I begin each Session meeting with a devotional. September’s had to deal with holiness but ended up talking about church membership.
I read from Hebrews 12: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). My emphasis was on the need to strive for holiness. The idea is to pursue (as an ongoing command) with full intent and effort. It is the word used by Paul (translated as “press on”) when he says:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12–14)
Of course, our holiness is in Christ. We are set apart in Him. Our righteousness and everything that contributes to our holiness is found in Him.
Yet we are also called to pursue holiness. Paul presents the dual emphasis of being holy and becoming holy in his salutation to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2).
Just how are we to go about this pursuit? The writer of Hebrews gives us an idea a few verses prior, at the start of the chapter.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2).
We run. We run while riveting our eyes on Jesus. We run knowing that He has sat down in victory for us, having finished a race we could not.
But we also run looking to Christ as our example and our strength. Only by His grace can we lay aside every weight that encumbers us and find freedom from every sin that plagues us. Christ emancipates us from the shackles of sin’s guilt and power. His example keeps us from growing weary and losing heart in a race filled with perils and pitfalls (Heb. 12:3).
This is where the discussion turned to church membership.
The church is Christ’s provision for running the race in pursuit of holiness. It is where disciples are developed, and where they are deployed. Mature believers join the cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12:1 in persevering through faith. Through the church’s teaching we learn of holiness and sin and grace. We are trained to fix our gaze on Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. A biblical worldview about life is cultivated, along with the redemptive perspective of Christ reigning on high for His church.
That’s a primary reason for church membership. God’s design is for every believer to be enfolded into covenant community, guided by the leaders He raises up (Heb. 13:7, 17) and helped along by mutual involvement and accountability of the brethren (Heb. 10:19-25). (Think gym buddy.)
The problem is that our church membership can become like our gym membership. Our name can be on a roster. We can have right of access and admission to all the means of physical fitness. But if we do not avail ourselves of these things, they profit us naught.
Church membership nowadays is falling into disrepute. Understandably so, because both the leaders and the people have lost their bearings of the need to strive for holiness. The church has become more like a social club than a fitness center. Simply having a gym membership does not promote physical fitness, nor does simply being a member of a church promote spiritual fitness.
There must be involvement, engagement, and expectation. The heart of discipleship is discipline (1 Tim. 4:7). Discipleship understands the rigors of a race and its cost. It happens in the classroom of sound teaching and in the arena of sincere participation for the sake of Christ.
The writer of Hebrews closes his pastoral treatise by directing us to our God who equips us with everything good that we do His will (Heb. 13:20-21). As we remember what membership is all about, let us recommit ourselves to Him who trains us and enables us in the pursuit of holiness.