The Faith part 5
Characteristics of the Church
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
February 8, 2009

We’ll, we’re continuing this morning in our message series called “The Faith” in which we’ve been looking at some of the foundational beliefs held by all Christians in all places at all times. And today, we’re going to be talking about the Christian understanding of the Church. Specifically, what qualities should characterize the Church? We’re going to look at four of them, and you can use the notes provided in your Sunrise Update to follow along and fill in the blanks.

Before we get to that, though, let me just remind you of what the Church is. We’ve talked about this here before, but I think it’s important for us to remember just what the Church is. Because it’s not the building. It’s not someplace you go on Sunday morning. No, the Church is not the building; it’s the people. It’s not a place you go to; it’s a family you belong to. It’s not the location in the community where you go to meet with other Christ-followers; it’s the community of Christ-followers itself.

We often use the word “Church” to refer to a building, but the truth is the Church likely existed for 300 years before it even owned a building. Before then, the met at the Jewish temple, in homes, in public squares, on hillsides… wherever they could meet. But the Church was not the location; it was the people. And it’s the same way today: The Church is the community of Christ-followers.

In the broadest sense, that includes all Christ-followers around the world throughout all time. And this universal Church has a more personal local expression as groups of Christ-followers gather in various locations like this one. We here at Sunrise are a local expression of the global Church… the Body of Christ.

So with that understood, what I want to spend the rest of our time talking about is this: what are some of the Characteristics that you should be able to observe in any Church… in any gathering of Christ-followers? And of course, that means right here at Sunrise. When people visit us here at Sunrise, or when people look at us and who we are as a group of Christ-followers, what should they see?

The truth is, there are several answers to that. But we’re going to look at four ways that we as a Church should be characterized.

The Church Should be Characterized by…

A.    The Presence of the Holy Spirit

Just last week we talked about the Trinity – the One God who exists in three persons. And we saw how this is not contradictory, but instead is a reasonable and Scriptural understanding of the nature of God. And we saw how this one God exists as the God the Father, Jesus the Son, and as the Holy Spirit.

And while it’s true that all three are co-equal – no one outranks the other – it’s the Holy Spirit who is the most immediately significant for day to day Christian living. Because it’s the Holy Spirit through whom we are “born again”. It’s the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. It’s the Holy Spirit who equips us with special abilities we call spiritual gifts. It’s the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us, who transforms us, and who guides us through life. It’s the Holy Spirit who empowers us to tell others about God. It’s the Holy Spirit who gives us the assurance of salvation. It’s the Holy Spirit who Jesus promised He would send to carry on His work.

The presence of the Holy Spirit is essential to the successful Christian life. And if we are truly followers of Christ, we will be submissive to the work and leadership of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:14 (NLT)
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

So conversely, if you are not led by the Spirit, then you are not a child of God. Because the Spirit is working in you to help you live as a child of God.

Galatians 5:16, 25 (NLT)
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves… Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

So when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we have a choice. We can welcome Him, we can reject Him, or we can ignore Him. And I think all too often in North American churches we ignore Him. We don’t mean to, but we just get in our routines and we think we’re doing all right and we think we know how things out to be done, so we end up thinking we don’t need Him. Even when it comes to the ways we worship and what we do when we get together like this on a Sunday morning, it can be very easy for us to put everything together using our own talents and leave Him out of it. Perhaps not intentionally, but we get enamoured with ourselves and think we’re doing a pretty good job.

I mean, we can put a pretty good service together here. We have some people who are pretty talented musically, we have some great people working with children, we have people willing to come in early on a Sunday morning to sweep and mop and clean up and then set up, we’re able to put some pretty professional materials together and make good use of multimedia, I’m able to put some time into preparing a message that might be able to connect and be relevant and might even contain some pretty important truths and good advice for everyday living. And we can put all this together in a pretty neat package. But the truth is, without the Holy Spirit’s involvement none of that really amounts to anything. At least nothing of any eternal significance.

“Being disciples of Christ isn’t just a matter of what we do; it’s a matter of who we are. And the key to that is going to be the fullness of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives.”
~ William Lane Craig
Defenders Podcast, The Holy Spirit, August 25, 2008

There’s a whole lot more we could say about the Holy Spirit, and that’s why at the end of May and through June we’re going to do an entire series talking about who the Holy Spirit is and what it means to be filled by the Spirit and what role He plays in our lives day to day. So look forward to that in a few months.

The Church should be characterized by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Church should also be characterized by…

B.    Abundant Living

One day Jesus was talking about those who would place their faith and their hope in Him, and this is what He said…

John 10:10 (NIV)
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

So what does this full, abundant life look like? Well, I think abundant living would be…

  • Joyful.
  • Hopeful.
  • You would experience peace even in the midst of trouble.
  • I think you would sense a purpose and direction for life.
  • You would be overflowing with love.
  • You would have a confidence and a trust in God.
  • You would be able to courageously face each and every day.
  • You’d be able to extend forgiveness instead of resentment when someone does you wrong.
  • You would experience true freedom in life.
  • And you would walk with a sense of power because of that presence of the Holy Spirit which we talked about earlier.

You know what? This kind of abundant living is normal for a Christ-follower. It’s not meant to be the exception. It’s the life that God has planned for you.

Unfortunately, while this kind of life for the Christ-follower may be normal, it’s not always that common. Because even when you look at Christians today, you discover that…

  • Many are living lives that are not victorious
  • The divorce rate within the Church is comparable to that outside the Church
  • You’ll find people who are consumed with materialism
  • You’ll find people addicted to pornography and are abusing various substances
  • There are some who are judgmental
  • There’s a discernable lack of love
  • There’s a fear about trusting God and following His lead and even telling people about Him.

That’s the way a lot of Christians live. But that’s not the way it’s meant to be. That the abnormal Christian life, not the normal. It may be common, but it’s not normal.

So how do we live that kind of normal, abundant Christian life? Well, it goes back to the first characteristic. It goes back to being filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It goes back to submitting yourself to the powerful, transforming work He wants to perform in your life. It goes back to desiring Him, and praying for Him, and letting Him do His thing.

C.    An Eternal Perspective

A number  of years ago, James Patterson and Peter Kim asked the question, “What would you be willing to do for Ten Million Dollars?” They conducted a massive survey and this is what they discovered…

Abandon family... 25%
Abandon church... 25%
Become a prostitute for a week or more... 23%
Give up citizenship... 16%
Leave spouse... 16%
Withhold testimony and let a murderer go free... 10%
Kill a stranger... 7%
Change race... 6%
Have sex-change operation... 4%
Put children up for adoption... 3%

A lot of people will do a lot of things for ten million dollars. Why would they do that? Because they think that’s what’s important. That’s all they think they need to make them happy. That’s where their perspective is.

I was in Moncton for part of this week to attend our district Ministerial meetings. So I went over on Tuesday, left Shera to take care of Nate (and to shovel snow on Wednesday), and came back on Thursday.

Of course, that meant that Shera and I both needed a car. I needed to get to Moncton, she needed to get to work in Morell, and Nate needed to be dropped off and picked up at daycare. But we only have one car.

So I had to rent a car for my trip. And I clearly remember, while I was driving, hitting a pothole and thinking, “Oh well, it’s a rental. It’s not my car.” I mean, I was taking it back in two days. What did I care if it got thrown out of alignment? What did I care if the lifespan of the tires was diminished? It was only a rental, and I was giving it back in two days!

And I started to think about that and how we treat things that are disposable. Which do you treat with more care – a Styrofoam cup or an antique china teacup? A $0.99 Bic Razor or a $150 Remington deluxe electric razor? You treat things that are more valuable and more lasting as more important, don’t you? You treat them better and you’re more careful with them than you are with something that’s disposable.

Nate wears disposable diapers. Do you know what he does in those? He wears the diapers to protect the clothes that are going to last longer. (And, of course, for easier clean-up.)

But you know what? Pretty much everything in this world is disposable. How does that old saying go? “He who dies with the most toys… wins?” Well, the truth is, he who dies with the most toys… still dies.

And no matter how much stuff you accumulate and no matter how much you pay for it all, you’re not going to take it with you. Even if you have ten million dollars, it’s not going to last. Egyptian Pharaohs used to be buried with their riches because they thought they could take it with them, but they were wrong. The only place their riches were destined for was the museum. All your belonging in this world are temporary. I don’t care how much you paid for them, I don’t care if they last a few minutes, a few decades or a few centuries, they’re still temporary.

It’s the same with that promotion at work that you worked so hard for… it might be a nice promotion but it’s still temporary. That investment portfolio that you sacrificed so much to build… it’s temporary. That business that you started and nurtured to what it is today? Temporary. That T.V. show that you devote so much time to watching, someday it’s going to be cancelled and replaced by something else.

1 Timothy 6:7-8 (NLT)
…We brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it.

Everything you have is going to spoil, corrode, be stolen, rot away, and break down (usually right after the warranty runs out). There’s nothing in this life that is invincible. And you can’t take it with you. As Billy Graham said…

“There won’t be a U-Haul following your hearse.”
~ Billy Graham

Now, is it okay for you to work hard and earn money and buy nice things and save up for retirement? Is it okay to enjoy a good wholesome T.V. show? Sure, all that’s fine. You should do those things. But understand, they’re still temporary. They’re only good for this lifetime. Your greatest investments… your greatest attention… your greatest interest… should be on that which is eternal.

So what’s eternal? Your soul, the souls of others, your relationship with Jesus, your character, your integrity… those are the things that are eternal. Those are the things that are of real value. Those are the things you should be really investing in.

Colossians 3:2 (NLT)
Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.

If you are a Christ-follower… if you are part of His eternal family, the Church… then you should have this kind of eternal perspective. Jesus said it this way…

Matthew 6:19-20 (NLT)
“Don't store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them.”

Become consumed with the things of lasting, eternal value, not the things of this world. Have an focus on eternity.

D.    A Movement Toward Christlikeness

This should be the aim of every Christ-follower and should be what you see within the Church… a trend or a movement toward Christlikeness.

Romans 8:29 (NLT)
For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son…

God didn’t choose you just to ACT like His Son. He chose you to BECOME like His Son. Circle that word. So again, it’s not a superficial thing… it’s a complete makeover. The Bible says you become a “new creation”. It’s not a cosmetic cover-up, it a heart transformation, making you holy as Jesus is holy.

From what Karen read for us earlier…

Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)
Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life… Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

You don’t just change a few habits. You don’t just edit your vocabulary. You don’t just add a few good deeds to your schedule. God makes you a new person, from the inside out. Because, understand this: You don’t change the inside by changing the outside; you change the outside by changing the inside.

In fact, when you try to do it the opposite way… when you try to change the outside before you’re changed on the inside… what happens? You don’t become Christlike at all. Instead, you become judgmental, you become bitter, you become frustrated, you become hypocritical. And there’s more than enough of that in this world – there’s more than enough of that in churches – already. So as for you, you count on God to transform you on the inside, and then you allow that to change how you live on the outside. Okay?

You become Christlike by submitting to God, seeking Him above all else, and allowing His Spirit to perform His transforming work within you.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV)
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.

That word “sanctify”… it means to be made holy. It means to be made like Jesus… to reflect His character and His values.

It means you seek God’s approval, not the approval of others.
It means you seek God’s way over your own way.
It means you seek obedience over convenience.
It means you seek holiness over happiness.

“[Holiness] is the heart of the Christian life and every Christian’s destiny… We are to become holy as Christ is holy; we are to become true Christians, the root meaning of which is ‘little Christs’.”
~ Charles Colson

So saturate yourself with the things of God. Read His Word, think about what He says, and allow Him to work in you. Allow His love and His grace to wash over you, and make yourself available for Him to use in spreading that love and grace around to others.

All right, those are some of the characteristics that should be evident in the Church and in the life of the Christ-follower.

This week in your LIFE Group you’ll discuss these kinds of things a little bit more. You’ll also talk about the community of the Church, worship, the sacraments, our mission of spreading the news about Jesus, and even about the sanctity of life.

If you’re reading along in the book, then this week you should be reading chapters 10, 11 and 12.



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