Ten Questions for a Six-Month Spiritual Checkup

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To be good stewards, we need to be better managers in life. That means manage our physical health better. But also things in life, such as, our home, cars, or even finance. Just like we need to have regular maintenance for our home, physical health, or even for cars or recreations bikes, how much more for spiritual health?

That’s why you should read the recent article “10 Questions for a Six-Month Spiritual Checkup” by Chuck Lawless, one of the former profs at Southern. If you are part of a church where formal membership is taught, valued, and practiced regularly, then those questions should not be surprising to you since your church probably remind them regularly from the pulpit, Bible study, discipleship groups, and even when fellowship over a meal. Those questions are helpful diagnostic questions. In fact, if you want to read further on the subject, I would recommend Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Don Whitney. Also, here’s the video intro by the author. I found the book to be very helpful.

The list from the article isn’t perfect or exhaustive. But at least it helps you start the assessment. I would add a few more penetrating diagnostic questions of my own to the list. Such as:
  • Who keeps you accountable in your local church? Don’t just say everyone at church. Are you able to give specific names?
  • Who do you keep accountable in your local church? Again, don’t just say everyone at church. Give specific names.
  • What percentage of giving have you practiced? The question is not “Have you practiced giving or how have you practiced giving?” Rather, what percentage? The question forces you to answer objectively.
  • What sort of reputation do you think you have in your local church vs. what do others in your local church actually say about you?

If those questions make you uncomfortable, that’s because you probably believe that Christianity and/or being a Christian is no one’s business. Yet the Bible teaches that Christianity (the gospel) and life are antithesis to individualistic, self-focused, and selfish life.

Take time to pray over those questions. And allow others in to help you in your sanctification. After all, your sanctification is community project.

When You Miss Church On Sunday

Like many pastors, I too would like to see everyone be present at Sovereign Grace Bible Church for the Lord’s Day worship service. Is this too much to ask? This is especially true when the congregation is small as a church-plant, where having one family absent is very noticeable. Also, it doesn’t help the fact that during the certain season a low attendance is somewhat expected.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There are times when parishioners will be gone, including the pastor. And I’m a full supporter of taking a family vacation, a weekend getaway for married couples, Bible conference(s), etc. Hence, this post is not about missing church. It is, however, about how to go about missing church.

Although no pastor would admit that numerical growth is the ultimate goal, a low numerical presence can be discouraging at times, especially, when people fail to communicate if they are planning to be absent due to vacation, etc. Hence, to alleviate some of the discouragements that pastors face, I’d like to recommend the following:

  1. Please communicate to your pastor if/when you are planning to be gone and why. God placed him in your life to watch your soul. Hence, be respectful, responsible, and accountable.
  2. If/when you are planning to be gone, make sure to find a legitimate substitute for your ministry responsibility with the approval from your pastor or elder(s). Be responsible regarding your ministry duty(s).
  3. Make sure to listen to the recorded sermon(s) that you’ve missed. If possible, don’t read the sermon notes. Sermons are to be heard, not read. And when you do, give the same respect and attentiveness as you would when you are at church. In other words, don’t listen to the message with an attitude like it’s a chore or when you’re doing multiple-tasks. Remember, it is God’s Word that you’re listening to, not some…
  4. If you are married and have kids, have the whole family listen at the same time. Think of it as you leading a family worship. After all, if you are husband and/or father, you are the spiritual leader of your home.
  5. Find out what you’ve missed in your Sunday School. Don’t expect your instructor to inform you. You have to be the proactive one, not the class instructor.
  6. If you have children, why not have them send a family card to the pastor, stating something like “We missed you and the church today, and we’ll see you this coming Lord’s Day.” This way the children would learn from their parents some manners of common courtesy when they miss church on the Lord’s Day. If not, they would grow up just like their parents and act the same ways – e.g., being indifferent, irresponsible, and unaccountable.

Before you cry out for foul or accuse me of legalism, please think of it as wisdom, namely training God’s people for godly disciplines toward maturity. What pastor would not like to see the church do things better? Hence, some of the points may not be an issue of right or wrong, but doing good things even better, for God’s glory. The difference between legalism and wisdom is wide as the ocean. But again, in this individualistic and anti-authority culture, even those in the church may have an issue with this counsel.

[Note to fellow pastors: if you have other practical counsel or wisdom to add, I would love to hear it and add it to the list.]

Commit Yourself to a Local Church for the Glory of God – Part 4

IV. Responsibilities of A Church Member

Let me first read the paragraph concerning membership responsibilities from what our church’s bylaws states and then unpack them accordingly. I’m reading from Article 5, section 2, which states:

Church members shall promote the philosophy and ministry of Sovereign Grace Bible Church (Romans 15:5-6), participate regularly in the corporate worship of this church (Acts 2:42), support this ministry prayerfully and financially (2 Corinthians 9:5-8), exercise their spiritual gifts for the mutual benefit of all the church body (Ephesians 4:15-16) and willingly submit to the biblical oversight of the elders (I Thessalonians 5:12; I Timothy 5:17; Heb. 13:17).

According to our church’s bylaws there are five biblical responsibilities for our members. First, church members shall promote the philosophy and ministry of Sovereign Grace Bible Church. As a member of SGBC can you think of at least three things that we value as a church? If you don’t know them, then it’s a time for you to review what they are. You can easily find it when you visit our church’s website and click on “Our Values.” Perhaps you know them, but have a slight difficulty in articulating them. If so, then phrase it in your own words so that it can stick with you. Do whatever you can to remember what we value and learn to express them because it is impossible to promote something if you don’t know what it is (cf. Romans 15:5-6).

Second, church members shall participate regularly in the corporate worship of this church.

  • NAU Acts 2:42They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
  • NAU Hebrews 10:24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

For Christians the highlight of the week should be on the Lord’s day when God’s redeemed community congregate to worship. And I want to encourage our parents to model such enthusiastic and exciting anticipation for the Lord’s day worship for our children. Our children learn from watching. Imitations occur when we watch the people we’re close to or look up to. Parents, please do your best to sanctify the Lord’s day. That means, set aside this day (not just portion of the day, but the whole day) to focus on God, his church, your spiritual growth and reflections, and so forth. According to London Baptist Confession of Faith (well as Westminster Confession of Faith) states:

The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy [Chapter 21 in WCF and Chapter 22 in LBCF].

Some of the sanctifying practices are to turn off TV, try not to go shopping or mall, or engage in activities that easily distract your focus. My point is do whatever you can to sanctify this day to focus on God, to fellowship with his people, your spiritual growth and reflections, and I may add, also for your physical and mental rest too. Some people maybe tempted to argue by saying, “Everyday is Lord’s day. So I’m not going to give a special attention to only this day.” When people talk like that I like to tell them, “No. You’re lying! Not everyday is Lord’s day by the way you live! During the week you live as though God doesn’t even exit. So stop fronting with cliché like ‘Everyday is Lord’s day’ when you haven’t even surrendered your life to the lordship of Jesus. You just like to use religious cliché like that to justify your behavior.”

It is God’s will for you and I to gather with his people on this day for worship and fellowship. So please don’t talk like “Lord willing, I’ll see you at church next Sunday.” I would say God is willing but are you willing? Don’t say things like “Lord willing” when certain actions are clearly revealed in his word – e.g., praying, discipleship-making, loving our spouses, forgiving, holy-living, etc.

Third, church members of SGBC shall support this ministry prayerfully and financially. What if I told you that success of this church is largely dependent on your prayer? As Calvinists we may reject any view that shadows God’s sovereignty. At the same time, because we are Calvinists that does not negate our responsibility to pray faithfully and fervently. Hence it is not a completely false statement to say that success of this church is largely dependent on your prayer. Charles Spurgeon said, “Whenever God determines to do a great work, He first sets His people to pray” (source unknown). In his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D.A. Carson writes:

One of the constitutional enforcements of the gospel is prayer. Without prayer, the gospel can neither be preached effectively, promulgated faithfully, experienced in the heart, nor be practiced in the life. And for the very simple reason that by leaving prayer out of the catalogue of religiousduties, we leave God out, and His work cannot progress without Him.[1]

Not only our responsibility include faithful and fervent praying, but also faithfully making financial contributions to this local church.

  • NAU 2 Corinthians 9:5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness. 6 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.

Fourth, church members shall exercise their spiritual gifts for the mutual benefit of all the church body.

  • NAU Ephesians 4:15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

In order to exercise your God-given spiritual gifts, you have to first discover what they are. And it is not sufficient to say you know what they are if the local church you are member of cannot verify and agree with such assessment. That is why we need each other, namely a local church that can help you discover your spiritual gifts. I’ve met too many individuals who pride themselves that they have a certain spiritual gift when in fact they didn’t. What’s worse is when a church does not have the discernment and courage to say no to these individuals but allowing them to serve in the wrong areas of ministry.

Finally, church members of SGBC shall willingly submit to the biblical oversight of the elders. Over the years I’ve learned that nothing is more detrimental to the life and unity of the church than individuals who are unsubmissive to spiritual elders. Fail to submit breeds divisiveness and infections. Benjamin Franklin once said, “He who cannot obey, cannot command.” And I believe that a key to biblical submission is to cultivate a servant’s heart.

  • NAU Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Here are some biblical reminders concerning submission to the oversight of biblical elders:

  • NAU 1 Thessalonians 5:12But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,
  • NAU 1 Timothy 5:17The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
  • NAU Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.


[1] D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 221.

Commit Yourself to a Local Church for the Glory of God – Part 3

III. How to Become a Member?

Perhaps a better way to rephrase this question is: who is qualified to be a member of a local church? I wish I can say in order to be a member at
Sovereign GraceBibleChurch, you need to take the pastor out to a sushi restaurant. I can only say that if I start a church of Jim Kang. But thankfully, this is a church of Jesus Christ, not Jim Kang! All kidding aside, to be qualified as a “member” of a local church, one must be born-again. This not only is biblical and theological, but it is also one of the key historical distinctions as Baptists. Historically, Baptist churches only allowed regenerate or converted Christians into the covenant membership. In that sense, it is exclusive. Why? Let me give you three reasons why.

First of all, it is because what a church is. As you heard last Sunday, church is, by its very definition, the gathered people or community of God’s redeemed. Those who are not a part of God’s redeemed or saved are welcome as visitors, but membership in a local church only belongs to those who already made their commitments to God by faith in His Son Jesus Christ. We believe that unregenerate members do not share the same spiritual DNA as Christians. Thus joining, mixing or infusing the church with unregenerate or the spiritually dead will only lead to complication, infection, and potentially fatal.

The second reason why the regenerate membership is a must is because of how the church operates. Since Jesus Christ is the head of the church and the church is his body, the growth of such body can only happen as each part of the body functions according to the spiritual gifts that God has given to every believer. Please keep in mind that spiritual gifts are only given to Christians and the sole purpose of spiritual gifts is for the edification or building up the body. Thus, the spiritually dead or the unregenerate individuals do not have the spiritual gifts that can contribute to the genuine growth of the body (cf. Eph. 4:11-16). Two things can be said here: 1) what holds the church together and functional is the participation of every member in the body. Just like our own physical body, what happens if certain cell groups in our body decided not to work? It can become dead, infected or become cancerous. Just like we need every cell to function properly for us to remain physically healthy, spiritually we also need every member in the body to function properly so that we can have a healthy spiritual body. 2) According to Paul what also causes the growth of the body for the building up is once again the proper working of each individual member. One of the signs of a healthy church is when every member contributes to the function of a local church.

The third reason why the regenerate membership is a must is because of what membership covenant signifies. By limiting church membership to only Christians, we are protecting the rest of the church from the wolves in sheep’s clothing. And when we allow the unregenerate individuals into our membership, we are allowing them intimate access to the lives and struggles of other members. One of the ways churches do this is allowing the unconverted members to teach or oversee ministries, which is devastating to the life of the church. There is nothing more devastating to a church than having unqualified people in the position of leadership or influence. Show me a church that doesn’t take God’s truth and sin seriously, I’ll guarantee you that there are unqualified individuals in leadership position. And generally churches like this are filled with members who think they are saved when in fact they don’t have the proper truths of the gospel. All that is to say, spiritual regeneration is must to become a member of a local church, including here at Sovereign Grace. A. W. Tozer said, “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.”[1] Hence the first step toward church membership is your spiritual regeneration. You must be born-again. Spiritual rebirth is needed to be in the spiritual family.

Let me now add another step toward church membership that many churches tend to neglect or ignore. Since you have heard loud and clear that church membership is only granted to those who have been born-again, the question is, how does a church know whether one is a genuine believer? The second step toward church membership is the observable fruit or the evidence of saving grace.

To discern who is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, the most visible and reliable criteria for which we can look for is the fruit of godly character and actions. And let me give you why the church must demand such fruit: it is because Jesus says so (cf. Matt. 7:15-20; John 15:1-11). Not only Jesus commanded us to examine the fruit, but also by the apostles (cf. Gal. 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:4-11). Increasing conformity to godly character is a way to discern whether such profession to Christ is genuine. All this is to say, observing one’s profession of faith and one’s character takes time. That is why I’m in the opinion with many pastors that there is no reason to rush someone into a church membership haphazardly without giving some time to check them out. Hence for us at Sovereign Grace we require every prospect to take the FOF (Fundamentals of Faith) Class, which generally runs up to 16 weeks or so prior to meeting with the leadership. It’s my understanding that the Puritans took about a year or so for the prospects to become members in their churches.

Perhaps the most visible and basic criteria to church membership is the believer’s baptism. As a matter of fact, the last paragraph in our church’s bylaws Article 5, Section 1 states:

Church membership in Sovereign GraceBibleChurch shall be open to all persons who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and who have been baptized by immersion. These persons, who have applied for church membership and have been duly accepted, shall constitute a body, united for purposes set forth in Article II of this Constitution (see Acts 2:36-41).

Thus if you are interested in becoming a member at Sovereign Grace, but not yet been baptized, get baptized first. That’s a first visible act of obedience to Christ.


[1] Source unknown.

Commit Yourself to a Local Church for the Glory of God – Part 2

II. Why Should I Become a Member?

Let me give you four reasons why. First of all, I should become a member of a local church because Scripture commands it. It is true that joining a church will not save you any more than contributing financially or fulfilling religious duties such as baptism, confirmation, or whatever. However, you need to understand that you don’t become a member in order to be saved, but you become a member because you have been saved if you are a professing Christian.

One of the reasons why some people think it’s perfectly OK not to join a church or refuse to join a church is because they don’t understand the nature of what church is. If a person professes to be a Christian and truly believes that a church is the regenerate body of Christ, then how can a person say he/she loves Jesus and not be part of His body? It’s like saying it’s OK to chop off one of the hands and say it doesn’t need to be part of the body. Such reasoning is ludicrous and illogical. How can you say you love Jesus and don’t want to be part of the group that Jesus died to give himself for? Isn’t that what Scripture teaches?

Please turn your Bible with me to Ephesians 5. I would like to draw your attention to verse 25, 26 (for our sanctification by Christ), 27, 29 (for spiritual nurture and care just as Christ also does the church), and 30. The ultimate question that every professing Christian needs to answer is this: do we live the Christian life alone? As Scripture clearly teaches we cannot divorce Jesus from His bride, the church. The two are inseparable. He is the head and the church is his body. To say you love Jesus and refuse to join his church means that you are already outside of His body, which means that one wonders whether you are a Christian!

It doesn’t matter what a person says he believes; like James, show me your faith by your visible evidence. And one of the clearest and visible evidences of one’s salvation is your love for His church in which you are now part of. Thus, the primary reason why I should join a church is because the Bible teaches it.

Secondly, membership clarifies the difference between Christians and non-Christians. It helps to know who should be treated as believers and who should be treated as nonbelievers. For instance, you realize all the “one another” passages in the NT are reference to the context of a local church? For example, turn your Bible with me to Romans. Notice in 12:16, “be of the same mind toward one another,” in 13:8 “love one another,” 14:19 “building up of one another,” in 15:7 “accept one another,” and in 15:14 “admonish one another.” Paul is not giving these commands to the world of unbelievers here. He is addressing all the churches in Rome. He wants the members in these churches to fulfill these “one another” commands to each other.

So what does this mean? It means that all the “one another” passages are for the members of the local churches. This clearly implies the priority and privileges for being a member of local church. This does not mean that a church or Christians cannot show compassion or be of help to those that are outside of the church. But it does clearly imply that the priority and privileges are given foremost to the members of a local church. For example, if there is someone in our community who is in need of help that is not a member of our church and at the same time a member of this church who is in need of same need, based on the biblical principle a member of this congregation gets the foremost priority and privilege. Scripture seems to imply that it is better to offend the non-believers than to offend your fellow members of the Christ’s church. So membership helps to clarify who should be treated as a family and who are simply visitors. Again, do understand that privilege and priority is given foremost to church family members than simply visitors. Now if you are not a member of Sovereign GraceBibleChurch, this does not mean that you should stop visiting. In fact, continue to visit us often so that you can get to know us and for us to get to know you. However, it is our prayer that ultimately you can make the transition from being a visitor to part of a member to this wonderful congregation.

Third reason why I should become a member is because membership provides loving accountability. Let me give you an example. When I was a young believer I used to attend a church that had about 15,000 people come through on any given Sunday. But this church did not practice formal membership. Years and years later, I finally realized that one of the reasons why so many people are attracted to non-membership church or “mega-churches” is because people can simply come and go as they please without any sense of accountability to each other and to the leadership and they can simply hide under the blanket of a large numbers. I must say, that is not an example of operating the church biblically. Membership is essential to an orderly administration of the church. Since church is called the body of Christ, and like a human body God has designed it in an orderly fashion. It has a closely-knit structure and not just a loose collection of individuals.

If you would to read the Gospels, Jesus generally had an audience of crowds, and sometimes large crowds. But often, Jesus distinguished the difference between the mere crowds with the core disciples. And frankly, we need to be concerned about being a disciple-making, disciple-training, and disciple-sending church than simply wanting to have crowds on Sunday. I’m interested in producing genuine disciples than mere churchgoers. With that in mind, would you please turn your Bible with me to Hebrews 13:17?

Let me ask you a simple question: who’s your pastor? Who’s your spiritual leader? If you are not a member of a local church, how are you going to obey Hebrews 13:17? If you are not a member of a local church, it is impossible to obey this biblical command to “obey your leaders” when you are not submitted to the spiritual leadership of a local church. To press the issue further, if you are not obeying Hebrews 13:17 when it is a crystal clear command, then you are living in disobedience and God is not glorified in your life.

Here’s the fourth and final reason why I should become a member: it provides the privileges of partnership. Describing the church, the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 3:6 that we as a church are “fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers.” The noun “fellow-partakers” is not used anywhere else except here in Ephesians 3:6. The words mean equal partners, equal sharer, and equal partakers. What this implies is that church membership is not only a commitment on the member’s part to the church, but it is a commitment on the church’s part to the member as well.[1] Both the church as a body and her leaders are committed to care for the member. One writer suggests that the believer’s relationship to the local church is similar to that of a marriage; and he likens professing Christians who refuse church membership to a man and woman who merely live-together without ever committing to a formal marriage ceremony. Erik Lane writes:

They have only thought of themselves and not of the society of which they are a part. Marriage is a public affair, because, however private a matter individuals may think it to be, other members of the community have a right to know who belongs to whom and who is whose wife or husband. A society in which everyone behaved as this couple would be sheer chaos. Moreover, their selfishness in fact rebounds on their own head, because, by refusing registration, they preclude themselves from certain benefits the state grants to married folk.[2]

CONCLUSION

This evening we have heard the importance of our commitment to a local church for the glory of God. I’ve preached this subject because it is so dear to my heart. Church of Jesus Christ is dear to my heart because I love my Savior, but more importantly, he loves his church more. In fact he loves his church more than I can ever love his church. However, by God’s grace I can demonstrate my love for him by loving those whom he purchased with his own blood, namely his church. And I can demonstrate my love for His church by joining myself to a local church and becoming a fellow member.

If you are listening to this message either by via internet or watching this message through television and you are a professing Christian without an active participation at a local church as a member, you need to obey God’s command by joining yourself to a local church. If you don’t know what to look for in a church, I’d like to recommend you read a book entitled The Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, because not all churches are healthy, let alone churches.


[1] Wayne A. Mack and David Swavely, Life in the Father’s House (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1996), 27.[2] Erik Lane, Members of One Another (London: Evangelical Press, 1968), 66.