After a frustrating Wednesday evening of unmet expectations and harsh words, we didn’t feel like going to church. But we went because we knew it was the right thing to do. We showed up a few minutes late and the service had already begun. Ours is a small congregation, with less than 50 people in attendance this particular evening. We now meet in the gym, to spread out appropriately and keep our 6 feet distance. Our music leader wasn’t there, so we sang acapella. We awkwardly croaked the words of a hymn we thought we knew to an unfamiliar tune. I breathed a sigh of relief as the next selection was more familiar: “O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” All this to say, it was an ordinary service on an ordinary evening with ordinary preaching of one simple message: the gospel.
We turned in our Bibles to 1 Corinthians 15 and read the first 5 verses. In verses 3-5, we found the essential gospel, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” Our pastor preached the gospel, thoroughly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Throughout the entirety of this brief service, I wept and wept. Though there were no attempts at emotional manipulation through dim lighting or smoke machines or rousing music, I simply could not contain my tears.
I have attended this same ordinary church since before I could read. I have heard this same extraordinary message more times than I can count. At one time, I was cold and indifferent to these claims, on occasion antagonistic. But the LORD removed my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). He gave me a new spirit, with a new set of desires. Through the years, I have grown to cherish the wonder of an ordinary church faithfully preaching God’s Word. It’s a gift I don’t take lightly.
Before the service I watched a 10-minute video where a Facebook friend talked about the doctrine of justification. She emphasized the sad reality that most professing Christians have no idea what Paul meant in Romans 3:21-31 about justification by faith alone. I knew the principles as she explained them, but one part was new to me. The word “justify,” in its Greek form, is a legal term meaning in Christ we have a new verdict before a just judge. Legally, this standing can’t change. It’s final, secure, and independent from our actions following the verdict. It means we can’t lose our salvation. We can’t earn our salvation. We are justified by faith in Jesus, not the works of the law. This justification doesn’t give us a license to sin but frees us up to be servants of righteousness (Romans 6).
The thing is, lately I have neglected my walk with God. I have been apathetic toward His Word. I have slacked in the spiritual discipline of prayer. I have not acted as a servant to righteousness, but a slave to sin. I have allowed my eyes and ears to linger too long on entertainment I know would displease Him. I have been anything but a good Christian lately. If I could lose my salvation, I certainly would. But where sin abounds, grace abounds much more (Romans 5:20). That grace, so tangible and sweet, overwhelmed me that night. I praise God for the ordinary preaching of this extraordinary gospel. I pray you too will understand how beautiful the gospel of Jesus Christ truly is, that Christ suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
I can sing with confidence, “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul (It Is Well with My Soul).”