CHOOSING A CHURCH
"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."
Did you know that God actually wants you to enjoy your Christian life? Christ invites us to a close and joyful relationship with Him (Matt. 11:28-30). This may surprise you, but living the Christian life is really not as complicated as many people make it out to be. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that for many believers it is just that - complicated, frustrating, and burdensome.
How has this happened to so a many of God's children in His church today? I believe the primary reason for this problem is that many Christians have been taught the wrong way to live the Christian life! Though their intentions may be good, many churches today are leading God's children into bondage by teaching various forms of law and rule living. They are taught that this is God's way for them to be accepted and blessed by Him. They are taught that this the way to be obedient to God. However, nothing could be further from the truth!
This false teaching, commonly known as legalism, leads many believers astray. It can be direct, but it's often subtle. However it's promoted, it effectively sucks the joy out of being a child of God and puts believers on a path of confusion and frustration.
Legalism emphasizes and promotes what man can do for God in order to get something from Him, which can include God's favor, more blessings, and even added salvation security. The foundation of legalism is found in the sinful pride of man and the belief that we need to do things for God in order for God to do things for us. The tragic result of this kind of teaching is that it diminishes all that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has done for us.
Legalism says that though God has done a lot for us through Jesus Christ, it wasn't enough. There are things we now need to do and accomplish for God. Though legalists will never admit to this, law living, in essence, promotes the idea that what Jesus Christ has done for us through His cross work and resurrection isn't enough for people to be saved and/or live godly lives! What results is that in churches all over the world today, many believers, who earnestly want to serve the Lord well, find themselves under the yoke of performance-based systems in order to be accepted and blessed by God. This is not God's way to live the Christian life!
This error has been a significant problem in the church ever since it began nearly 2000 years ago. The Apostle Paul addressed the seriousness of this error in his letter to the Galatians and constantly confronted it throughout his ministry (Gal. 3:1-3; 5:1,18). In fact, a primary focus of Paul's ministry was to help believers avoid the error of following the Mosaic Law or any other rule systems devised by men in order to live their Christian lives. Paul hated legalism. He wanted believers to clearly understand, appreciate, and rejoice in all that Jesus Christ had done for them. He wanted them to know their new identity in Christ. Paul wanted believers to rest in the wonderful grace of God and enjoy a wonderful relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
Our church and ministry wants to help people avoid the plethora of false teaching connected with legalism. We want to help you experience the abundant life (John 10:10) that Christ has provided for you and wants you to enjoy as you rest in God's amazing grace. Christ has set you free from the Law and the power of sin. Now, you can live a confident and joyful Christian life!
Therefore, choosing the right church to help you grow spiritually in your relationship with Jesus Christ is a very important decision. It must be made thoughtfully and carefully. Of course, we'd love for you to become part of our church family here at Grace Life Church where we clearly proclaim Jesus Christ and the gospel of God's grace. However, since we minister to people all over the world through this website, we recognize that most of the people we connect with are just too far away to join us. Therefore, we want to provide you with some important information that can help you find a good church to belong to - a church where the focus is on Jesus Christ and what He's done, and where living the grace life is clearly proclaimed.
Below is a general comparison between what a law-oriented, or legalistic church, looks like and what a grace church looks like. Of course, there are degrees and nuances for both kinds of churches. If you're looking for a church, this is a general guide to help you avoid legalistic churches and find one that focuses on grace. However, let me warn you - many churches and pastors today promote legalism in one form or another.
If you discover that you and your family are in a legalistic church, I strongly encourage you to leave that church and find another fellowship. This will not be easy, particularly if you've been part of the church for a long time and have friends there. However, it needs to be done. A close and growing relationship with Jesus Christ, as well as your spiritual growth are at stake. You don't want to subject yourself and your family to false teaching which the Apostle Paul calls "a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all" (Gal. 1:6-7). God does not want you to compromise on these things. Please be assured that the Holy Spirit will lead you and comfort you through this important change.
The size of the church is not important. What is vitally important is that you're part of a church family where the sound doctrine of the Word of God is taught correctly and consistently. You need to be in a fellowship where people are building each other up and teaching each other based on a proper understanding and handling of God's precious Word, the Bible.
LAW CHURCH - GRACE CHURCH COMPARISON
A law church teaches that all your past sins were forgiven by God when you were saved, but in order to have the sins you commit today and in the future forgiven you must confess them to God and then He will forgive you. A law church may also teach that all your sins were forgiven by God when you were saved, but you still need to confess your sins to God in order to stay in fellowship with Him. Law churches that are even more extreme believe that you never reach a point of being completely saved. They teach that you need to regularly confess your sins to a priest or God in order to be forgiven and you must do good works in order to improve your spiritual position before God.
A grace church teaches that all your sins - past, present, and future - were forgiven by God when you were saved (Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13). You're always in fellowship with God because you are in Christ.
A law church teaches or subtly implies that even though you are now saved, it is possible for you to lose your salvation by committing a certain sin or sins, or living some type of sinful lifestyle. A law church does not clearly teach that believers are eternally secure in Christ.
A grace church clearly and regularly teaches that believers are eternally secure in Christ (Rom. 8:35-39; Eph. 1:13-14). A believer cannot lose his salvation because he is in Christ and cannot lose that wonderful position.
A law church teaches that in order for you to be more accepted and/or more blessed by God you must do things for Him. This can include more praying, doing more things in the church (joining a committee, joining a small group, working in the nursery, etc.), tithe (give at least 10% of your gross or net income), and the list goes on.
A grace church teaches that you already are completely accepted by God and fully blessed by Him because you are in Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:7; Eph. 1:3).
A law church will focus a lot of it's preaching and teaching based on people and events in the Old Testament. This will lead people to more likely live their Christian lives based on the Law of Moses that God gave to the nation Israel, a law system that does not apply to believers today as members of the church, the Body of Christ. Furthermore, a lot of the New Testament teaching will be based on the gospels where the Law is still God's program for Israel. The age of grace and the unique, detailed teaching involved with living under grace do not begin until after the resurrection of Jesus.
A grace church spends a lot of time in the New Testament, particularly in Paul's epistles, where we learn all the unique and wonderful information about what God is doing today in the age of grace, or the church age, as He forms the Body of Christ. Since believers today are "not under law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14), a good grace church will focus much of its preaching and teaching on what God is doing today, not on what He was doing through Israel before the cross. A good grace church will teach out of the Old Testament, but will do its best to make clear what parts have application for believers today and what parts do not.
A law church is usually very busy and proud of it. There tends to be a strong focus on all the things that are being done for God or need to be done for God.
A grace church may or may not be busy, but the focus is clearly on Jesus Christ and all that He's done and what He is doing today in and through believers as He forms the church, the Body of Christ.
A law church often leads its people to feel like they're not doing enough for God. This often results in them also feeling beat up and guilty because they're constantly being told (directly or subtly) that they need to do more.
A grace church leads its people to understand and appreciate all that God has done for them. They are taught to trust that the life of Christ in them and living out through them will produce true good works as they walk by faith (Eph. 1:3; 2:10; Col. 2:6-7). People are encouraged to get involved in various ministry opportunities as the Spirit leads them.
In a law church attending services regularly is not enough. There is something more you need to do regularly in order to be "following the program" (attend Sunday school, join a small group, clean the church, etc.). Again, the attitude and motivation is the problem, not the activities themselves. Rather than trusting in the Spirit to guide and lead people to serve and get involved in various ways, a law church uses subtle forms of coercion, which often stir up feelings of guilt, to get people to do things. The leaders usually fear that if they don't use these approaches, ministries may fail and things won't get done. Things must be done!
In a grace church the people are taught and encouraged to rely on the Spirit in them to lead them to how they may want to serve in the body. The ministries and activities that exist are a result of people having an inner desire to be involved with them - no pressure involved. Opportunities to serve will be communicated to the people, but in a way that won't leave people feeling that they have to do them in order to be accepted and considered a good member of the church. Grace-filled communication is the key.
A law church will tend to develop ministries and devise programs in order to attract people to the church and/or keep people from leaving. There tends to be a focus and on how to grow the church numerically.
A grace church rests in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in believers to attract people to the church and to grow them spiritually. No strategies or programs are used to accomplish this. The size of the church is a work of God and He will grow it as the Spirit guides and leads. A church does not have to be growing numerically to be effectively doing God's work. It's false teaching to teach otherwise.
Note: The teaching and preaching in the megachurches that are on TV show that larger and fast-growing churches often accomplish this growth by proclaiming false gospels. The Apostle Paul wrote that in the last days many people/believers will not accept or desire sound doctrine, but rather gather around teachers that say things they want to hear (2 Tim. 3:3-4).
In a law church some people get upset and complain when things aren't done a certain way or things are changed. This is not surprising because of the focus that is put on doing things for God.
In a grace church it is much less likely that people will get upset when things are changed or not done a certain way because the focus is on what Christ has done and what He's doing, not on "the way we do things here."
I hope this information helpful. There are many wonderful churches out there that understand God's grace, teach it clearly, and build up the saints on the foundation of God's love and grace. It is my hope and prayer that you are part of such a fellowship - a church that boldly proclaims Jesus Christ and the wonderful gospel of grace. Remember, Christ is your life (Col. 3:3-4) and He's all that you need!
"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."