Online and face-to-face discussions abound about grace, work, and salvation. People on all sides fuss and feud, casting accusations, knocking down straw men, looking down noses. How can we cut through all the mess and see what God has really said about grace? I think there are pictures of grace throughout the Bible that mark the way of God’s grace. One such picture is the lame beggar in Acts 3.
(If you landed on this post without seeing the others in this series, let me explain what is going on here. Thursdays is my day to talk about God’s way for our congregations. Right now I’m in the middle of a series on the Jerusalem church and it’s success. This is the second post in the series. I encourage you to check out the introduction to this series to know more about what is going on and to find an index of the posts in this series as they are put up. Enjoy.)
If you’re like me, you can find all the ideas and concepts in the world that won’t work. You can pinpoint exactly why every idea has a flaw. You can examine the failings of every concept and plan. You can know exactly why what worked for others won’t work for you. I can do that with the Jerusalem church. I can sabotage every good thing I can learn from the Jerusalem church by starting to look at all the reasons it won’t work for me or for the congregation of which I’m a part.
Therefore, I want to start by getting rid of those objections. I’ve examined the reasons I think it may have worked for them that we may not be able to emulate and learned that they are empty excuses.
Jerusalem Did Not Grow Because of Miraculous Gifts
The easiest flag to wave to claim we just can’t mirror what Jerusalem did is to point to the miraculous gifts. After all, the whole church got started because the apostles were speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4). People listened because they were amazed at the miracles. As the church grew, people were in awe of the apostles and their miraculous abilities (Acts 5:12-13). Even when Philip scattered and went to Samaria, the sorcerer and the people were convinced because they were amazed by the “signs and great miracles” (Acts 8:13).
God doesn’t work that way through His people anymore. (If you are reading and disagree with this point, let me know. I would love to study the issue with you.) We won’t speak in tongues. We won’t heal the sick. We won’t divine or divulge anyone’s inner secrets. We won’t raise anyone from the dead. If we could do all of that, then maybe we could be like Jerusalem. But we can’t. So why bother even trying?
We need to understand that the church did not grow because of miraculous gifts. That is, not in such a way that makes growth impossible for those who don’t have those gifts.
First, we need to remember the account of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man was convinced, like so many of us, that miracles were the key to save people. If his brothers saw someone rise from the dead, they would believe. But Abraham’s answer was clear, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Interestingly, we get so caught up into thinking that if people saw miracles they would believe, that we forget that Jesus rose from the dead yet most of the Jews figured out reasons why not to believe. Do we really think that if we could perform miracles we would convince everyone? Of course not. God has provided the scriptures. If people will not believe the Bible, they will not believe even if they see a miracle.
Second, I think we attribute the growth in Jerusalem to the wrong thing. We attribute it to the miracles. Instead, let’s attribute it to the right place. Let’s attribute it to the working of the Holy Spirit. The Jerusalem church grew because people witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit. While they may no longer witness the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, they can still witness the work of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” This passage is not saying these are the characteristics we need to work on. It is actually saying that when we are walking by the Spirit, these are the characteristics we’ll start developing.
People may no longer see tongue-speaking, sick-healing, dead-raising, poison-protecting, miraculous works of the Holy Spirit in us. However, when we are walking by the Spirit, folks will witness what may to them seem no less miraculous. They will witness selfish people become loving. They will witness miserable people develop joy. They will witness impetuous manipulators become patient. They will witness the cruel and mean-spirited become kind. They will witness the untrusting and untrustworthy become faith-filled and faithful.
They may not hear the rushing sound of a mighty wind, but they will be no less impacted as they see the silent working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Not everyone will be piqued. Not everyone was attracted by the tongue-speaking. But some will. Some will see how the Spirit has worked in our lives and they will want part of it as well.
We must not think Jerusalem’s success is beyond us simply because the Holy Spirit no longer grants His miraculous gifts. Instead, we must recognize that the Holy Spirit is still working in us and He will attract people to us as He changes our lives and we bear fruit.
Please understand a happy by-product of this recognition. We are not left alone to make Christ’s church grow. His Spirit is working in us and through us. We can have success like Jerusalem because we are not alone.
(Make sure you come back next week as we expose and dispose of more excuses about growing like Jerusalem.)