What it means to be Spirit Formed and to follow a plan for a vibrant 21st century church.
The Church of God (Seventh Day) has a vision of a vibrant 21st century church. In the previous two Bible Advocate issues we explored two elements of that vision: Christ Centered and Bible Based. Since many of you are studying the ten vision points at length in the quarterlies, we don’t need to cover all of them again here. However, a brief venture into Spirit Formed will neatly connect our previous exploration of the vision with our next concern: transforming our vision into reality.
The Bible isn’t a litany of commands; it’s a collection of life stories. Stories are about relationships (Isaiah 1:2-7,18-20). God reveals Himself to us in the loving relationship of Father and Son sharing one Spirit (John 3:34, 35). This is the very core of His nature.
In His love for us, Jesus became human to restore humanity’s broken relationship with God by paying for our sins Himself. As both God and man, Jesus became the gateway between God and man through which God can share His Spirit with us (John 5:26; 20:31; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 John 4:12-16). Because of Jesus, mortals can become immortal; sinners can become saints (Ephesians 5:1-3).
Christianity is founded, not on a principle but on a person: Jesus Christ. It is His presence, His Spirit, resonating within us, that makes us Christians (Romans 8:14-16; 1 John 3:24; 4:13). As kindred hearts gather together, the collective resonance of our spirits with His Spirit creates vibrant worship. A vibrant 21st century church is, therefore, Spirit formed.
Though we’ve had our vision for seventeen years, few of our local congregations consider themselves vibrant 21st century churches. Most of them recognize they aren’t growing, and many are struggling against decline. Even those with active ministries often find their ministries exclusively inward focused. Too often our love is limited to those within (Matthew 5:46-48).
What’s wrong? Why do our worship services feel routine instead of alive? Why does God feel distant at times? On the human level, we often wonder if we’re at fault when a relationship drifts apart. However, when our relationship with God drifts, there is no question it’s entirely our fault (Isaiah 59:1, 2). We’re falling out of love with Him. How can this happen, and what can we do?
The answer is in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
We usually think of “wicked ways” as sinful acts. True, God’s Spirit doesn’t dwell in the habitually disobedient, but neither does He dwell in those who fail to love (1 John 3:10, 11). James reminds us that if we don’t do what we know we should do, that too is sin (4:17). In other words, sins of commission (disobedience) and sins of omission (failing to love) are both unloving behavior, both wicked ways. It’s up to us to humble ourselves, pray, seek God, and change our ways. God’s law requires us to love everyone, not just those who love us back (Matthew 5:38-48) — another part of being a Spirit-formed church.
Perhaps you’re thinking it isn’t humanly possible to love those who hate us. You’re correct. When someone mistreats us, we want to get even. We live in an increasingly polarized culture that is readily offended. People’s self-worth is bound up in their God-given right to be treated with respect. They exact justice through verbal abuse, demonizing, boycotts, riots, violence, destructive acts, and — in extreme cases — acts of terror. Immersed in this culture, even Christians find themselves satisfying their desire for justice in overt or passive-aggressive ways. We don’t lead in kindness; we return in kind. That’s justice; that’s human nature (Proverbs 16:25).
It’s not in our nature to want the best for those who abuse us. We aren’t good by nature; we’re just by nature. Our love is limited to those who love us back. Humans can’t love unconditionally, but children of God can. They have God’s Spirit, His good nature, within them. They’re connected to the Source of love. In a world focused on its rights under the law, how powerful would it be to see a soul willing to suffer injustice and return true grace. Wouldn’t those who witnessed it say, “I don’t know what you have, but I want that!”?
When we’re under the law, our self-worth comes from how people treat us. But when we give our lives to the One who gave His life for us, our self-worth no longer depends on our rights under the law but on the price Jesus paid for us. To be under grace doesn’t mean we’re free to disobey the law of love. Rather, it means that we can now participate in God’s grace. With His Spirit dwelling in us, we can suffer injustice for others because Jesus suffered injustice at our hands for us. Jesus led in kindness so that we can follow His kindness in kind. We’re still concerned about justice for others, but we no longer need justice for ourselves (Micah 6:8). We want the best for others regardless of how they treat us. That is God’s good nature dwelling in us.
A vision that remains a vision is a fantasy. Unless we’re willing to be transformed by the love of Jesus, the vision of a vibrant 21st century church will never become a reality for the Church of God (Seventh Day). The same law that gives us our rights will condemn us for our failure to love unconditionally. If we’re willing to release our demand for justice under the law and place our faith in His justice, He can transform us into His good, immortal nature. In His grace, Jesus will forgive our transgressions if we’re willing to forgive those who transgress against us (Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 6:37; 11:4).
The plan to transform our vision into reality (TVR) follows the personal spiritual journey: justification, sanctification, and loving obedience. Our plan is to take this journey together as a church, with a year dedicated to each stage. The General Conference has provided the vision, the plan, and the tools (TVR posters, welcome booklets, Sabbath school lessons, Bible Advocate articles, and Churchright focus). But the plan itself isn’t the transformation; transformation only happens when we change. We’re asking our pastors to utilize these tools and lead their congregations toward transformation as we all take this spiritual journey together.
The Pharisees brought a woman before Jesus who had been caught in adultery (John 8:2-11). In this brief story three natures struggling within each of us are personified: unrighteousness in the woman, self-righteousness in the Pharisees, and true righteousness in Jesus. His love draws us in from the polar extremes of unrighteousness (lawless grace) and self-righteousness (graceless law). When we invite His Spirit to dwell within us, His law of love dwells in our hearts, and we grow to become obedient by nature.
Now that we’ve discussed being Spirit Formed, as well as transformation, let’s look at the three stages of the TVR plan.
The first, justification, addresses self-righteousness. We must understand that goodness comes from God, not from us. Christ died, not for the righteous but for the ungodly (Romans 5:6-8). The law of love requires us to love everyone; it leads us to our need for Christ. Salvation isn’t a reward; it’s a gift, and faith is the only appropriate response (4:5). Our gratitude for Christ and His gift of grace fills our hearts with His giving Spirit, creating in us a compassion for all (Luke 7:36-47).
The second stage, sanctification, addresses unrighteousness. Grace isn’t a license to sin; it’s the ability to participate in God’s giving nature. In our consumer-oriented culture, we are acclimated to being served rather than serving. The longer we live in this comfortable environment, the more foreign the idea of self-sacrifice becomes. We begin to think that it is something to avoid, not embrace. As we fail to participate in sacrificial grace, our gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice fades, and we begin to fall out of love with Him. The goal of Stage 2 is to reverse that decline and grow in His grace to become a giving people zealous of good works (Titus 2:14).
The third stage, loving obedience, is sharing His love with others — the Great Commission. We want to become a welcoming church with a compassion for those in spiritual peril. Jesus loves those who are perishing (1 Timothy 2:3, 4). He asks us to sacrifice for others while the door of grace remains open (Matthew 24:37-39). One day all suffering will end, and paradise will begin (Romans 8:18; Revelation 21:4). Once this moment is gone, it’s gone. Today, right now, is our opportunity to be Jesus’ friend.
In the upcoming issues of the Bible Advocate we will explore each stage in detail. In the meantime, let’s be the Spirit-formed church God wants us to be.