November 16, 2007

When I don’t feel like going to church . . .

In Recalling the Hope of Glory, author Allen P. Ross says that the presence of God in the Garden of Eden was a delight before Adam and Eve sinned, but afterwards His presence became a conviction. Not only that, this has been the pattern in the history of worship.

Leviticus 7:2-21 set that pattern for God’s people. It says, “But the person who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the Lord, while he is unclean, that person shall be cut off from his people. Moreover the person who touches any unclean thing, such as human uncleanness, an unclean animal, or any abominable unclean thing, and who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the Lord, that person shall be cut off from his people.

The sacrificial system was a pattern or representation of the new covenant yet to come. In this old system, the sacrifices pointed to the ultimate sacrifice who is the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. The “unclean” things and “uncleanness” in people represent sinful actions and sinful lives. Thus, those with sin in their lives could not freely participate in worship. Like Adam and Eve, their sin usually made them ashamed and they wanted to hide from God, not stand before Him.

David knew this too. He sinned by taking another man’s wife. When she became pregnant, he arranged that her husband is killed in battle. Then God convicted him of what he had done and David said, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.

David knew that he could not worship God with unconfessed sin. He also knew that the only way back into that relationship was through acknowledging his need to be reconciled.

Today, there are people I know who have professed faith in Jesus Christ, but somewhere along the way, they stopped confessing sin—and stopped attending church. I’ve wondered how they could do that, how they could turn off their conscience and ignore their own sin. As I read this book, I realized that conviction of sin is most felt in the sanctuary of God, the place where His presence is collectively gathered in the people who love and worship Him.

It’s not that God is only in a church, not at all, but in a place of worship the human heart cannot completely ignore His reality or His claim on our lives. To do that, I’d have to run as far from Christians and from church as I could. (Even then, Psalm 139 makes it clear that no matter where I run, His right hand leads and holds me. I cannot completely flee from Him.)

Perhaps it is a good thing to invite my unsaved or back-slidden friends to church, but after thinking about these things, it would be appropriate to warn them that they may not feel comfortable. I’d have to suggest that they may feel guilty or at least awkward because they will sense the presence of God, and with that they may also sense Him speaking to them about getting their lives right with Him.

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