The One Thing Your Church Needs To Get Right

(The steeple from my childhood church, in case you were wondering.  It was the best church photo I had.)

Let's do a little evaluating exercise, shall we?

I've mentioned a couple of times briefly that Derek and I have had some church upheaval to deal with over the last six months or so.  I won't get into details here, but we decided in light of everything that we needed to take a step back and evaluate our church situation a little bit, and seek where the Lord may have us go.  So we've been trying some of the churches in our area.

This is the second time we have gone through this process in the last few years, so between Derek and me, we have checked out over a hundred churches, either online or in person.  I wish I could say it's been an encouraging process, but on the contrary, it's been incredibly discouraging to me.  The most discouraging part hasn't involved service styles or anything to do with the people in these churches.  So many have been friendly and welcoming.  I've been more discouraged than anything by the content of some of the sermons.

One illustration we heard at a church-that-shall-not-be-named particularly bothered me, maybe because it is an example of everything that I've been discouraged about in our church hunt.  I'm tipping my hand here, but see if you can understand my point after you read the sermon illustration below.  I understand that every illustration is imperfect and falls apart when you try to take it too far, but I was particularly concerned with this one.

This is roughly what was said in one of the sermons we heard.


"Let's imagine that a man gets called into his boss's office one day.  His boss tells him that he needs to sell a million dollars worth of product.  He needs to do it in six months, or he'll lose his job.

The man works to sell the company's product.  Six months later, he gets called into the boss's office again.  He sits down, and his boss looks at him.  The man sweats a little bit in nervousness.  He doesn't think he did well enough.   He is fearful that he'll have to go home tonight and tell his wife that he's out of work.

His boss announces that he only sold $7 worth of product in the last six months.

The man hangs his head.  He knows he's going to lose his job.  He didn't do enough.

But his boss looks at him, and tells him that no, he didn't sell enough.  But because he cares about him so much, he's going to give him another six months to sell the million dollars."

"That," this pastor announced proudly, "is grace."



The only problem is, that is not the Gospel.

I'm going to give that pastor the benefit of a doubt and assume he was merely trying to explain the general concept of grace rather than a Gospel illustration, but I'm using it as an example because the illustration was representative of alot of the teaching we've heard lately.  Let's just be clear:

The Gospel is not that God gives us grace to do better.

The Gospel is not that Jesus is our example.  He is, but He's so much more than just that.

The Gospel is not even about God changing lives.  That is the result of the Gospel, but it's not the Gospel.

The Gospel starts with understanding that we have a sin problem.  Not "messiness", not "mistakes", not "brokenness".  A pervasive, indwelling sin problem that we can never make up for because we are always piling on more sins.

No, nobody is perfect. And that's the problem, because we are talking about a perfect, holy God, full of goodness and light.  And we have sinned against Him (Psalm 51:4).  We have broken His laws.  God must punish sin, or He would not be perfectly just nor good.  We have earned for ourselves death and eternal punishment in Hell (Romans 6:23).  With every disobedience.  With every grumbling or unclean thought. With every "white lie".

That is not a message that some pastors want to focus on these days.  That is not a feel-good message.  That is bad, bad news.  It might even be offensive, because we all have a tendency to think we aren't "that bad" (guilty here).  But even that attitude is the sin of pride!  Even our good deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  We're in trouble.

You have to understand the bad news to understand the good news.

God, out of the richness of His loving-kindness, didn't leave us in our sin and death.  He sent His Son, Jesus, who was fully man and fully God, and He was perfect.  He did everything we couldn't, lived a life without sinning even once.  Then because He was perfectly righteous, He took the punishment we had earned upon Himself.  He died in our place.  Then He rose from the dead, conquering our sin and death itself.  He took our sin upon Himself, suffered the wrath against sin that we deserved, and in exchange He gave us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When we recognize who we are, and who Christ is and what He has done, the only thing we need to do is to repent.  We need to turn from our sin and turn to Christ with faith that He will save us.  With faith that He has done everything required for our salvation if we will just turn and trust in Him.

We don't have to be a "better person" to earn His favor.  We don't have to "clean up our lives" to earn forgiveness. We don't have to strive to do things "God's way" in hopes that we've done enough to make up for our wrongs.  We can do nothing to deserve His mercy, we can't make up for our wrongs. But Christ did.  

 "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,  not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,  whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior," 

Titus 3:4-6

And when we understand that and turn to Christ, God takes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh.  We will respond in loving obedience, because when we understand Jesus died to save us from the punishment of our sin, we will start to hate our sin.  We want to turn our back on it and turn to Jesus because He already saved us from that.  And He enables us to now live for Him (2 Cor. 5:15) through the Holy Spirit working in us, sanctifying us.


So if we were going to take that illustration at the top of this post and make it represent the Gospel more truly, it would be something like this.

Your boss comes to you one day and says you have to sell a million dollars in six months or you will lose your job. Worse, you have been embezzling from the company for years, so you have to pay that money back before you can start earning the million dollars.  The total is astronomical.  You will never be able to earn it back.  You are in trouble.

In six months your boss sits down to look at your accounts.  He looks at the papers, and then looks up at you.  You are sweating.  You've done nothing that has decreased what you owe.  You know you deserve to lose your job and be thrown in prison for what you've done.

But he looks at you with eyes filled with compassion.  And he smiles.

He leans forward and tells you he knows what you've done.  He knows what you owe, and that you can never do enough to repay it, no matter how many years he might give you.  But he cares for you like his own child.  You have fallen incredibly short, but His son sold enough to cover everything you owe.  He has credited what his son has earned to your account, and he won't be pressing charges against you for the embezzlement because his son has paid your fine.

You don't have to do anything.  Your debt is payed, your way has been earned.  You can keep your job forever. 

That is mercy.  That is grace.

That is the Gospel.


If you have not trusted in Jesus for your eternal salvation, I urge you, please be reconciled to God.  Trust in the One who has done everything necessary to give you eternal life.  Turn away from your sin and turn to Him.

And if you are a believer already, please get this right. And get yourself in a church that gets this right. 

It does little good for church pews to be filled each week, it does little good to hear superficially inspiring sermons, if the message doesn't point us back to Christ and what He has done to save us.  The pure, beautiful truth of what Christ has done for us that we couldn't do for ourselves. Understanding and believing this truth is what brings about actual life change, through God's grace.

I have seen the "gospel" taught wrongly so many times in the past few months, and I don't think I even realized how much of a burden that discouragement was putting on me until a few weeks ago, when we finally sat again in a church that preached everything I just tried to explain above.

I sat there in the pew with tears rolling down my cheeks.  It was such a relief to me, even as someone who is already a believer, after months of "do better" sermons, to hear again from the pulpit the beautiful truth of the Gospel preached clearly.  To marvel again at what Jesus did for me.

We believers still need to hear the Gospel too.

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Bekah said...

YES!! We had to find a new church a couple of years ago and it was so discouraging to realize how many churches weren't preaching truth and/or preaching boldly! We nearly cried when we found one that did!

Rachel said...

LOVE this!!!! Thanks for sharing your journey to find the right Church home.

Michelle said...


Natalie@She Builds Her Home said...

I want to be shocked at the fact that you've checked out 100 churches and none of them presented the gospel accurately, but unfortunately I'm not surprised. We went through the same process, leaving our church of 12+ years recently (which actually did present the gospel well, but there were other issues) and we searched literally every church in town online. We found ONE that we felt like we could actually attend. Thankfully, it's been even better than we imagined and such a huge blessing to our family and it's been such a healing time, but the church search is heartbreaking. Unfortunately it doesn't surprise me that this is the way it's going in our country....pastors water it way, way down and that's what people want to hear. It makes them feel good. I hope & pray that the church you attended most recently will be "it" for you and that your family can grow and thrive under the leadership of men who are getting it right and preaching the hard Truth even if it's not the most popular thing or the thing people want to hear!

Sarah said...

We found a church we loved shortly after moving here. We were going to become members, but then the whole church went through a very dramatic and nasty split so we left. It's so exhausting going to new churches week after week! We've done it so many times in the last few years and many times we've wanted to give up.

Someone gave the advice of visiting a church for at least two weeks before making a decision about it. We don't always do that because sometimes it's obvious it is not the place for us, but we try to keep a very open mind on the first visit. The church might be having an off day or the man leading the music may be out sick and his replacement may not be what we're comfortable with. We'd never know if we didn't visit a second time. We've also had to "give up" some of our preferred styles. For example, we prefer traditional hymns but many churches don't sing hymns any more. It's a tough decision and I hope you're able to find your new church home soon.

Anonymous said...

Amen!!! Thank you for sharing. It’s scary how unbiblical the teaching is in many churches. People are so hungry for truth and you’re right that we need to have the Gospel preached to us regularly and we need to preach it to ourselves daily!

Elizabeth said...

I wasn't sure where you were going to go with this post, but I was encouraged as I read. I totally agree that Biblical doctrine is a non-negotiable. We're in a new tiny church after a split, and our current church doesn't have much going for it EXCEPT sound doctrine and the reading of Scripture. Of course, I'm biased because my husband is one of the preachers, but I don't think I've ever felt hesitant about anything he's preached. The most negative comments I've heard had to do with "too many big words" or "too much Greek" or whatever. A lot of people ultimately left since we don't currently have children's ministry or even a worship team. I'm just praying that will all work out. I can totally relate to wanting the church to be a good fit stylistically and obviously it should feel welcoming! But yeah, it would be dishonest to yourself and the church if you can't get onboard with what's coming from the pulpit. When I was in college, I had an interesting experience attending a certain church (charismatic) that had some teachings that were new to me. To make a long story short, I really grew during that time because I would present every little thing to God and search the scriptures. So, if you are kind of on the fence, it's a great opportunity to delve into the Word. I should probably follow my own advice. :)

Sara A. said...

This is SO important!!! My family and I travel North America; my father is an evangelist and we sing as well. This being the case, I see a LOT of churches in the space of a year. While this allows me to see many good, Gospel-preaching churches, it also reveals the sad truth that many, many churches don't sand for what they used to stand for. It's so sad to see people pushing their own "version" of what grace is, in relation to the Gospel. Great post! Thank you for speaking out so boldly for Christ!

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