Why is the Christian Church a growth movement? Why do we want to get people in?
There was a property programme on TV where a man was going to renovate a barn. The presenter was skeptical as the man showed him round the derelict barn and said, ‘This is the kitchen, with units along this wall, an island in the centre with copper pots hanging above, and the Aga over there. There is the window where we can enjoy the wonderful view.’ It was the same all over the barn. The faith of the owner, as if the work was already done. When the programme cut to many months later, there was the barn transformed into a beautiful house, with everything just as he had said it.
It’s like a sculptor with a block of marble, who chips away at the stone, just revealing to other people what he can already see. Paul spoke in his letter to the Romans of ‘the God who calls things that are not as if they were.’ (Romans 4:17) God can see what will be, and more importantly for us, can see what we will be if we allow him to transform us.
In Romans chapter 4 Paul makes the connection between people of faith and righteousness, using the story of Abraham as an example. God promised him a son when he was one hundred years old and his wife Sarah was long past childbearing, but he believed, and it happened.
1. Faith is the means by which we appropriate righteousness.
Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3)
In the same way if we believe in Christ, his righteousness is credited to us. It’s not something we can work for.
The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness— for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:23-25)
If we had to work for it, who would succeed? Since Adam and Eve in the Garden, mankind has been beset by sin – weakness before temptation. None of us can be perfect on our own.
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed… (Romans 4:16)
2. Faith allows us to enter into God’s reality he has for us
The film Hook tells the story of grown-up Peter Pan (played by Robin Williams), who has left Neverland and forgotten that he was ever Peter Pan. The Lost Boys kidnap him to come and save them, but he doesn’t believe. There is a scene where they all sit down to a feast and lots of covered dishes are brought to the table, but when they are uncovered they are all empty. The boys scoop from the dishes onto their plates and set to eating, but Peter goes to bed hungry because there is really no food. Later in the story there is another feast. Peter is beginning to see the truth of Neverland. The dishes still look empty, but Peter takes a spoonful and flicks it at one of the boys – who is splatted with food! Peter looks at the table and it’s covered with all kinds of food. This time he does believe.
We too need to see what God sees. The God who calls things that are not as if they were.
We are part of a meta narrative – an overarching story of God’s Kingdom. The whole of history is His story. In the beginning, God created the world and walked in the Garden with mankind. When mankind broke that relationship with sin, God tried throughout history to repair it, but man always fell away again. Eventually God came himself to put things right. Jesus lived and died and rose, God incarnate, and we have God’s presence in the Holy Spirit now, but that is only a glimpse of what God wants – to walk with us again. It started in a Garden, it ends in a City.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev 21:1-3)
The good news is that God isn’t done with this world yet. God’s Kingdom is expanding, always advancing. Like the barn, as we believe, not only are we transformed but we transform the world around us.
That’s why we’re a growth movement, that’s why you should be telling everyone you meet, so they don’t miss out on this wonderful future.
[based on a sermon by John Rogers at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more on www.annmariethomas.me.uk