March 6, 2012 by C.J. Mahaney
The theme of this year’s Next conference is the role of the church, and what it means for each member to play his or her part. And we do all have a part to play. Ephesians 4:7 affirms this loud and clear: The ascended Christ has specifically given a gift of grace to each of those who have been reconciled to God and regenerated by God. John Stott makes a helpful distinction here between “saving grace” (referred to in Ephesians 2:1-9) and “service grace.” Each one regenerated by grace has also been uniquely gifted by and with grace.
And these gifts are not given to us simply as duties, but privileges. Here is how Stott put it in Cross of Christ: “If the church was worth his blood, is it not worth our labour? The privilege of serving it is established by the preciousness of the price paid for its purchase.”
This point is central to one’s understanding of service in the church and I hope is impressed even more on our souls at the Next conference in May. Service in and to the local church is a privilege because we are serving the object of Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross. Our motivation for service is rooted in the cross. Indeed I don’t think anyone can truly persevere in service without being informed primarily by the Savior’s death.
Without this theologically informed motivation we are vulnerable to substitute motivations for service. I’ve spoken to many people over the years who, for example, found themselves serving and participating in the church almost as a tradition. A routine. Something they kept doing because, if they ceased to do it, they would feel guilty. But that’s not gospel-motivated service. And over time such substitute motivations have a slow and almost imperceptible wearying effect on the Christian’s soul. Service is no longer a joy. Participation in church is no longer filled with expectation of encountering God. And the significance of the mission of the church slowly fades out of view. I know because I have experienced this myself.
We are all susceptible to this slow drift if we don’t keep the gospel in view when we think of the local church. Acts 20:28 describes the church as “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (And what’s true of the whole is true of the part: in Romans 14:15 Paul describes one’s fellow believer as “the one for whom Christ died.”)
That is why it is a privilege to serve the local church—because it is the church that our Savior “obtained with his own blood.” So this year at the Next conference we’re going to be exhorting each other to labor for the church. We are all gifted by Christ to do so. And because of his great sacrifice, we are motivated as well.