The latter is what we are trying to invite and encourage one another to do at First Presbyterian Church in Iola, Kansas. We do this not to earn our salvation (which is the free gift of God to those who believe in Jesus, the Son of God), but rather to express gratitude for unmerited grace and a desire to glorify God and grow closer to God.
The Rev. Jim Rausch told this story, "Early in my career as a pastor, one Sunday when I had been invited to lead worship at a non-denominational church, a person from the congregation came up to me prior to the service to chat a bit. She asked me a question that struck me as odd. 'What do you preach against' she inquired.
"I had to pause for a moment before answering, because I had not thought of my preaching as primarily being "against" anything, but rather "for" the Gospel of Jesus Christ. An answer did come to mind, however, and it still rings true today. 'I preach against complacency and stagnation in our faith,' I replied."
Both inside and outside the church, evidence of devout practice of the Christian faith seems to be sorely lacking in our country and other Western nations. While the vast majority of people in our country identify themselves as Christian, many appear to be so in name only. This is not a new problem. In the New Testament Book, Hebrews 5:11-14, one teacher shares his frustrations with Christians who have become "dull in understanding," and complains that they have failed to move from "milk" to "the solid food" which is for those who are mature in the faith.
If you are a Christian, are you growing in discipleship? Are you being invited and challenged to the "solid food?" That kind of growth does not just happen, especially if one is not actively seeking it. Engaging with a community of believers who make discipleship their goal is a great way to defend against the temptation to deadly complacency and stagnation.
I heard a neat and challenging sermon years ago on Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus’ "Parable of the Wedding Banquet." Those attending the rich feast had not been on the original guest list. These guests were pleasantly surprised to be invited. They were welcomed in place of others who failed to come when called. Among the guests was a person who came to the banquet without a wedding robe. Unable to explain his failure to show the proper respect to the host, he was bound and thrown out.
This parable has nothing to do with the clothes Christians wear, but it has everything to do with spirit in which we accept our invitation to God’s Kingdom. The point of the sermon was this: "You can come as you are, but you can’t stay as you are." By the grace of God the door is open to all, not just to a specific race or class of persons. Anyone may come! And those who come should be prepared for a change, a transformation. We do not enter the Kingdom to remain as we are, but instead to grow in faith and love, in service and obedience.
Easy? No. Rewarding? Enormously!
If you have been bored by empty religion, unfulfilled by trendy spirituality, or turned off by harsh legalism…
If you are at the entryway, but sense there is much more to see and experience inside…
If you have tasted the milk, but yearn for the solid food…
Then embark on the journey of growth. Seek out a fellowship of believers for whom discipleship is the goal. First Presbyterian Church, Iola, Kansas, is one place where this can happen. We walk together in faith, support one another in trials, forgive one another in failures, heal one another in hurts, and challenge one another in growth.