Do I Really Need to Go to Church?

A Different Church Building

A Different Church Building (Photo credit: justshootingmemories)

Question: I am a “new” Christian and I have a question that concerns me.  I do not have a church home and to be perfectly honest, I have not found one that makes me comfortable.  There seems to be too much politics involved, so to speak.  I pray, I believe that Jesus died for me, I study my Bible and I listen to various services on TV and have received much knowledge by doing so.  My life is dedicated to serving my Lord but I do not want to displease Him.  Is it necessary to have a church home?

Answer:  Yes, I believe it is necessary to have a church home.  I know that there are unpleasant interactions in any body of people gathered for a common purpose.  Politics, the practice or study of the art and science of forming, directing, and administrating states and other political units, is an inevitable part of any collective body.  But the politics of the church should be about implementing the will of our Leader, Jesus Christ.  His apostles, who were his authoritative spokesmen for the faith, planted churces wherever they went.  That is, they called together the believers for the purpose of meeting in unity around the authoritative gospel message and to worship together their Savior.  They appointed leaders to help govern the church.  But of course, from the very beginning there were leaders who did not lead well and plenty of opportunities for church members to get upset with each other.

It is in this kind of situation, however, that we learn that we are just as capable of the very errors we hate and in which we must learn to love and be loved.  Like marriage, which is also a very imperfect reperesentation of the ideal love we want to experience, the institution becomes a laboratory for learning love.  If we submit to the Lord and ask him to help us be shaped by love and be shapers of others by our love, he will certainly work that in us.  We need the accountability of others in our lives and to be those who offer accountability.

This is why it says:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).

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If Christians are forgiven, why are we going to be judged?

Question:  It says in the Bible that those who are in Christ are free from condemnation. If this is so, why then willLast Judgement, Triptych we face judgment? And child molesters, rapists, and murderers, are they also free from condemnation when they accept Christ and repent? What sort of judgment might they receive? We will be judged according to our deeds? What does that mean? Christians say we should be free from guilt and shame and accept the free gift of grace and salvation. Then they say we will be judged. This is confusing to me. Should I fear for my salvation or just believe all is well? And honestly, where’s the justice? For those who lived a life of abuse and neglect, hurt, and shame caused by another, God says He will make things right for us. But if the perpetrator is forgiven completely, where’s justice for the victim?

Answer:  There are several judgments mentioned in the Bible.  The final judgment is mentioned in Revelation 20:11-15 and is often referred to as The Great White Throne Judgment because if depicts Jesus sitting on a white throne as he carries out this judgment.  But only unbelievers are present at this judgment, only those whose names are not found written in the Lamb’s book of life.  They are thus judged for not having believed in Christ and they are also judged on their works.  This suggests that there are degrees of punishment in hell (see my article on this).  Dante, in his book Inferno, sought to describe what these different degrees of punishment looked like but there are no specific descriptions given in Scripture.

Believers, on the other hand, will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10):

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Though it may sound as if this determines whether we are saved or not, Paul makes it clear in all his writings, and especially in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, that this judgment is really about determining our reward in heaven.  Just as there are degrees of punishment in hell, there are degrees of reward in heaven.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).  When we believe we “pass from death to life” (John 5:24).

But your question suggests that for those who have been abused the presence of their perpetrator or any perpetrator in heaven because they repented and were forgiven may compromise your sense of reward.  This assumes that the sin of the perpetrator is different in kind than your sin and less worthy of forgiveness.  And truly, the sin of the perpetrator is egregious and heinous, having devastated and tortured the life of the victim in extraordinary ways.  But we are also rebels against God’s kingdom and rule.  We too have rejected the love and grace of God until He visited us in grace and forgave us.  We are equally undeserving of heaven.

Besides, when we are fully enveloped in the love of heaven, we will be able to love the perpetrator the way God loves the perpetrator and the way He loves us.  We will be able to say as Christ did, “Father, forgive them.”  The perpetrator will be able to acknowledge how deeply and gravely he injured those he abused and seek reconciliation.  We have seen a bit of this miraculous transformation in the aftermath of the end of apartheid in South Africa and in the forgiveness offered after the slaughter of Tutsis and Hutus.

There is a need in human beings, generated by the uncompromising love and justice of God, to see justice done and to see hatred quashed.  God has figured out a way to do both.  If there is not justice for the least infraction, there is no justice.  If there is not forgiveness for the worst infraction, there is no forgiveness.

 

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Is There No Forgiveness For Intentional Sin?

Question:  Hebrews 10:26 says that if we sin willfully knowing better there is no more sacrifice for our sins.
Well I have been taught that if you keep sinning over again knowing you’re going to do it, like premeditated sinning I guess you could call it, that’s what the scripture is talking about.  Others say that its talking about rejecting Christ as savior after knowing the truth.   So which is it?

Answer:  Let me let you decide.  Here is the full passage:

Hebrews 10:26, If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Does it seem clear to you that the deliberate sinning being talked about here is equivalent to having “trampled the Son of God underfoot”?  And if you view the letter as a whole it is written to a church with many Jewish believers who are considering returning to Judaism.  Context clearly answers your question.

But the other question here is one of choosing to deliberately keep sinning.  How does that affect you?  I think the answer is it hardens your heart and your conscience to sin.  It makes it harder and harder to really come to a place of repentance.  You are damaging your soul and certainly hurting the heart of God.  A true believer cannot lose his or her salvation.  But God will certainly, out of love for you, discipline you until you come to a place of righteousness (Hebrews 12:4-11).  That is not an enviable place to be.

See also:

How Do You Bring an Atheist to Christ?

Question:  How in the world do you bring an atheist to Christ?  I know you should pray for the right words but just wanted your thoughts on this.

Answer:  Bringing an atheist to Christ is just like bringing anyone to Christ.  I love the book “I Once Was Lost” by Everts and Schaupp.  It is a brilliant work based on a lot of experience in evangelism on college campuses.  Let me summarize.

Everyone must cross 5 thresholds to become a Christian.

First, they must come to trust a Christian.  If the non-Christian is to you simply a notch to put on your belt, you will not be trustworthy.  But if you love that person no matter what decision they make about Christ then they can trust you.

Second, they must be curious about Jesus.  Many non-Christians have some knowledge of Jesus and would like some questions about Him answered.  This is a first step toward genuine seeking.

Third, they must be open to radical life change.  Embracing the message of Jesus will require a complete alteration of one’s life.  When a non-Christian begins to understand the meaning of the gospel they will see how it will require radical life change.

Fourth, they must become genuine seekers of God.  They must really want to know the truth and how it affects them.

Fifth, they must believe.

An atheist claims there is no God.  What is their evidence for this belief?  Being willing to engage them on this would be a first step for you in building a trust relationship.  It will take some time because these lines of evidence are not quickly evaluated and answered.  Perhaps as the atheist sees your genuine love for him or her there will be a curiosity developed about why you are who you are and what role Jesus plays in that.  If the atheist is able to see that his or her view does not answer life’s most basic questions he or she might be open to radical life change.  If they become genuine seekers you might be instrumental in helping them through this process of seeking.  And finally you might help challenge them to get off the fence and believe.

We’re talking about a long term commitment to a person with genuine love and a readiness to engage in difficult discussions.  And yes, it will require prayer for the right words and the right heart toward this person.

Why Didn’t Jesus Have to Suffer the Way Unbelievers Will?

Question:  Why was it such a difficult thing for Jesus to die on the cross and pay for our sins? I know that he took the full force of God’s wrath for our sin, but what did that do to Jesus? I know Jesus went through hell, but it was only temporary. All of us die, some very horrible deaths. And then some of us receive payment for our sins forevermore to be separated from God. This is terrible to say, but honestly it seems like a small price to pay considering humans and demons continue paying for their sin forever. I know Jesus was innocent of any sins. How can I see this from a more realistic and Godly viewpoint?

Answer:   I think you’re asking why Jesus didn’t have to pay more of a price equal to the punishment humans receive for rebelling against God.  He only died physically (and though torturous it was fairly limited compared to how some have been made to suffer) and then he was only separated from God for a short time and then entered Paradise upon death.  In other words, Jesus’ penalty seems way less than what others have exacted from them by God.

I have just had some of my own assumptions challenged in this area.  Are we correct in assuming that Jesus’ death has to be equal to the suffering of death that anyone else experiences to adequately pay the price for their sin?  Is the price for sin related to how horribly we die or just that we die physically?  It would seem it could only be related to the fact that we die, not the extent of our suffering.

And was Jesus’ statement that God had forsaken him a statement of the Father’s actually  abandoning him spiritually (so that he experienced a taste of hell)?  What is the actual penalty of rebellion against God?  It might only be physical death and that physical death for the unbeliever leads to eternal separation from God as a consequence, not so much as a penalty.

I don’t know yet how to answer each of those questions I raised, but I think it is important to recognize that Jesus was the only human being who ever lived a completely righteous life in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the value of his life is of infinite value and capable of paying for every human being who believes.  The fact that he would choose to die in our place when he did not deserve to die at all lends even greater weight to his sacrifice.

So we don’t have to see some kind of one-to-one correspondence between how Jesus died and how everyone else dies.  It is more a matter of what God accepts.  God values Jesus’ death as equal to what we would have had to pay corporately.  He feels it is a just payment in our place.  We may not fully understand how that is so, but we know His balance scales are always honestly weighted.  He didn’t give himself an easy way out.

What is the value of water baptism?

Question:  What is the purpose of water baptism? Is it a sign of the believer’s covenant  with the Lord, similar to circumcision? At the very least, it seems valuable to me as a   tangible memory or similar to building an altar of remembrance of one’s new commitment to Christ. However, many today wait a long time to be baptized; this is in contrast to the New Testament times where people seemed to be baptized quickly.

Answer:  There are those who believe that water baptism is essential to salvation.  They will point to such passages as Acts 2:38 in which Peter says “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” and Acts 22:16 where Ananias instructs Paul to “be baptized and wash away your sins.”  But Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 that this is not the case.  He writes:

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name.  (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

If baptism was essential to salvation, Paul could not and should not have separated it from preaching the gospel.  Christ, indeed, would have sent him to baptize if it were required.

But if it is not essential for salvation, or doesn’t actually wash away sins, then what does it do?  And I believe it does what you suggested.  It is a symbol that is an aid to faith.  Faith is what saves us, is what washes away our sins, but baptism gives visible and tactile expression to that faith.  Human beings need to give such expression to our inward beliefs to help solidify them in our souls.

In addition, the outward demonstration of faith given in baptism helps others to be more aware of our faith and acts as an encouragement to their own faith.  The Bible does not emphasize this but it is a reality.  And you are correct that normally new believers were almost immediately baptized upon conversion.  This did not always give much opportunity for a crowd to gather.  So the symbol is much more for the believer than for his or her fellow Christians.

However, there is nothing that says we must be baptized immediately.  The early church began a process of teaching new converts to ascertain whether they were genuine followers of Christ before baptizing them.  This seems to go too much counter to the New Testament example.  But for us to make it a part of a community worship opportunity seems a judicious use of the symbol to help everyone rejoice with the new convert.

Randall Johnson

Other articles on baptism:

Is the Mode of Baptism Inconsequential?

What Does Your Church Believe About Baptism?

What is the meaning of the second death in Revelation 20:11?

Question: I just found something about the “Second Death“, Rev 2:11… I checked the concordance and it seems that the meaning is “The Lake of Fire“… but honestly, I still do not understand What’s the meaning of the second death… Could you help me with this?

Answer:  In the context of the passage we are told that those who were martyred during the great tribulation will be resurrected and reign with Christ 1,000 years.  This is the first resurrection.  Following the premillennial scheme, I view this as the resurrection of all who are saved during the tribulation.  Those who are saved during the millennium will be resurrected after the millennium.  Those who are resurrected are not affected, John tells us, by the second death.

This suggests that the first death is the death we experience in this age, the death of the body, which means the soul is separated from the body and goes either to Hades or Heaven (see article).  The second death then would be described in Revelation 20:11, where those already dead by the first death are now called before the great white throne of Jesus for judgment.  They are judged out of the book of life and because their names are not found there (they aren’t followers of Jesus), they perish or die the second death, consignment to Hell or the Lake of Fire forever.  The severity of their judgment is based on the deeds recorded in the “books” in this passage (see article).

This seems to be another way of saying that there is no chance of heaven, once someone dies, if they have never trusted in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation.  We must keep reaching the lost wherever they are.  This is Christ’s great commission for us (Matthew 28:19,20).