count the cost when, in fact, there isn’t one?

The kingdom of heaven is like a pearl—extremely precious—which a merchant, in quest of fine pearls, having found, sold all that he had and purchased it. (Matthew 13:45,46, Living Oracles)

What God Requires

You cannot keep your own life and possess God’s. You can come to the church and taste of that Life without giving up your own.  You can enjoy and marvel at this Life without giving up your own. You will not, however, be able to enter into it. Eventually that Life will either enter you—pressing out your life and taking all your possessions, dreams, and relationships—or it will retreat from you and drive you away.

I am the vine; you are the branches.  He who remains in me, and in whom I remain, produces much fruit; for, severed from me, you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in me, he is cast forth like a withered branch, which is gathered for fuel and burnt. (John 15:5,6, LO)

What does this mean?  It does not mean that the leaders or members of the church will put intense pressure on you to live up to some standard we have created.  Anyone who has visited can tell you that is not the atmosphere you will find. It does mean that the reason our Life is so wonderful is because it is powerful, real, and based in the inward work of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in our hearts.

You cannot cling to your possessions and live in the church.  You can own them, but to really experience this Life will require the loss of all attachment to the things of this world.  Your possessions, your relationships, and even your family become part of a life you left behind, and you gain new possessions—ones that will last forever—new relationships, and a new family.

As great multitudes traveled along with him, he turned to them and said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  And whoever does not follow me, carrying his cross,cannot be my disciple.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first, by himself, compute the expense to know whether he has the means to complete it, lest, having laid the foundation and being unable to finish, he becomes the derision of all who see it?

So then, whoever there may be of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-29, 33, LO)

The church does not believe or teach that family members should be cut off when a person enters the kingdom of God.  Just as we seek to love and serve all mankind, so we love and serve our families as well.  However, their will and needs become completely secondary to the will of God and to the needs of his kingdom.

In the meanwhile, a scribe accosted him, saying, “Rabbi, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered, “The foxes have holes, and birds of the air have places of shelter, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Another, one of his disciples, said to him, “Master, permit me to go first and bury my father.”  Jesus answered, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.” (Matthew 8:19-22)

Those who do not offer God this kind of devotion, this forsaking of their own lives, will slowly grow alienated and separate from the Life they have tasted and felt since they came to be a part of the kingdom of God.  It is God himself, by his Spirit, who both works in the branches of the Vine which is his Son and who cuts those branches off if they remain barren.

The Cost of Intimacy

There is no person that does not have closets in their heart that God is shut out of.  This is something God can never endure.  The entire purpose of his kingdom is love.  He brings his disciples together to display the remarkable, utterly satisfying, and delightful love and unity that exists within the Godhead.  Jesus prayed that his disciples would have the very same unity that exists between himself and the Father.  His disciples are to be recognized by their love for one another.

Therefore the main work of God is to break down those things that keep us apart.  I’m not going to explain to you what those things are, because I can’t.  I don’t understand them any better than you do.  I will tell you from experience that people are amazingly adept at keeping themselves safe.  We can be friendly, charming, outgoing, helpful, kind, and nonetheless distant.

All of our Christian exhortation to holiness, righteousness, and love towards others will never touch those things that stand in the way of true brotherhood, true intimacy, and true friendship.  Only God sees what those things are.  Only he sees those walls we’ve erected to keep ourselves safe.  The most astounding thing I’ve seen in the church is watching God touch those walls.  Some minor issue comes up; some tidbit that is less than nothing.  It’s no issue at all, but suddenly a person is angry and dismayed.  They complain and reason as though their very life is at stake.  Maybe they even talk about leaving.

There is no help for such a person.  Their life really is at stake.  God is touching something personal, deep inside their heart, and now they must wrestle with God alone.  Our job becomes simply to keep them safe and to shower them with mercy.  They must choose whether to yield that area of their hearts to God or whether to flee.  This is the sap flowing into the branch, forcing life, forcing growth.  Some branches prefer to be cut off than to endure the entrance of God, for they know that behind God will come people, for God is making a place in their heart for others to find rest, love, and mercy.  The lovingkindness of God is almost always displayed through people, and a tender and vulnerable heart is the ultimate place for God to display the riches of his love to people.

We had a visitor recently who stayed for a couple of weeks.  She remarked repeatedly that “people are so kind here.”  It was clear she was marveling at the concept.  She could barely understand how it was even possible.

It did not come by sweet words of encouragement, nor even by disciplined commitment to Biblical principles.  Many of those who have come to the church were and are deeply committed to Biblical principles, but all of us found ourselves failures at following those principles. Sometimes we didn’t realize we were failing until we experienced that inexplicable work of God that happens when you are really part of the body of Christ.  It is not safe for that work to happen elsewhere, at least not in its fullness.  In the church–not in a Christian club with weekly or biweekly meetings, but in the household of God, where disciples have left their own families to be family to one another–there is a safety, a commitment from those who will never abandon you and will never tear you apart, that allows this work to be done.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all consolation, who comforts is in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them who are in any affliction by the consolation with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, our consolation also abounds in Christ…. Therefore, brothers, we would not have you ignorant concerning our affliction, which happened to us in Asia; that we were exceedingly pressed above our strength, so that we despaired even of life.  Nevertheless, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we might not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, 8, 9)

The Need for Commitment

Because this safety is necessary for the children of God to grow into the kind of love that God wants to display to the world, you cannot remain in the kingdom of God without utter abandonment to that kingdom.  That safety, that commitment that will never abandon your brother or sister, is necessary for the kind of work God does in a disciple’s heart.  Therefore, you will not be allowed—by God—to be a part of that kingdom, a branch in that vine, unless you have no other life, no other care, no other family.  It is for this reason (as well as others, I’m sure; I don’t claim to have figured out the purposes of God) that Jesus’ words are so strong, his call so demanding.

The church, wherever it exists and despite all the problems it may have, really is idyllic.  That is because it is the kingdom of God, and in subjection to God is the way we were created to live. The kingdom of God is like a pearl, exceptionally precious, and those who wish to possess it will need to pay the same price as the merchant in Jesus’ parable: the cost is everything.

On the other hand, that puts it within the reach of everyone!

Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit! (John 12:24)

Remember Lot’s wife.  Whoever seeks to save his life shall lose it; and whoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. (Luke 17:32,33)

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One Response to The Cost of Church Life

  1. Don’t know who you are… found a link on a FB page and liked the title and brief description… printed to read later… About Lot’s wife… I was reading the book once and noted that she had two daughters that remained when they left… I bet it was hard for her mother’s heart to hear the destruction of the city knowing her children were there. I wonder what we would do.

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